Cardinal George Pell of Sydney is backing calls to scrap the 310 year-old law banning Catholics from the British throne.
“I would welcome a change,” the Australian cardinal told CNA.
His comments come just hours after Scottish Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien of St. Andrews & Edinburgh claimed in a BBC documentary that the 1701 Act of Settlement was fuelling anti-Catholicism in his country. He describes the law as “the country's shame.”
Just a few weeks ago the manager of the predominantly Catholic-supported soccer club, Glasgow Celtic was assaulted during a match by an opposing supporter and sent a parcel bomb in the mail. Arrests have followed each incident.
Meanwhile, Cardinal O’Brien has revealed that he received a bullet in the mail prior to the September 2010 papal visit to Scotland.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has said that “in principle” he supports reforming the law on royal succession to allow Catholics to become king or queen or marrying the heir to the throne. However, he also says the decision would have to be approved by all Commonwealth countries – hence the significance of Cardinal Pell’s opinion.
“I would welcome a change. It is not a first order issue, and there is no great urgency about it, but I anticipate that the law will be changed at some time,” the Australian archbishop said.
“It would certainly be welcomed in Australia.”
At present, there is no similar prohibition on the British royal family marrying members of other faiths such as Islam or Judaism, or those who profess to be agnostic or atheist.
The Act was originally passed to prevent the descendants of the Catholic King James II from ascending the throne. He was deposed in the 1688 "glorious revolution" by supporters of the Protestant William and Mary. Mary was the eldest Protestant daughter of James II and was married to William of Orange, who later became William III.
In recent years, the Act has effected several members of the British royal family.
In 2001, Lord Nicholas Windsor, the youngest son of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, permanently forfeited his right to the royal succession by converting to Catholicism.
In 2008, Autumn Kelly, the Canadian fiancee of the Queen's grandson Peter Philips, converted from Catholicism to Anglicanism, thus preserving her husband's chances of becoming king.
Today’s news coincides with Queen Elizabeth making the first trip to Ireland by a reigning U.K. monarch to predominately Catholic Ireland since it gained independence in 1922.