He was backed in that call by Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond who also welcomed the lifting of the marriage ban but said it was “deeply disappointing” that Catholics were still unable to ascend to the throne.
“It surely would have been possible to find a mechanism which would have protected the status of the Church of England without keeping in place an unjustifiable barrier on the grounds of religion, in terms of the monarchy,” he said.
However, the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said he would not go as far as calling for the Act of Settlement to be entirely repealed.
“I welcome the decision of Her Majesty’s Government to give heirs to the throne the freedom to marry a Catholic without being removed from the line of succession,” said Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England.
He described the move as eliminating “a point of unjust discrimination” against Catholics.
“At the same time,” added Archbishop Nichols, “I fully recognise the importance of the position of the Established Church in protecting and fostering the role of faith in our society today.”
Later, in an interview with the BBC News, he explained that “while the Church of England is the Established Church” it is “not unreasonable to expect the head of the Church of England should be an Anglican.”
The 18th-century Act of Settlement was aimed at preventing the descendants of the Catholic King James II from ascending to 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.
The question being asked by some today is what religion the children of an Anglican-Catholic royal wedding would be raised in? The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law (Canon 1125) only permits a mixed marriage where the Catholic party makes “a sincere promise to do all in his or her power in order that all the children be baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church.”
Archbishop Nichols said such a scenario “would be a very difficult situation indeed,” but stressed that he did not “think we should try to pre-judge” it because “it’s not even a practical possibility at the moment, it’s a theoretical possibility.”
He told BBC News that the Catholic Church’s practice of “sitting down with Catholics who are marrying outside of the Catholic community and trying to see how the marriage will develop,” was “actually quite subtle” and “quite advanced.”
He explained that if and when the hypothetical case ever arose, the Church would talk to the Catholic party “about the duty and expectation of the Catholic to give their best endeavours within the unity and harmony of the marriage to bring up their children Catholic.”