Catholic leaders criticise PM for backtracking on act of settlement

LEADERS of Scotland's Catholic Church have attacked David Cameron for backtracking over changes to an historic law that stops Catholics from becoming a British monarch.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of Scotland's Roman Catholic Church, and Joseph Devine, the Bishop of Motherwell, have accused the Prime Minister of discrimination against Catholics, and of demonstrating "arrogance and disdain".

Mr Cameron last year said that he would like to see a change to the rule which disallows a Catholic from becoming King or Queen.

Under the 300-year-old Act of Settlement, an heir to the throne who marries a Catholic will also be barred from inheriting the crown unless their spouse agrees to renounce their faith.

Mr Cameron was thought likely to move forward talks, which began under Gordon Brown, between Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

However, a recent government announcement that there are "no current plans" to change the law have resulted in the angry outburst from the Catholic Church.

"When a monarch is free to marry a Scientologist, Muslim, Buddhist, Moonie or even Sat-anist but not a Catholic, then there's something seriously wrong," said Bishop Devine.

"What trust and confidence can we have in such a leader? He is barely two months into government and is already showing alarming signs of the arrogance and disdain so often associated with power."

The move undermines relations between the Conservative Party and the Catholic Church in Scotland. It had been thought the party would build on relations with the church in a bid to grow its own support in Scotland. Bishop Devine last year praised Mr Cameron for his stance on family values. He also urged Roman Catholic voters not to support Labour at the last election.

However, Bishop Devine now claims that Mr Cameron's refusal to scrap the historic law is "the latest sell-out of yet another of his pre-election pledges."

He added: "Six million British Catholics will be unforgiving of David Cameron for breaking faith with them and denying them equality before law."

Cardinal O'Brien added: "It is quite ironic that the two parties in coalition have both branded themselves champions of equality but have commenced their 'era of equality' by sending a clear message to the Catholic community that they are to be the exception."

The Act of Settlement was passed by the English parliament in 1701 in a bid to prevent the Catholic son of James II from becoming King. It extended to Scotland after the union in 1707.

In a recent debate at Westminster, Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary Mark Harper said: "We do not rule out change. We simply argue that, if there is to be a change, it should be thoughtful, and undertaken carefully and with due consideration for our obligations to the other Commonwealth realms of which Her Majesty is Queen.

"We should also have consideration for the consequences not only for the Crown and the succession but for the position of the established Church in this country."

During the debate, several MPs, including Edinburgh North and Leith Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz, urged the government to repeal the act.

"The point is that this is outdated, discriminatory legislation that should have been repealed years ago," Mr Lazarowicz told The Scotsman yesterday.

"I can well understand the cardinal's disappointment that the new government doesn't seem to be willing to take this forward with any urgency."

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has also criticised Mr Cameron's position.

• The Act of Settlement of 1701 was designed to secure a Protestant succession to the throne following the Glorious Revolution which saw the Catholic James II flee England.

It strengthened the Bill of Rights (1689), which was created to ensure the succession of James' Protestant daughter Mary, who was married to William of Orange, and her heirs.

Following the death of Mary and her sister Ann with no living heirs, the act was designed to ensure the succession remained within the Protestant faith, denying the rights of James' Catholic children through his second marriage.

In 1745 the Catholic Bonnie Prince Charlie, James II's grandson, tried to restore his family's right to the throne but was defeated. Since then, no serious attempt has been made to restore a Catholic to the thrown.

The act was a significant move towards constitutional monarchy, as it gave increased powers to government ministers.

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