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Succession rules changed for British monarchs

November 2, 2011

CANTERBURY, England

Catholics and leaders of the 16 Commonwealth countries where Queen Elizabeth II serves as head of state have welcomed an announcement by British Prime Minister David Cameron about changes to the royal succession that include allowing the monarch to marry a Roman Catholic.

“Attitudes have changed fundamentally over the centuries and some of the outdated rules ... just don’t make sense to any of us anymore,” Cameron told reporters Oct. 28 at the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, Australia.

“The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he is a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith except a Catholic — this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we have become,” Cameron said.

All 16 countries that have the queen as head of state will soon begin their own legislative process to enact the reforms. In Britain, that means passing and amending several pieces of legislation that date back to the 17th century.

“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 lines of succession. This will eliminate a point of unjust discrimination against Catholics and will be welcomed not only by Catholics but far more widely. At the same time I fully recognize the importance of the position of the Established Church in protecting and fostering the rule of faith in our society,” said Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in England and Wales, on Oct. 28.

The British monarch has been supreme governor of the established church since King Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church and founded the Church of England in the 16th century.

Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien said on Oct. 28 that he was “pleased to note that the process of change ... has started and I look forward to studying the detail of the proposed reforms and their implication.”

Cameron confirmed that Britain would publish legislation to amend rules that currently say an elder daughter should be placed behind a younger son in the line of succession. The order of succession will, in future, be determined by the order of birth.

Currently, anyone who marries a Roman Catholic is banned from succeeding to the throne; however, Catholics will still be barred from becoming monarch.

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