Scotland's National Catholic magazine

Putting us in our place

Hugh Dougherty says that hostility to Catholics remains in the bones of British society.

It was amazing that many Catholics were a little taken aback, and some even shocked, when they heard King Charles affirm that he would defend the primacy of the Anglican Church and the Protestant religion.

You can argue that all he was doing was to state the position as it is, which is that every true Anglican believes that God has ordained the monarch as head of that church.

Astonishing when you think about it, that God would go to all that trouble to single out England alone, and only because Henry VIII fancied getting married again.

But there is something more sinister behind all of this, and it is the Act of Settle- ment of 1701, designed specifically to ensure that no Catholic can ever be the monarch.

It remains on the statue book and is a reminder of the historic view of the British establishment we’re not to be trusted, and, if ascended to the throne, might call in the Catholic Stuarts and their continental pals!

I must admit that it pulled me up short, when Charles pledged to uphold the Protes- tant religion. Although we don’t tend to think about it, and Charles has made noises about being the defender of all faiths, it was a very brutal statement of fact and intent.

It was a reminder that we are in law second-class citizens, a fact that underpins the anti-Catholic thought and discrimination which persists to this day. You don’t have to look hard in Scotland to see anti-Catholicism in action, fired up by the Act of Settlement.

The Orange Order, for example, makes no secret of its basic purpose, which is to uphold the one, true, Protestant faith.

Although the order talks of religious freedom, it doesn’t mean freedom for us Catholics, identified by the Act of Settlement as being beyond the Protestant pale, but freedom to practise what the order sees as the one true faith.

Now, I’ve met some very fine Orangemen in my day, and I can tell you that they don’t hate Catholics.

But they do believe that they are in charge, and that it is the Protes- tant succession of the monarchy which guarantees what they see as their elevated position above us.

Most people in the West of Scotland will be familiar with the football chant, con- nected with Rangers FC, of ‘We are the people!’ in Glaswegian, ‘We arra peepul!’

It, too, stems from this idea of Protestants being the chosen, the elect, the establishment of Scottish society, with Catholics, mostly of the lower, and, sometimes despised, Catholic, Irish, immigrant class, members of a lower order.

And that is exactly what the Act of Settlement says: that we cannot be trusted, that we are of a lesser order, and that God Himself has ordained the supremacy of the Protestant religion through the monarchy of the United Kingdom.

It’s worth noting that none of the political parties have ever made any meaningful attempt to have this anti-Catholic legislation removed from the statute book.

That’s amazing, given that every party is obsessed, to the point of absurdity, about equality, yet it’s fine for Catholics alone to be subject to state-sanctioned discrimination.

The SNP is no different, for, although the party’s official policy is that it would retain the monarchy if Scotland became independent, there’s been no mention of decoupling Scotland from the Act of Settlement, so, in the brave, new, fairer Scotland, built on equality for all, Catholics would still be openly discriminated against.

Now, you may feel that I am wallowing in the past, harking back to the 18th cen- tury, given that Catholics today, by and large, are free to practise their religion. Yet the past defines the present. The horrors of the past linger in the shadows of today and form our biases and fears.

It’s time, then, in these early days of King Charles III’s reign, for the new king and the British state, to rescind the Act of Settlement and to grant us, as Catholics true equality. For, as it is, it seems that in this age of wokery and equality, you can’t say anything vaguely critical about any group, unless it’s about Catholics.

In some ways, we have ourselves to blame for this, for we’re not good at de- manding our rights, and, some would rather keep their heads down, thankful for the small freedoms shown to us by the state. But we need to be bold.

I’m still chilled by those words of accession by the new king, guaranteeing the supremacy of the Protestant faith, for that’s at my expense, and the expense of every Catholic in the country, reminding us that we are definitely not ‘The People’.

Hugh Dougherty is a mostly retired journalist and communication officer.

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