Saturday, 9 September 2017

Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived

In the small furore over Jeremy Corbyn's reception of Holy Communion at Mary Turner's Requiem Mass, something that happens all the time at funerals because they are routinely attended by people without religious backgrounds but who knew the deceased, remember that someone must have given it to him, in the full knowledge of who he was. If he were asked not to do it again, then I am sure that he would not. Whereas Tony Blair behaved very differently. But again, whoever gave him Communion knew who he was.

Bringing us to Jacob Rees-Mogg, and the perfectly bizarre wailing in certain quarters that they have somehow been dispossessed. Dispossessed of what, exactly? It is still only 10 years since Blair could not become a Catholic until he had ceased to be Prime Minister.

He, who had changed the Constitution more than any Prime Minister before or since, and far more than Corbyn proposes to do, did not attempt to clarify the law that still appears to bar Catholics from the Premiership, because he knew that, whatever the law might be, a Catholic Prime Minister was still politically impossible. The insistence on both the constitutional and the political points would not have come from his own party.

Oh, well, Jesus Himself thought that this kind of thing was good for us. Arguments in defence of the Catholic Church's definition of marriage as the best basis for the law of the land, and in defence of the right to make that case, ought to have been offered in 1533. As, of course they were. (Even Luther and Tyndale supported Catherine of Aragon against Henry VIII; in its origins, the English Reformation was as untheological as anything has ever been.)

Rees-Mogg's and his supporters' weird sense of their own impugned entitlement is like his routine quotation of the Book of Common Prayer, the King James Bible and Victorian Anglican hymnody: it does not come across as culturally Catholic at all. As the New York Irish used to say of John F. Kennedy, "He never did a day of Catholic school in his life."

As to those who until this week held that it was, and ought to be, impossible for a Catholic to become Prime Minister, but who have now decided that Rees-Mogg speaks for them despite their Protestantism, see above on marriage, while on abortion, to which church do you belong? The Church of England, has never been against abortion. It, the Church of Scotland, and the Methodist Church wrote suspiciously similar reports that David Steel then wrote up as what became the 1967 Abortion Act.

In eventually backing down on several Lords amendments to that Bill, amendments that the Commons rejected but which the Lords were determined to keep, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, saved his own and his brethren's seats in the House of Lords. In other words, there are still bishops in the House of Lords at all because they supported abortion, and not as some Medieval or Early Modern quirk, but a mere 50 years ago.

The de facto prohibition on a pro-life Prime Minister is at least 50 years old. Since the 1967 Abortion Act, only three opponents of that legislation and of its successive extensions have even been candidates to lead either of the main parties, in the sense of being on the ballot paper in the end. Those have been John Smith, John Redwood and Iain Duncan Smith.

Only Smith and Duncan Smith have won the Leadership (in Smith's case, as long ago as 1992), and only Smith has come within sight of becoming Prime Minister, although even he never did so. It is inconceivable, so to speak, that anyone of that view could ever again make it onto the ballot to lead either the Labour Party or the Conservative Party.

We have already seen that the same thing now applied to same-sex marriage. If keeping Andrea Leadsom off the ballot meant that there simply would not be an election at all, then there simply would not be an election at all, even though she would have lost it anyway. And even though she would have lost it anyway, there simply was not an election at all. Jacob Rees-Mogg, nota bene.

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