Norman St John-Stevas (left) allocates responsibility for the way royal marriage settlements work out.
FEW but the most theologically crabbed and bigoted will begrudge Princess Michael of Kent her happiness at finally seeing her marriage recognised by the Catholic Church.
What a judgement it was on ecclesiastical attitudes in both the Catholic and Anglican Communions that five years ago a couple who wanted nothing more than to enjoy the blessing of a Christian marriage were forced to resort to a register office union.
One can imagine the scorn such a pharisaical outcome would have aroused in the mind of the founder of our religion.
Princess Michael in fact deserved better of the Roman ecclesiastical authorities since she behaved throughout with punctilious regard for the rules of her Church.
First she obtained an annulment of her first marriage according to the accepted procedures of canon law. Then she became engaged to Prince Michael and it was made clear that in the circumstances it would not be possible to bring up the children of the marriage as Catholics.
There was no attempt to fudge the issue, and anyone with knowledge of our history and law, must realise the reasons for it. The Catholic canon law on mixed marriages has changed radically since the days when it was a condition of marriage in a Catholic Church that both parties should make solemn written promises that the children should be brought up as Catholics.
Such a ruling which does violence to the conscience of the non-Catholic party to the union was rightly done away with after the Second Vatican Council. The only promise now required is from the Catholic partner who has to promise to do all in his or her power to bring up the children as Catholics but not to do so in a manner or degree which would jeopardise the future of the marriage.
Princess Michael's situation falls well within these parameters. As it is the children will be brought up as Anglicans but in the full knowledge of their mother's religion (they often accompany their mother to Mass) and when they reach the age of majority will be able to take a mature decision ibr themselves as to which denomination they will adhere to.
Should they decide to become Catholics they would under English law forfeit their rights of succession to the throne.
Prince Michael of Kent has already done so by marrying Marie Christina but quite rightly did not wish to pre-empt his children's freedom of choice.
And this brings me to the really substantive issue which this case raises. Why should a choice have to be made at all?
Members of the royal family are free to marry whom they please. They can be black or white or brown. Muslims, Jews or Hottentots, but if the partner is Catholic then all rights of succession to the throne are forfeited.
Such a provision violates first of all the basic human rights of members of the royal family; why should they alone be subject to such discrimination?
Second it is an insult to all Her Majesty's Catholic subjects at home and throughout the Commonwealth since it casts a slur on their loyalty and fidelity.
When I was a member of the Cabinet I supported a change in this law but the proposal came to nothing since politicians do not wish to stir up unnecessary hornets' nest.
At one time it was wrongly
rumoured that Prince Charles wished to marry a Catholic and had this been so the issue would have exploded and generated a major constitutional crisis.
The situation could arise again with another member of the royal family. 1 believe it would be prudent to examine the whole issue through a constitutional commission which would be able to consider the matter calmly and dispassionately uninvolved with particualr personalities.
Meanwhile Princess Michael has reaped the reward of her fidelity to her religion. It would have been easy enough in a mood of exasperation and umbrage for her to have conformed to the Church of England.
As is was she did not abandon but cherished her inheritance. She has been treated with no special favour by the Catholic Church. Compliant priests would doubtless have allowed the Princess to approach the alter privately but she rejected such subterfuges; Now she is free to receive Holy Communion publicly.
Catholics should rejoice that the highest ranking Catholic in the land (taking precedence over both the Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Norfolk manqu 'e) is now in good standing with both Church and State.