Church blocks reforms in old British royal marriages law

London: A move by British Government to scrap a centuries-old law that prevents members of the royal family from marrying Roman Catholics has reportedly been blocked by the Church of England.

Under the 1701 Act of Settlement, heirs to the throne must renounce their claim on marrying a Roman Catholic in order to introduce full equality between the faiths.

As part of constitutional reforms, the government wanted to repeal the law, which many Roman Catholics complain as sectarian.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is responsible for matters of constitutional reform, held a series of talks with the Anglican Church in this regard.

However, the plan to abolish the Act of Settlement was quietly shelved after the Church raised significant objections centring on the British sovereign`s dual role as Supreme Governor, the Daily Telegraph reported.

"Church leaders expressed concern that if a future heir to the throne married a Roman Catholic, their children would be required by canon law to be brought up in that faith," the newspaper said.

The reforms, Clegg suggested, also included steps to secure an agreement of the Commonwealth to end the common principle of male primogeniture, under which the younger sons of royalty have precedence over their older sisters.

According to the newspaper, there is no similar prohibition on the Royal family marrying members of other faiths such as Islam and Judaism, or those who are openly agnostic or atheist.

The official Catholic Church of England and Wales is understood to be "relaxed" about the continuing existence of the Act of Settlement.

However, the law has long rankled with many of the five million Roman Catholics in Britain, who complain that it is sectarian.

A leading proponent of equality, Clegg was initially attracted to the idea of repealing the Act but is said to have been persuaded that the difficulties raised by the Anglican Church were insurmountable.

"The Government accepts there are provisions [in the Act] which could be discriminatory," a spokesman for Clegg was quoted as saying.

"Amending the laws regarding succession to the throne is a complex and difficult matter that requires careful and thoughtful consideration."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Anglican Church said that although the Act of Succession appeared "anomalous" in the modern world, while the Church of England remained the established religion, the monarch and Supreme Governor could not owe a higher loyalty elsewhere.

Several members of the Royal family have been forced to take steps to comply with the Act of Settlement, which was originally passed to prevent the descendants of the Catholic James II from ascending the throne.