Queen Elizabeth recently signed into British law new legislation allowing same sex marriage. The date was July 17, after the law passed the House of Commons earlier in the week. The queen is the titular head of the Church of England, which ironically officially opposes homosexual marriage.
Defenders of the British monarchy were very quick to point out that this was purely a formality, and it was not indicative of where Her Majesty actually stands on the issue.
A number of good amendments were passed, which gave freedom to religious groups that did not want to perform these ceremonies in their houses of worship, such as the Catholic Church.
The passing of the legislation has indicated, however, how far a once-Christian country has gone in embracing the secular, humanist values of Western society. Proponents of a constitutional monarchy have always said that, in spite of the fact that in this structure a monarch’s power is purely ceremonial, a monarch’s personal behavior can influence public opinion in their realm. However, this summer’s developments strongly belie that notion, if the benchmark is the upholding of a nation’s Christian heritage.
Regardless of the queen’s opinion on such matters, it is good to know that in the British royal family, thankfully, there are some who strongly uphold Christian values.
Lord Nicholas Windsor, born in 1970, renounced his right of succession to the British throne when he embraced Catholicism in 2001. This followed the conversion of his mother, Katharine Worsley, the Duchess of Kent, in 1994 — the first member of the House of Windsor to become a Roman Catholic. Lord Nicholas’ father, the Duke of Kent, is a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth.
Lord Nicholas was married to Paola Doimi Lupis Frankopan (of Italian and Croatian descent) in 2006 in the Church of St. Stephen of the Abyssinians in Rome, where the couple resides with their two sons.
Lord Nicholas is the vice president of the Friends of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and was a Visiting Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC.
He has worked for the Refugee Council in London and in the DePaul Trust on behalf of homeless persons. Recently, he participated in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II (of whom he is a first cousin, once removed) and was in the Royal Box at the concert held in her honor.
In an exclusive interview with Andrew Rabel, the Australian correspondent for Inside the Vatican, Lord Nicholas recently spoke about his conversion to Catholicism, and particularly about his strong commitment to protecting the rights of the unborn.
You are the first male convert to Catholicism in the British royal family in several centuries. What is it that drew you to the Catholic faith? Were you influenced in this by the decision of your mother, the first member of the House of Windsor to become Catholic?
Lord Nicholas Windsor: What I can certainly say is that I didn’t seek to be received into the Catholic Church because I was fleeing another Christian community. It was all for me the attraction of a whole new way of seeing the world, of talking about the culture in a much more dynamic way, of living a Christian life as a great adventure. As I was listening to the late great Pope John Paul II, his brilliant way of addressing young people, I was magnetized. I was in my 20s, and I was drawn to this man and the way in which he lived, for others, for young people. Through him, I was drawn into the embrace of the Church, the embrace of Our Lord telling me not to be afraid, quoting the words of Our Lord to St. Peter. I realized that to come into the Catholic Church, to embrace and participate in the performance of the Sacraments, to be more a disciple, this was a wonderful burst of light into my life, and the question of abortion was something that John Paul focused on, and the Church focuses on — its care and compassion for human life, for unborn children, for their mothers, for life in its fullness. Our Lord desires that we live abundantly.
To rob a new life of its capacity to grow, to love, to be loved, is an extraordinarily shocking thing, and in its pronouncements it seemed to me that the Catholic Church was in the lead in the world, in realizing this awful thing was happening in our midst.
Before my mother’s conversion, we spent our holidays near the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk, the greatest of English medieval shrines to Our Lady. The Anglican shrine is a reconstruction of the Holy House of Walsingham, which had been destroyed at the time of the Reformation. She would take me there quite often. My mother felt very drawn to this place, and I remember her taking me there.
Marian devotion wasn’t a part of my family’s Christian life, but my mother was drawn to this place, and I remember it having a deep effect on me. This introduction to Our Lady was a gift of Our Lady through my mother.
As you have just mentioned, you have been a tireless advocate of the rights of the unborn child, even saying, “The world doesn’t have a right to abortion,” and last year with your colleague Lord Alton and other concerned English pro-lifers and parliamentarians, you launched the “San Jose articles.” What are they exactly, and what contribution do you believe they can make to stop abortion from becoming an international “right”?
Lord Nicholas Windsor: First of all, to talk about the San Jose articles: this was a project born of the vision of a group of lawyers, academics, diplomats, bioethicists, who wanted to put into the hands of those who are resisting the pressure which is brought to bear by certain bodies in the ambit of the United Nations and certain governments, particularly in the developing world, who are trying to decriminalize and legitimize abortion and to bring about a permissive regime in the way that we have it in the Western world.
So hopefully the articles are a concise way of trying to present a legal and scientific definition of unborn life as fully human life, and in an early phase of its continual, integral development. In other words, to say that science cannot say arbitrarily that a human life attains greater moral status, moral value, merely because it is more complex as it develops, greater in size and capacity and so on. A human life clearly begins and there is one beginning. There is no further development of a human being beyond conception. Everything else is integral, self-organizing development, and an attempt to say that it is not is not proper science, and is actually an obfuscation of scientific fact. So we put this document together, and we hope very much that it will be used by those who do not want to see the permissive abortion legislation that we know to our cost, come to their countries in Latin America, in Africa, to Asia.
With the Christian faith having dramatically lost its influence on the European continent, as a European yourself, what do you attribute this to, and what concrete steps can be taken to reverse this trend?
Lord Nicholas Windsor: In regard to what is happening in Europe, this is a question that should be addressed to more qualified people. This effort to re-evangelize Europe is about the clergy, the hierarchy, the laity with all their capacities, how they can, with all their creativity, but most of all with a deep discipleship, really make an impact on our culture. When you think of what Christians are doing in media, the bloggers, all of that lively, confident and calm and respectful, reaching out to others is what we have to harness in this Year of Faith, and deepen.
You are the vice president of the Friends of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. As a convert from Anglicanism yourself, what positive role do you see the “Anglican patrimony” as having in recovering a sense of the sacred, following the impoverishment, to a large extent, of the Catholic liturgy following the Second Vatican Council?
Lord Nicholas Windsor: Well, traditionalist Anglicans or Anglo-Catholics have preserved broadly a part of the heritage of the Reformation, the prayer book and so on. But it is also important to remember that if we take the Book of Common Prayer and we take out the Eucharistic parts of it, we have a very Catholic book, and this is of course a fact that the Holy Father has recognized, in allowing the wonderful English translation of the Psalter, and the services of Matins and Evensong to come into the Catholic Church and be recognized as part of the Catholic patrimony of England.
So part of the Anglo-Catholics coming into the Catholic Church is actually bringing a pre-Reformation Catholic culture into the Church, which is a beautiful, rich culture which we know so much about from pioneering historians of the last 20 years. The wonderful, pictorial, sculptural, liturgical culture which was annihilated. But the great irony is that it, in part, survived in the Prayer Book. It survived, in part, in the liturgy that was revised in the 19th century. That is going to come back to us, and that sense of a love of beauty and a love of offering a beautiful liturgy to God the Father, is going to be of benefit to the Catholic Church.
Is there any prelate in the Catholic Church whom you particularly admire?
Lord Nicholas Windsor: I think there are many fine prelates in the Church, and many fine, holy men entering the hierarchy, being ordained to the episcopate by the Holy Father, who I believe are going to lead us in the right direction, in the direction I think Pope Benedict believes is in continuity with tradition. I admire the bishop of Shrewsbury, Mark Davis. He is clearly a man of prayer; I believe he shares the vision of Pope Benedict not just for the liturgy, but for the renewal of Christian life in Europe. So here is one name.
You have spoken against anti-Catholic prejudice in your own country of England, saying this is propagated by journals like The Guardian. Shouldn’t we just put up with it, or are there constructive ways we can handle this?
Lord Nicholas Windsor: Of course we have to put up with persecution, that is a given, but we don’t put up with the status quo, which is to say, the aberrations we see in the culture. So if there is anti-Christian teaching, or attacks on sexual morality or family life, what do we do about it? Do we be cowered by it, or do we come back with the reason for the hope that is in us? Do we keep talking, and do we keep arguing our case? We are putting forward a Christian proposition for happiness, for a fulfilled life, and the people who do write angrily and sometimes scurrilously about the position they take, some of them are reasonable, and we have to engage with them.
With your work with the Refugee Council and the DePaul Trust, you obviously have a great interest in helping others. What role then can the Church’s social doctrine play in helping to formulate government policies?
Lord Nicholas Windsor: I believe the Church has to perform its teaching and prophetic role in culture, and that means laity, clergy, and hierarchy not being reluctant to engage the culture, and to declare evil to be evil. I am not an expert in politics, the phenomenology and tactics of politics. I only know that consciences are formed by teaching, by example, by clarity, about the great moral tradition, intellectual tradition, the example of the saints. These things have to be laid in front of people whether they are politicians or not politicians. This is how we eventually end up with right-thinking politicians. The Church’s social doctrine is in the public arena. It should be better known.