Who's your father? It’s a legitimate question – or rather an illegitimate one.
At the age of 60, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has just discovered that his father wasn’t the man that his mother married in April 1955.
It’s come as a big shock, both to the Archbishop, and to his mother.
Apparently his mother had a fling with Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s private secretary, Anthony Montague-Browne, the day or so before she married Gavin Welby.
Since Justin Welby was born almost exactly nine months after his parents wedding, he was always thought to be a ‘honeymoon baby’. Indeed, the man he thought was his father brought him up single-handed from the age of three.
But now DNA testing, organised by The Telegraph (don’t ask why!) has shown that actually Sir Anthony Montague-Brown was the Archbishop’s father, and not his mother’s husband, Gavin Welby.
What’s struck me most is the discovery that Justin Welby was an illegitimate baby might have cost him his job as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Canon law from around 1604 stated that someone born outside of wedlock could not become a bishop, let alone the Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Church of England.
That old law would mean that the consecration of Justin Welby was invalid, all his acts in the role of archbishop nullified, and he would have to stand down as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.
This would have caused a crisis in the Church.
But Church of England legal experts, reportedly somewhat in a panic, quickly discovered this week that the ancient Canon law against illegitimacy was abolished back in the 1950s – around the same time that Justin Welby was born.
Relief all round.
Except it perhaps shows how antiquated, ancient laws can still have such a strong grip on modern life.
If the archaic Church of England law against illegitimacy had not been abolished in the 1950s, would the Church have still followed it today?
Or would they have endeavoured to quickly change that law, so that Archbishop Welby – very popular among his flock – would not have to be defrocked?
Over the past hundreds of years there have no doubt been many bishops who, like Justin Welby, had no idea that their father wasn't the husband of their mother, meaning that they should never had been ordained.
Probably they mostly never found this out – and subsequently, were never found out.
Only the modern science of DNA testing made it possible for Justin Welby, 60 years after his birth, to discover the true identity of his biological father.
What should really be a private matter about the bishop's paternity would have become a public scandal if the old Church law on legitimacy was still in place.
It can be a painful process to challenge old laws that curiously seem to gain more allure the more ancient they are. But surely all rule books need review.
In the lifetimes of many reading this article, we have – often after many years of struggle and protests – had many bad old laws and traditions abolished.
- Until recently, practising homosexuality was a criminal offence – fortunately no more.
- Until recently, rape in marriage was legal – fortunately no more.
- Until recently, same-sex marriage was illegal – fortunately no more.
- And until recently, having the wrong father could have cost you your job in the Church of England – fortunately, no more.
But in the United Kingdom today, it’s still possible for a woman to be given a criminal record for having an abortion.
And we still describe humans as ‘illegal’ – just for moving from one part of the planet to another in an attempt to save their lives.
There are, it seems, still many other bad old laws and traditions that need challenging and changing.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury could have lost his job because of an old #Church law My blog: https://t.co/uCh9jMtoxV pic.twitter.com/EVE58p6lDy— Jon Danzig (@Jon_Danzig) April 9, 2016