LONDON -- Britain's chief rabbi is joining 26 Anglican bishops in the House of Lords, but there still are no Catholic prelates in the august body four centuries after Henry VIII broke with the Church of Rome.
Anglicans express no objection, but Roman Catholic leaders say they aren't interested -- not because bitterness remains after 400 years, but because Pope John Paul II disapproves of priests becoming politicians.
They say that will keep Catholic clergy out of the House of Lords, despite renewed calls for a lordly cardinal after Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits was included in the New Year's honors list.
John Paul's stricture apparently applies just as much to joining Britain's unelected and comparatively powerless upper chamber of Parliament as it does to serving in Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government or the U.S. Congress.
"It would be very difficult to justify a special case for the British in the eyes of the rest of the church," said Monsignor George Leonard, spokesman for Cardinal Basil Hume, leader of the 4 million Catholics in England and Wales.
No one is saying whether Hume has refused a royal summons to the Lords, which would be a matter of embarrassment these days but not fatal. Modern monarchs are the formal bestowers of life peerages but the prime minister does the choosing.
Asked whether a peerage is proper for any ordained minister in modern Britain, legal adviser Brian Hanson of the Anglican church said:
"We think so. They see their role as monitoring legislation to make sure the Christian conscience is not forgotten in what is still reckoned to be a Christian country."
The presence in the Lords of the 26 senior Anglican bishops, led by the archbishops of Canterbury and York, dates to the medieval royal habit of summoning the aristocracy and clerics for advice. Thus was Parliament born, and the Anglican bishops still are called the Lords Spiritual.
Only a few hundred peers, usually with one or two bishops among them, attend sessions of the House of Lords. Their powers are restricted to delaying for up to six months leglsiation passed by the elected House of Commons, with the exception of finance bills.
Catholics make up 10 percent of Britain's population, compared with 60 percent who are Anglicans, at least nominally. About 10 percent of all Britons attend church regularly.