Leading article: A right royal failure of imagination

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THE BEST-KNOWN, and best-loved, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England was laid to rest with due majesty yesterday. What was missing were Their Majesties themselves. The royals were, of course, represented yesterday at Westminster Cathedral, by the Catholic Duke and Duchess of Norfolk and the converted Princess Michael of Kent. But of the Queen, her consort, her sons or her daughters there was no sign.

No doubt good reasons can be offered. The Queen does not attend funerals at home, presumably for fear of not knowing where to stop. Others were supposedly too busy. And there is always the sense that the titular head of the Church of England prefers to avoid Mass for fear of betraying her inheritance - although the Palace vigorously denies any constitutional impediment. But it is not the failure of respect that strikes such a dismal chord - it is the failure of imagination. Think what a gesture it might have been had the funeral been graced by the Prince of Wales - who has famously laid claim to be prince of all faiths - or his eldest son.

This paper above all is no devotee of royalty. But the monarch retains a constitutional function, which gives it a duty to assist change to take us into the next century. A central part of that function is a religious one, as head of the reformed church founded for the royal family's procreation. Even accepting that the Crown really has no right, or relevance, as head of the Church, that still poses questions. The future of the Church of England and of faith in the new millennium cannot be dismissed lightly. The Roman Catholic Church cannot for ever be treated as an old enemy, to be kept at a distance. Attending yesterday's funeral would have given a public signal of the drawing together of faiths at a time when bigotry is still far from dead, as we have seen recently in Northern Ireland and Scotland .

Over the past year the "firm" has spent much of its time trying to reconnect with the public through discretion and informality. They have spent a great deal less time thinking about their public duties and responsibilities - leaving ever more starkly the question of whether they should still keep them at all.