Palace drops hint that chaplain should resign

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CANON Eric James, an Extra Chaplain to the Queen, yesterday stood by his controversial remarks about the merits of an elected head of state, despite a frosty response from Buckingham Palace.

The Palace - which had been attacked for "toadying sycophancy" by the outspoken canon - delivered a most unsubtle hint that the Extra Chaplain's resignation might be in order. Certainly, if offered, it appeared that it would be accepted with grateful alacrity.

A Palace spokesman commented on Canon James's declaration that it was time "for a profound reflection upon, and reconsideration of, the role of the monarch", with the statement: "How he reconciles these comments with his position as Extra Chaplain to the Queen is a matter for him."

But Canon James said yesterday that he had no intention of resigning from his post. "I want to agree that it's my own affair," he said. "I stand by all I've said. We shall wait and see for a little while."

Canon James was a fully-fledged chaplain to the Queen between 1984 and 1995, when he reached the age of 70 and moved on to being an Extra Chaplain. He now preaches once a year at one of the royal chapels, most often in St James's Palace.

Most years he is invited to go on a "jolly" at Holyrood or Sandringham.

Yesterday, republicans welcomed the canon's remarks, particularly given the fact that they come from a member of the royal establishment. They hailed him as the first insider to break ranks.

But the equally outspoken Ann Widdecombe, the former Tory Minister who left the Church of England for the Roman Catholic church, said yesterday that the canon should mind his own business.

"It's a pity that Canon Eric James doesn't confine himself to spiritual matters," she told The Independent.

"That he should waste such time on his theory of running the realm instead of getting on, spreading the gospel, which is what he's supposed to do, is a good example of how the Church of England has lost its way."

Miss Widdecombe said that while women priests had been the final straw for her departure from the Church of England, "there had been a huge bundle of straw before that, some of which was this sort of thing - failure to concentrate on the spiritual, and an eternal desire to interfere in politics."