Remarriages in church soar

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The Independent Online
A rising number of Anglican priests are breaking church law by marrying divorcees whose former spouses are still alive.

The Archbishop of Canterbury warned last week that such a marriage between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles could plunge the Anglican community into crisis.

The Prince's situation is particularly difficult for the Church of England, as he will become its head and take the title Defender of the Faith when he becomes King. At his coronation he would swear to uphold the laws of the Church.

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, however, show that a marriage between the Prince and Mrs Parker Bowles would follow thousands of similar weddings which are prohibited by the church in theory yet endorsed in practice.

Traditionalists fear that taking a similarly liberal approach to a second marriage of the divorced heir to the throne would create chaos in the Church and lead to disestablishment - effectively breaking the bonds between it and the monarchy.

The crux of the theological problem facing clergymen over remarriage in church lies in the belief that marriage vows mean exactly what they say - to remain with one partner "till death us do part". Anyone who divorces and then remarries while the former partner is still alive commits adultery.

But the latest figures show that the flouting of the rule by Anglican ministers has grown to such an extent that there are now four times as many second marriages as there were in the 1980s. Almost one in 12 marriages carried out in the Church of England and Church in Wales during 1994 involved a divorcee. In 1984 the figure was one in 50.

While canon law forbids a priest to marry a divorcee if the former spouse is still alive, under common law they are legally entitled to perform such a ceremony because they are also marriage registrars. To resolve this difficulty, priests are given guidance by their diocesan bishop on the sorts of cases where a second marriage can take place and, while the Church stresses that it opposes such ceremonies, the final decision is left as a matter of conscience for the priest involved.

Some priests who remarry divorcees get around the problem by suggesting that, if the marriage has died through no fault of either partner nor for want of trying to make it work, a second church marriage is possible.

Canon George Burgon, vicar of St Mary's in Northampton, believes that the increasing liberal attitudes of new recruits to the clergy has had an impact on the number of divorced people remarrying in church.

He said: "I would say that in our local area there are a lot more priests conducting second marriages. It's probably around the 25 per cent mark and I think it's going to accelerate.

"I think it's increasing because of the number of women priests and new members of the clergy who are much more aware of people's wish to get married, and of the needs of second partners."