Synod breaks church silence on royal divorce

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A prominent evangelical theologian yesterday broke the embarrassed silence in the Church of England's General Synod's about the royal divorce. "We're all fed up with it," said Dr Elaine Storkey, whose husband, Alan, caused a furore last year when he refused to sign a church report that suggested abandoning the phrase "living in sin".

Speaking on the GMTV Sunday programme, she said: "There's clearly something very wrong" about the prospect of a divorced king who had confessed adultery becoming Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

"If you're asking for my personal opinion, it's an embarrassment. But it's a constitutional issue. As long as the church is the Church of England and established, we have the monarch as the head of the church in titular form and whoever that monarch is, is, ipso facto, the head of the church: we can't do anything about it.

"So, whatever we think of Prince Charles and his behaviour - and some of us think quite a few things about it - we're still saddled with him as the head of the church because he's going to be the monarch."

Dr Storkey said there was "an enormous loss of respect in the country as a whole and, of course, in the church, for the Prince of Wales".

Speaking in York, where the synod is meeting, she said at least five bishops agreed with her, though few would say so to the press. The Bishop of Sodor and Man, the Right Rev Noel Jones, who does not believe in remarriage after divorce, reiterated that he would not feel able to swear an oath of allegiance to a king who had remarried after his divorce.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, has set up a committee to consider the rules governing the remarriage of divorcees, and to strive for a coherent policy. At the moment the Church of England has about 43 policies on the issue, one for each diocese.

A sampling of synod bishops suggests the new rules are unlikely to be liberal enough to let unfaithful husbands marry their mistresses in church.

The Bishop of Rochester, the Right Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, does not discriminate between remarriage and a service of blessing for second marriages, unlike many clergy. But the remarriages he allows must meet stringent conditions. All financial and other wranglings left over from previous marriages must have been settled justly. Someone who has abandoned his or her spouse for a new love may not remarry in church.

In the diocese of Oxford, one of the richest and most populous in the country, the bishop, the Right Rev Richard Harries, leaves these decisions entirely up to the consciences of the clergy involved, though there are two pages of diocesan guidelines. Most, he says, prefer to use a service of blessing rather than a full remarriage. He himself has only remarried a divorced man once - a friend of his who was also a priest.

The synod yesterday welcomed as a "substantial contribution to theology" a report that says Hell certainly exists but may be empty. There were eloquent evangelical protests against the Doctrine Commission's report, The Mystery of Salvation, on the ground that it dealt more with salvation than damnation and did not state clearly enough its beliefs about members of other faiths.

The inference is that the likes of Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Joseph Stalin were simply snuffed out rather than punished when they appeared before God," said the Rev Andrew Dow, a Birmingham vicar. "If the wicked are simply annihilated at death, why did Jesus himself mention hellfire? We must not simply siphon off the teachings of Christ because they are unfashionable."