THE ROYAL DIVORCE: Church is saved from dilemma over remarriage

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The Independent Online
Officially, the Church of England will have no difficulty coming to terms with a divorced king who would become its supreme governor. Unofficially, it is heaving a huge sigh of relief that the Prince of Wales appears to have renounced remarriage.

Though the Church of England recognises divorce, in common with almost all non-Roman Catholic churches, it has no formal mechanism for recognising second marriages.

As to the question of the constitutional or theological position of a king and supreme governor who has a recognised mistress, no one in any official position in the Church was offering any opinion yesterday.

A minority of conservative priests still doubt whether anyone who has admitted adultery should succeed to the throne. Dr David Holloway, one of the leaders of Reform, an evangelical pressure group opposed to women priests and homosexuals, said yesterday he did not know if he could take the oath of allegiance to a divorced man.

Every time an Anglican priest is promoted or transferred to a new parochial post, she or he says: "I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law: So help me God."

"The difficult word there is faithful." said Dr Holloway. "That doesn't necessarily mean promising to do what you are told. I think it refers to the Christian faith, and that, of course, brings in the whole question of the fittingness of leadership. Of course there is forgiveness for divorce and marriage sin but certain behaviours preclude people from certain offices. If he gets divorced, he is unfit to be supreme governor." However, when the question was first raised seriously, in 1992, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, declared that: "The Monarch is supreme governor ... by virtue of being the sovereign. There is no other legal requirement." George I succeeded to the throne in 1714 despite being divorced.

In the twentieth century, the rules have been tighter. Edward VIII was forced to abdicate rather than marry his divorced mistress, Wallis Simpson; Cosmo Lang, then Archbishop of Canterbury, was an implacable opponent of that relationship.

Convocation, one of the precursors of the General Synod, denounced remarriage in church for people whose partners were still living in 1957, after the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, had intervened to prevent Princess Margaret from marrying the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend.

This position was modified in the 1980s, so that now a priest who is convinced in conscience that he should remarry a divorced couple may do so. But few do. The majority of couples marrying in church for the second time are given a service of blessing, which uses almost all the words of a traditional marriage service except those phrases which actually pronounce the couple married.

The Rev Victor Stock, Rector of St Mary-le-Bow in the City of London, said: "If the church is in the process of rethinking the way it deals with second marriage, then the Prince might benefit from it at some future date, but at the moment it would be absolutely wrong to change the church's regulations as they exist just for the sake of one man."

Anglican churches abroad, which are not established, tend to be looser in their marriage discipline. There are divorced bishops in the United States. The Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian rather than Anglican, does remarry divorced people in church.