In a television documentary on Wednesday, Prince Charles is understood to say: 'I happen to believe that the Catholic subjects of the sovereign are as important (as Protestants), not to mention the Islamic, Hindu and Zoroastrian.' Officials say this does not amount to an intention to cut the tie between Crown and Church.
However, the Prince also says says he would be happy to be considered 'Defender of Faith' rather than 'Defender of the Faith'.
Historians point out that the Windsors' legal claim to the throne rests on their allegiance to the Protestant religion. Under the Act of Settlement of 1701, the British monarch must be a member of the Church of England.
Lambeth Palace said the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, would not be drawn into the debate before the programme was shown. However, the Bishop of Durham welcomed the renewed debate on the link between the state and the Church 'when it is clear that you cannot claim that this is a Christian country'.
One senior Anglican source said: 'In so far as the Prince may be saying something about being seen as a king equally to people of all faiths, obviously it is relevant that the Church of England sees its role as the established church not as being there to promote the Church of England but to hold in trust the spiritual and religious dimension of national life.'
There is some speculation that the Princess of Wales intends to become a Catholic. This would mean Prince Charles would be forced to relinquish his right to the throne because no monarch can be married to a Catholic. The Sunday Times reported the Prince as telling unnamed friends that this law was 'absurd'.
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood, suggested last winter that the wording of the Coronation oath might be changed to reflect the more multi-cultural nature of Britain compared to in 1952 when the oath was last used. But the Church appears to have moved away from this.
Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat spokesman on Church of England matters, said: 'The only logical constitutional position for future centuries is that the monarch should cease to be the head of the Church of England.'
The Queen Mother, patron of the Bomber Command Association, has written to Channel 4 to express concern felt by members over a documentary about Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris being shown on 7 August. The letter says she does not want to intervene but wants to draw attention to the concern. Members who have seen the documentary claim it implies Canadian aircrew were used as 'cannon-fodder' by Sir Arthur.
Leading article, page 13
The multi-faith prince, page 14