The Prince, the Pope and a protocol nightmare

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The Prince of Wales has done the decent thing in postponing his wedding for a day so that it does not clash with the Pope's funeral. This is not simply a matter of showing respect to the late pontiff. It also gets the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as the Royal Family nicely off the hook.

The Prince of Wales has done the decent thing in postponing his wedding for a day so that it does not clash with the Pope's funeral. This is not simply a matter of showing respect to the late pontiff. It also gets the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as the Royal Family nicely off the hook.

The protocol nightmares thrown up by the obsequies of John Paul II offer a singular barometer of social change in Britain over a comparatively short period. Only a few decades back it would have been inconceivable that there was much of a choice to be made between attendance at the marriage of the heir to the British throne and the funerary rites of the head of a foreign denomination which insists, still, that Church of England ministers are not proper priests. But a real dilemma was thrown up by the announcement that the Pope's funeral was, by unhappy coincidence, to take place on the day that Charles and Camilla had planned their nuptials.

Lambeth Palace was in a spin. Should the Archbishop of Canterbury give precedence to his role as head of the Anglican Communion and board a plane for Rome? Or did he owe his allegiance to the son of the Defender of the Faith, a title given to the monarchy in the time of Henry VIII as a mark of loyalty to the Catholic Church, but thereafter cherished by English Protestants as a mark of defiant independence from papist domination?

Downing Street was in a tizzy. Tony Blair is the nearest thing this country has ever had to a Catholic prime minister - his wife and children are Catholics and he regularly goes to Mass. He might have preferred to go to the funeral, but was his primary duty to attend the Prince's second wedding? And where, with an election looming, did the most votes lie?

Thankfully, both primate and prime minister have been spared the pain of choosing. At the last papal funeral the Queen was represented by England's most senior Catholic, the Duke of Norfolk. By taking that task upon himself, the Prince of Wales has neatly solved a number of problems in one go. And the funeral meats, as Hamlet so succinctly put it, can coldly furnish the wedding feast.

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