Time to put church and state asunder

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The Independent Online

What a week for pomp and flummery. What a week of spontaneous outpouring. What a week of contrasts. In Rome we were witness to a festival of medieval pageantry and high Ruritanian spectacle, taking place amid a sea of young pilgrim-tourists, many of whom had arrived on cut-price airlines and proceeded to transmit pictures of the proceedings on their mobile phones. The culture clashes, however, were not only in Rome.

What a week for pomp and flummery. What a week of spontaneous outpouring. What a week of contrasts. In Rome we were witness to a festival of medieval pageantry and high Ruritanian spectacle, taking place amid a sea of young pilgrim-tourists, many of whom had arrived on cut-price airlines and proceeded to transmit pictures of the proceedings on their mobile phones. The culture clashes, however, were not only in Rome.

Here, in a reflection of the public mood and a new spirit of ecumenism, Prince Charles, the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury all judged it their first duty to attend the Vatican funeral. The royal remarriage was postponed. Perhaps - as some suggested - in becoming more Continental, Britain has also become more Catholic. Perhaps it is rather that, in this more secular age, the schisms of the past have lost their power to prevail over a sense of humanity. It would be good - maybe unrealistically so - to think so.

Postponing the royal wedding for a day was the decent choice. But was it not strange that the Prince should postpone his wedding out of respect for a man who was so totally opposed to divorce? Strange, yes, but not so strange as the anachronistic complications that faced the heir to the throne over the question of his remarriage.

Because we have an established church in this country, because the head of state is also Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the monarch and the heir must belong to that church and abide by its rules. Hence no special concession should be made to the Prince as a divorcee wanting to remarry in church. Hence no bending of the rules such as permitted the Princess Royal to remarry in Scotland. Hence the concern that a civil marriage alone would not be recognised. Hence the long-term relationship with Mrs Parker Bowles, which was hardly in accord with canon law either. And all the while, in civil law, he was free to marry.

The coincidence of this week's worldwide adulation for a conservative pope and today's royal wedding highlights the absurdity of the Prince's predicament. If proof were still needed that it was time to disestablish the Church of England, this was it. The attachment of church and state in this country is long out of date; it needs to be abolished.

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