The royal split: does it matter?: Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, regrets the separation and says a major adjustment in the nation's thinking is needed

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The Independent Online
SADNESS and dismay. This is the instinctive reaction of most of us. First, sadness for the Prince and Princess of Wales: sadness that they feel they have no option but to go through with this so public, painful sundering. The breakdown of any marriage is a tragedy; how much more this one, entered upon with such dazzling expectations.

What makes it particularly wretched is that both the Prince and the Princess are such splendid people. Both of them, in their different ways, are contributing so much to our national life. Diana, with her electricity and concern for victims of all kinds, has reinforced many forms of care by her presence and support. Charles, with his thoughtful, innovative approach to such issues as the regeneration of our inner cities and the environment, has given a real impetus to many worthwhile ventures.

God's intention is that marriage should be a lifelong union. This is what it is in principle and what the vast majority of those who embark upon it want it to be. But marriages, even royal marriages, fail; and Christ was particularly gentle with those who knew themselves to be failures. The Prince and Princess of Wales and their children need our understanding and prayers as they work out their futures.

Inevitably, people are asking how the separation will affect the succession. As the Archbishops of Canterbury and York made clear in their statement, marital status does not affect the succession to the throne and hence to the title of Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The monarch is Supreme Governor of the Church by virtue of being the sovereign: there is no other legal requirement. Under the Act of Settlement of 1700, the sovereign must be a communicant member of the Church of England, which Prince Charles is and remains.

It is also important to stress that this is a separation not a divorce. We should not assume that divorce and remarriage will follow. Priests who have found themselves in this painful position have sometimes chosen, for the sake of their Christian faith and their ideal of marriage, to remain separated or divorced without remarrying. But speculation about hypothetical situations at this point is not helpful. What matters is that, as the Queen has said, the Prince and Princess of Wales will continue to give a wholehearted commitment to their public duties.

As a society we are now, thank God, much more tolerant of those whose marriages have broken down. Within nearly every congregation there are those who have been in this situation. Recently, the General Synod and Parliament allowed people who have been divorced and remarried to be ordained. There are already a few clergy in this position. They try to witness to what Christ said about marriage, while knowing that they themselves have been unsuccessful. Yet, living on the grace and forgiveness of God they minister to others conscious of their fallibility and human need. One-third of marriages now end in divorce, so there are many people who, from their own experience, will offer a particular understanding, especially for the young princes, William and Harry.

For the nation as a whole, which has invested so much emotion in this union, a major adjustment will be necessary. The Prince and Princess of Wales have been idealised. They have had projected on to them the glamour and romance and shiny perfection lacking in so many lives. There will be a period of disillusion. Like the rest of us, the Royal Family is human, frail and fallible. It is down to earth with

a bump. But on that uncomfortable earth we can offer them our sympathy as they come to terms with their private unhappiness, and our respect as they continue to perform their public duties.

The Queen has asked that intrusions into the privacy of the couple may now cease. Inevitably, questions will be asked about the effect of those intrusions on the break-up. Some anger will be directed against the tabloid press. The vast majority of the nation will want the Queen's wish respected. In recent months prayers for the Royal Family have had a special poignancy. They do so today.