Who are they to judge the Prince?

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I TAKE it that the Archdeacon of York is a member of the Princess of Wales's party and that his supporters among the general public are the Princess's supporters. I take it like this because I cannot otherwise see why the archdeacon should start worrying now whether the Prince of Wales should succeed to the throne.

It is not a pressing issue, is it? No, it is not pressing. The issue arises only if what you are trying to say is: the previous week's speech by the Princess shows that she has been badly treated. It was Diana's tears that moved Mr Austin.

If we were talking common sense about a common matter, experience would tell us that it is absolutely unwise to pass judgement on the break-up of a marriage, even a break-up we have observed closely. But the Archdeacon of York is not dealing in common sense. His views are absurd. He should get a grip on himself.

Then comes the unctuous follow-up from assorted Anglicans who say that the Prince should go back to Diana, confess his sins, repent before Diana and God, and patch up his marriage. And somewhere thrown in you will find a mild sentence to the effect that she, Diana, might have a bit of repenting to do as well. But no one of Diana's party likes to emphasise that side of things. That is not what the faction is for.

'Go back' is easily said when it is not you who has to do the going back. Even easier is to say it when there does not seem to be the foggiest chance that your advice will be taken up. Easiest of all is to say 'Go back' when there has not been the least public hint that the Prince would be welcome if he did come back, even after whatever act of repentance these unctuous Anglicans envisage has been performed.

Let's say the Prince does not go back. That leaves the Princess's faction within the Church of England divided along the following lines. One lot says that this adulterous prince should not be king. The other lot says (perhaps after having had the constitutional position patiently explained to them) that, OK, we cannot oppose his being king on these grounds, but we can at least stop him being Head of the Church. If necessary, we will disestablish the church, in order to stop this scandalous man becoming its head.

My view on this is that there are scandals and scandals. The Prince's private life may be scandalous in the etymological sense that it has given rise to a great deal of clucking of tongues. But the establishment of the Church of England is a scandal of quite different proportions, and no less a scandal because the tongues have long since ceased to cluck.

But a church that pretends to look to the teaching of the Gospels, and that contrives to become an arm of the legislature, seems to me a scandal. A church that submits nominations of its bishops to the temporal powers seems highly scandalous.

A church that eagerly involves itself in court intrigue (which is what we are seeing) in order to promote the advantage of a fallen princess, to recommend that the succession be changed in order to thwart the heir to the throne, is a church that really ought to be called to order, both by its own congregation and by the secular powers.

One could say of the Prince that, however embarrassing some of the results, there is a congruence between his efforts to be a prince and our notion of what a prince might be. He cultivates sporting and artistic skills. He is trained in the art of war. He has laid out a garden and been praised for it. He feels concern over a range of public issues, not least over that great issue: what a prince might do, what role he might play, in the unfolding of our public life. And I think even the love of a certain number of women fits easily into our idea of what a prince might get up to, without forfeiting our respect for him qua prince.

Now look at the Church of England and see how it compares with the mission set forth in the Gospels and by the early church. Do Anglicans eagerly seek and embrace opportunities for martyrdom? They are martyrs to chilblains, perhaps, but that is as far as it goes. Do they have, like the Son of Man, no place to lay their heads? No, they are like foxes and the birds of the air - they have their nests and holes, and they build palaces for their bishops. Are they persecuted for Christ? No, the church has much preferred a persecuting role. Today Anglicans persecute Prince Charles in Christ's name.

Do they, as Christ did, cast out devils? Er, no. Do they heal the sick by miraculous means? No, they frown on that side of the business. Do they preach that the time is fast approaching when all things shall be fulfilled? Well, not to the extent of going out with the sandwich boards, and not on Thought for the Day.

No, the church does not conform to any reasonable idea of what Christ's mission might be. Indeed, it seems in many respects quite the opposite of such a mission. So the real question is: if we have a prince who, in most respects, represents a version of what we expect a prince to be, and a church which historically craves the protection of the monarch as its head, plus an entree into the legislature and other perks, is it not unfair to ask of this prince-who-is-like-a-prince that he should become head of this church-which-is-not- like-a-church? This scandalous church. This adulterated assembly.

The church is supposed to be the bride of Christ, not the court accomplice of Diana. If it is prevailed upon by the Princess's faction, it should not be allowed, on spurious grounds, to reject the Prince as its head. The church should be disestablished, but it should be done fairly and squarely.

From the secular side it should be admitted that the bishops have absolutely no business in the House of Lords, and the prime minister has no proper interest in appointing bishops. From the church's side, let them become a church and not some camp game. If they want disestablishment, they should admit the Prince has nothing whatever to do with anything in this argument.

It was said yesterday that 38 per cent of Synod looks forward to disestablishment - a minority, but substantial. No doubt there is another percentage which looks forward to a kind of disestablishment through the back door, by blaming the heir to the throne, about whose life they know only the gossip Anglicans guzzle, for the split between Church and State. I think the whole lot of them should be disestablished whether they like it or not.