Marriage of Charles poses risk to church

Colin Brown
Friday 18 July 1997 23:02

The Parliamentary aide to the Lord Chancellor yesterday said a constitutional crisis over the marriage of Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles would lead to the disestablishment of the Church.

The warning by Tony Wright, a Parliamentary private secretary to Lord Irvine, will be seen as part of the softening up exercise for the public to accept the eventual marriage between the Prince and his mistress, in spite of the denials by Downing Street and the Palace that it is contemplated.

The controversy over the marriage is likely to strengthen the opinion among some MPs that the Government's constitutional reforms should include cutting the links between the Church and the State.

The establishment of the Church of England requires the Heir to the Throne to be the head of the Church, and also guarantees the Church of England bishops their own bench in the House of Lords, but denies a constitutional right of representation to other faiths, including the Catholic Church, although the Chief Rabbi and the Roman Catholic Archbishop have seats. Dr Wright, a modernising Labour MP, said it was laughable for the Church to complain about Prince Charles failing to provide a proper role model.

"Since the Church of England was created to solve Henry VIII's marriage problems four centuries ago we have had a whole train of disreputable and dissolute monarchs, and this didn't seem to pose a problem for the Church," Dr Wright said on BBC radio. "Suddenly we have got Charles wanting to marry Camilla and the sky is going to fall in. It's an absolute nonsense.

"The problem only comes from the Church of England, and it comes only because we have an established church, because we have a monarch who is the supreme governor."

He said the Church of England could either have a supreme governor who could manage his own life, or be told by the established church he could not. "In which case we shall have a constitutional crisis and it will end in disestablishment."

It follows the attack on Prince Charles as an "admitted adulterer - perhaps unrepentant" by his own local vicar, Fr John Hawthorne, vicar of St Mary the Virgin, Tetbury, which includes Highgrove, the Prince's country residence.

Fr Hawthorne said: "If the Prince continues to have an adulterous relationship or if he marries than I cannot see how he can be Defender of the Faith of a Church whose laws, whose rules and teachings, he so obviously rejects."

The Prince has met a string of Cabinet ministers in the past week, and is due to see Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, on Monday, in a series of meetings which were ostensibly to discuss the contribution the Prince's Trust could play in the Government's welfare to work plans. But they have also been seen as a first step to gaining Tony Blair's support for the marriage. The Prime Minister's sanction would be crucial but the Prince's friends believe it is essential first to have the support of the public.

Last night's party at Highgrove, thrown by the Prince to celebrate Mrs Parker Bowles' 50th birthday, was part of the charm offensive to overcome public hostility stemming from his divorce from Princess Diana.

The Prince has been seeking advice from confidants on how best to introduce her to a wider public.

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