More than 20 years after he exchanged vows with Lady Diana Spencer in a fairy-tale ceremony billed as the wedding of the century, Britain's Prince Charles may be one step closer to marrying the love of his life.
The governing body of the Church of England this week voted to sanction the remarriage of divorced persons in the Church, even if a former spouse is still living. That could clear the way for Charles to walk down the aisle with his longtime companion, Camilla Parker Bowles.
Up to the Priests
A significant number of divorcés already remarry in the Church — it's estimated that 11 percent of Anglican weddings involve at least one divorced person. The 269-83 vote of the Church's General Synod means it will now bestow its blessing on the actions of priests who conduct such ceremonies.
There are "circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in Church during the lifetime of a former spouse," the Synod resolution said.
Under the new policy, individual priests will be able to decide whether or not to preside over a remarriage. If their local priest refused to marry them, a couple could go to another parish and seek the blessing of the pastor there.
Michael Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Winchester, said the Church was responding to the facts of modern life.
"Marriage breakdown is a wretched reality for so many in England today," the Guardian newspaper quoted him as saying.
"We have to be up and doing, not only to provide pastoral care to those who find themselves in this position and to their families but also in representing the compassion and rebuilding love of God to as many as possible of those who are serious and hopeful about embarking freshly on marriage after a divorce," he said.
Certainly, remarriage after divorce is not unknown in the royal family. Two of King Henry VIII's six marriages came on the heels of divorces. In fact, he started the Church of England so that he could trade in Catherine of Aragon for Anne Boleyn. Unfortunately for Anne, Henry later realized that beheading unwanted wives was much more convenient than divorce court.
But in recent times it's been considered bad form for the supreme governor of the Church of England — as Charles will be when he succeeds to the throne — to condone divorce, let alone the remarriage of divorced people.
Thus King Edward VIII, Queen Elizabeth II's uncle who was later known as the Duke of Windsor, had to abdicate in 1936 in order to marry American divorcée Wallis Warfield Simpson. In the 1950s, a heartbroken Princess Margaret, Elizabeth's younger sister, was pressured into giving up her romance with a war hero, Group Capt. Peter Townsend, because he was divorced.
Over the years, the social stigma attached to divorce has weakened considerably. Three of the queen's four children — Charles himself, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne — have been divorced. And in 1992, Anne remarried, even though first husband Mark Phillips is still around. The princess exchanged vows with Timothy Laurence in the Church of Scotland.
Charles has been free to remarry in the Anglican Church since the 1997 death of his ex-wife, Princess Diana, in a Paris car crash. But Parker Bowles' first husband, Andrew, is still alive, a fact that had denied her a Church-sanctioned wedding.