THE marriage problems of Prince Charles, heir to the throne, are prompting calls for a loosening of ties between church and state in England.
They are also causing deep divisions among leading churchmen, with some saying Charles is unfit to be king and others defending his right eventually to succeed to the throne.
Church of England sources say senior bishops have begun discussing ways to make it possible for Charles, if he does become king, to avoid taking an oath as supreme governor of the Church of England.
Opinion polls show a majority of church members would prefer him to be eventually head of the Church of England, but the numbers are falling.
Since the time of Henry VIII, a king who had marital problems of his own, the sovereign has been the top authority in the church and has appointed its bishops. In constitutional parlance, the Church of England is "established."
Arguments for disestablishment, or removal of the monarch as head of the church, have been bubbling for years in church circles, but they have been given a much sharper focus in recent weeks. Princess Diana's decision on Dec. 3, a year after her separation from Charles, to adopt a much lower public profile is being interpreted by commentators as a sign that she may soon seek a divorce. There also have been reports that if there is a divorce, Charles may wish to marry Camilla Parker-Bowles, a friend of long standing.
A London Sunday Times poll of the church's governing Synod showed that nearly half of those polled felt that Charles should not become the church's supreme governor on acceding to the throne if reports of his relationship with the still-married Mrs. Parker-Bowles prove to be true.
In the poll, which queried 100 members of the 547-member Synod, 47 percent said Charles might not be morally suitable to be head of the Church of England; 38 percent favored disestablishment. …