Charles's Comments Shake Britain's Anglican Church He'd Rather Be the Defender of Faith Than of `The' Faith

Article excerpt

PRINCE Charles, heir to the British throne, has indicated that as king he might not wish to be head of the Church of England.

But his reluctance to assume leadership of the "established" (official) church has attracted severe criticism from senior Anglican bishops, who say that the prince has a duty to continue in the role.

Charles's misgivings about perpetuating Queen Elizabeth II's function as church leader were voiced in a TV program that he appeared on to try to rehabilitate his image in the eyes of his people following the breakdown of his marriage to Diana, princess of Wales, in 1992.

Under close questioning, he said he would rather be seen as "Defender of Faith" than as "Defender of The Faith," the words officially used to define his religious responsibilities. Charles said the official usage "means just one particular interpretation of the faith.... People have fought each other to death over these things, which seems to me a peculiar waste of people's energy when we are all actually aiming for the same ultimate goal," he said, adding that faith was "so much under threat these days."

His remarks, however, drew a sharp rejoinder from John Habgood, the Archbishop of York, the second most senior Anglican official. Dr. Habgood said loosening the links between church and state might "cause the British Constitution to unravel" and "jeopardize the monarchy itself." A spokeswoman for George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the country's top-ranking bishop, said he shared fears that amending the 300-year-old coronation oath could be dangerous. Views others' faiths as equal

Sources close to Prime Minister John Major said he too was concerned lest the historical ties between church and state be weakened. What appears to have heightened alarm over the prince's remarks was his suggestion that, as king, he would be happier adopting a multifaith leadership role.

In the TV interview he said he regarded Roman Catholic, Muslim, Zoroastrian, and all other classes of citizens as of "equal importance to Protestants."

Some 85 percent of Britain's 55 million population professes to be Christian. Anglicans account for about half the total, but fewer than 1 million attend church regularly. Roman Catholics account for 13 percent of the Christian community. Many of Britain's non-white population of around 2 million belong to non-Christian religions. Most of these are Muslim, but there are also significant Jewish, Hindu, and Sikh communities. …