Remarriage of Divorced in Church of England?

The Christian Century, February 16, 2000 | Go to article overview

Remarriage of Divorced in Church of England?


Church of England officials have proposed that the church should drop its ban on the remarriage of divorcees whose former spouses are still living. The officials, who constitute a working party, chaired by a senior diocesan bishop, Michael Scott-Joynt of Winchester, insisted in its report that it was not abandoning the church's teaching that marriage is for life, but added: "We believe that it can be said in a literal sense of two living people that they were married and are no longer married." Launching the report on January 25, Bishop Scott-Joynt said it addressed the "reality" that marriages break down. "We're not proposing indiscriminate further marriage," he stressed.

One of the strongest restrictions in the report's recommendations states that remarriage should not be allowed in cases in which a partner's adulterous relationship was a direct cause of the breakdown of the marriage. Another restriction is that anyone who has been married and divorced twice or more should not be granted another church wedding. Priests would also be able, as a matter of conscience, to refuse to conduct remarriage ceremonies.

After the report's release, there was immediate speculation that the proposals would open the way for Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, to marry his companion, Camilla Parker Bowles. However, Bishop Scott-Joynt commented: "There is in law no way in which the marriage of an heir to the throne could be seriously discussed without the engagement of the church in the shape of the archbishop of Canterbury."

The archbishop, George Carey, has publicly warned that the marriage of Prince Charles and Mrs. Parker Bowles, who is divorced, would create a crisis for the church because of the British monarch's role of supreme governor of the Church of England. Commentators also pointed out that Prince Charles, who before his legal separation from his wife referred in a television interview to his relationship with Parker Bowles, would be unlikely to surmount the bar on adulterers benefiting from their adultery, as well as another restriction that the remarriage should not cause hostile public comment.

The report, "Marriage in Church After Divorce," will be considered by the church's ruling General Synod, though this is not expected to happen before the 2002 synod, where strong opposition is likely on the part of traditionalists. …

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