Shift in attitudes allows Charles' remarriage

Divorce: Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles have the blessing of the Archbishop of Canterbury despite tradition.

February 12, 2005|By Janice D'Arcy | Janice D'Arcy,SUN STAFF

Gone are the lusty days of Henry VIII, whose spousal trade-in sparked a religious upheaval. Gone, too, is the angst over Edward VIII, whose love for a Baltimore divorcee scandalized England and forced his abdication.

Today, a previous divorce or two elicits little more than a shrug from many observers of royal romance. Witness this week's engagement of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.

"These arrangements have my strong support," Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said after the two longtime lovers, both divorced, announced plans to wed in April.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Saturday's editions about changing attitudes toward divorce incorrectly described the position of the Roman Catholic Church toward divorce and remarriage. Under church doctrine, a Catholic who divorces and remarries without having received an annullment cannot receive Communion.

The blessing from the spiritual leader of the Church of England sent a message to Anglicans worldwide that the marriage is acceptable, though his endorsement was qualified: The couple will marry in a civil ceremony.

In fact, religious attitudes toward divorce and remarriage have been steadily shifting toward acceptance in Europe and the United States for decades.

Yet, because royal matrimony has long been bound by a religious tradition that forbade an English king from marrying a divorced woman, this union is remarkable because so many find it unremarkable.

"There are some that argue that the church is following society, slouching toward Gomorrah," said Chris Scharen, associate director of the Center for Faith & Culture at Yale.

"Or there's the other interpretation, that it's about developing an understanding of human wellness, that maybe we need to be thinking in broader terms about the Scriptures, about the life that God desires for us."

Not so long ago, marrying after divorce was considered shameful. Still, divorce and remarriage have long been facts of life. The U.S. National Survey of Family Growth found that about 65 percent of women who divorced in the 1950s eventually remarried. By 2002, about 75 percent had remarried within 10 years.

Growing acceptance

The main change has been in the cultural and religious acceptance of divorce. For that, some theologians say, we can thank the social cataclysms of the 1960s, when religious attitudes began to reflect popular attitudes instead of forging them.

"It doesn't mean that religion slavishly followed the culture, but it does mean the culture had an effect on the religious movements," said Michael G. Lawler, a theology professor at Creighton University in Nebraska who has written extensively on marriage.

Lawler cited studies showing that a majority of Roman Catholics, whose religion forbids remarriage after divorce, favor the right to divorce and remarry.

"Nobody in their right mind can be entirely happy about divorce, but most of the Christian religions accept it as the lesser of many evils," Lawler said.

That is still not the case with the Catholic hierarchy. Two days before Prince Charles' surprise announcement, the Vatican released a statement viewed as a crackdown on the growing number of annulments in the U.S.

An annulment is not a divorce but an order - supposedly limited to extraordinary cases - that treats a marriage as if it never existed. Without it, a divorced Catholic cannot receive communion or marry again in the Catholic Church.

In the late 1960s, annulments were rare - a few hundred a year were granted in the United States. By 2002, Vatican officials said, more than 56,000 requests for annulments were decided by local church tribunals worldwide and 46,000 were granted. Of those granted, nearly 31,000 were in North America, compared with fewer than 9,000 in Europe and lower numbers for other continents.

"Requests have jumped enormously in the last decades, especially in countries of long-standing Christian tradition," Monsignor Velasio De Paolis, a Vatican court official, told reporters this week.

The Church of England has been more open to divorce and remarriage than the Catholic Church. But not as open as popular myth suggests.

It is true that Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church when the pope refused to grant him a divorce from Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn.

He made himself head of the Church of England, the mother church of what became the Anglican Communion, and the Church of England promptly granted him a divorce and blessed his new marriage.

Act of Parliament

For centuries afterward, though, divorce could be granted only by an act of Parliament. In the middle of the 19th century, rules were eased to give commoners access to divorce in particularly dire circumstances.

The Church of England eventually allowed a divorced person to remarry but only if the former spouse was dead. That last provision was a sticking point for King Edward VIII, barring him from marrying his twice-divorced Baltimore love, Wallis Warfield Simpson.

In 1936, the King abdicated his throne in a gesture that was widely viewed as romantic.

In the years since, remarriage after divorce has become relatively common and acceptable though it would have been a problem for Charles, who as king would also become the head of the Church of England.

But the 2002 General Synod of the Church of England decided that in certain instances remarriage is acceptable when a former spouse still lives - as is the case with Andrew Parker Bowles.

Although Charles and Parker Bowles will be married first - and officially - in a civil ceremony at Windsor Castle, the Archbishop of Canterbury will preside over a prayer service to celebrate the marriage immediately afterward.

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