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Church To Ease Divorce Rules?

The Church of England, established by the much-wedded King Henry VIII, took a step Tuesday toward approving remarriage for divorcees -- an issue that may be of keen interest to Britain's next king.

Recommendations published by a group of bishops, if adopted by the church's governing General Synod in 2002, could make it easier for Prince Charles to contemplate marriage to his longtime love, Camilla Parker Bowles.

But the church's main concern is dealing with the realities of a nation with one of the highest divorce rates in Europe, and the fact that a third of its priests already are exercising their legal right to marry divorcees.

"If these proposals win acceptance, the church will not simply marry anyone who turns up and asks to be married," said the Right Rev. Michael Scott-Joynt, bishop of Winchester and chairman of the bishops' working party on remarriage.

Among the conditions: Divorced people should be honest about the reasons for the failure of their previous marriage, adequate provision should be made for supporting children, the new relationship should not be the cause of breaking up the previous marriage, and "a reasonable time" should have passed since the divorce.

Bishops also recommended that remarriage should normally not be permitted for people who have been involved in more than one divorce.

The decision in each case would be made by the local priest in consultation with the bishop. The recommendations say that no priest should be compelled to preside at a remarriage against his or her conscience.

"This report in effect codifies what has already become practice in many parishes," said the Right Rev. Mark Santer, bishop of Birmingham.

The proposals would have to be approved by two-thirds majorities in all three houses of the General Synod bishops, clergy and lay members.

In 1981, the General Synod adopted a resolution affirming its belief that "marriage should always be undertaken as a lifelong commitment," but noted that circumstances exist in which it would be right for a divorced person to remarry in church while the former partner remains alive.

At a news conference announcing the recommendations, church officials refused to be drawn into comment on the case of Prince Charles, who is next in line to succeed Queen Elizabeth II as monarch and temporal head of the church.

Charles, who has been free to remarry since former wife Princess Diana died in a 1997 car crash, has said he has no intention of doing so.

He has acknowledged adultery with Mrs. Parker Bowles while they each were still married. Diana blamed Mrs. Parker Bowles for the dissolution of her marriage, but Charles has said he was faithful to Diana until their marriage broke down.

Nearly 40 percent of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce -- one of the highest rates in Europe.

The church, which broke from Rome because of King Henry VIII' wish to be freed of his first wife, has officially barred second weddings in church for divorcees since the 17th century.

In 1955, the queen's sister, Princess Margaret, decided against marrying the man she loved, Group Capt. Peter Townsend, because he was divorced. The queen's uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 to marry a twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson.

Charles' divorced sister, Princess Anne, married her second husband in the Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian church that is not part of the Anglican Communion.

The bishops' recommendation applies only to churches in England. Other Anglican churches around the world are free to set their own policy, as they have done on the issue of ordaining women. In the United States, for instance, the Episcopal Church has long performed marriages for divorced members with few restrictions.

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