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The royal engagement: What Catholics should know

.- In 1936, when British King Edward VIII declared that he intended to marry Wallis Simpson, he abdicated the throne.

Opposition to the union was strong – Simpson was doubly-divorced, and many thought she was only after Edward for his money.

Besides general disapproval from the elite, a more definite obstacle stood in the couple’s way – as King, Edward VIII was the head of the Church of England, which at the time did not allow divorced persons to remarry if their first spouse was still alive. In order to marry Simpson in a civil ceremony, he abdicated the throne in December, and was succeeded by his brother, George VI.

Last November, another royal engagement was announced. On Nov. 27, Kensington Palace announced that Prince Harry, who is fifth in line for the throne, is engaged to Meghan Markle. Like Simpson, Markle is an American and divorced. Furthermore, Markle has Catholic ties in her family.

Obstacles which just a few years ago might have disqualified the couple from ascending to the crown – divorce, Catholic connections – no longer require the Prince to abdicate his place in the line of succession to the British throne.

What has changed?

Father James Bradley, a Catholic priest in the U.K. and a former Anglican, told CNA that because of the previous rules of the Anglican Church, Edward was essentially obligated to abdicate because “he would have been in a relationship which the Church of which he was Supreme Governor did not approve.”

In 2002, a synod of Anglican bishops officially changed Anglican doctrine regarding divorce, declaring that while “marriage should always be undertaken as a ‘solemn, public and lifelong covenant between a man and a woman’…some marriages regrettably do fail and that the Church’s care for couples in that situation should be of paramount importance…there are exceptional circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church during the lifetime of a former spouse.”

The Anglican Church does not define exactly what qualifies as exceptional circumstances; this is primarily left up to the presiding minister to determine whether a second church wedding can be allowed.

One instance in which the Anglican Church forbids a second church wedding for divorced persons is if the new relationship contributed to the breakdown of the first marriage, Ed Condon, a Catholic canon lawyer in the U.K., told CNA. This was what prevented a church wedding for Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005.

“If there’s been no openly scandalous reasons or contributing factors, that would allow the Anglican authorities to say well, you can have a church wedding,” Condon said. Harry and Markle will be married in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

But accepting attitudes about divorced monarchs is indicative of a broader breakdown of marriage that can be seen, particularly in the West, Bradley noted.

“The opposition to Edward VIII was, first of all, that society didn’t recognize divorce as something that was good at the time, and now it does, unfortunately,” he said.

Currently, “(the) new head of the [British] Supreme Court is pushing for no-fault divorce. We’ve gone from a situation where divorce was such a social issue that you couldn’t remain monarch and be married to a divorced person, and now we’re in a situation where the Supreme Court is pushing for no-fault divorce,” he said. “So it’s the complete collapse of marriage as we see in America and the rest of the West.”

Read more at Catholic News Agency. 

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