by Alex Cosgrave and John Carey
Pope Paul's refusal to grant a dispensation for the marriage of Baroness Marie-Christine von Reibnitz to Prince Michael of Kent came as no surprise to the majority of Catholics and Anglicans in Britain. The feeling among many Anglican Church leaders this week was that in the circumstances the Pope had no choice but to adhere strictly to the Church's teaching on mixed marriages although many felt that the regulations themselves should be relaxed.
Prince Michael and the Baroness have been trapped on all sides by both church and state law. The dispensation was refused because Prince Michael's written undertaking to bring up his children as Anglicans conflicted with the Baroness's promise to 'do all in her power' to see that they were baptised and educated as Catholics.
Dispensations have been granted in the past where the non-Catholic has opposed the Catholic upbringing of the children and might have been granted in this case had the Prince declared his intentions only verbally or with less force is indicated by a written declaration.
A Vatican official in the Secretariat of Christian Unity in Rome said this week that the Baroness had written a perfectly acceptable letter to the Holy See in which she had declared that she would do all in her power to bring up her children in the Catholic faith.
"Had the matter remained at this, the Pope would have certainly given the required authorisation for a Catholic Church wedding," he saki. "But when the Prince puts his determination into writing the matter changes and the Pope no longer had any power to change basic Church rules." Prince Michael was however caught by the Act of Succession. Having renounced his own right of succession to the throne to marry a Catholic, he obviously wished to safeguard his children's royal rights. Because of the historic links between royalty and the Church of England, and because no Catholic may succeed to the throne, it would have been necessary that the children were baptised Anglicans. On the Church of England side the Prince and Baroness are prevented from marrying in an Anglican Church because the Church of England does not recognise nullity and
therefore in its eyes thie Baroness is a divorcee and as such may not be 're-married' in Church.
As the dispensation has now been refused the couple may not marry in a Catholic Church and will now go ahead with a private civil service in Austria in July. There has been great anxiety in recent weeks that if the dispensation were refused it would damage ecumenical relations at a time when the churches were growing closer together and both Anglicans and Catholics were making sensitive and practical gestures of unity.
Dr Stuart Blanch, Anglican Archbishop of York, said this week that already in many circles there are very tender feelings about the Catholic Church's policy on mixed marriages. "But I don't believe that this particular case either assists or retards unity. I don't see how the Pope could have varied the rules just to suit this situation," he said.
The Archbishop stressed however, that Anglican's would very much like to see the rules on mixed marriages relaxed. Dr Patrick Rodger, Anglican Bishop of Manchester and chairman of the Churches
Unity Commission, said that he would be very surprised if the decision got in the way of ecumenical progress and Dr Habgood, Anglican Bishop of Durham, said that the decision seemed to be inevitable, "I would not expect the Pope to make an exception for Royalty," he said.
The case does however raise questions about the Act of Succession which still debarrs Catholics from succeeding to the throne almost • 150 years after they were 'emancipated'. Dr Habgood said that the case highlighted the problems caused by the Queen's relationship to the Church of England.
Dr Habgood said he was in favour of having an established church because it was important that official structures should express a religious commitment. "Dis-establishment would inevitably be seen as a reiection of our allegiance to Christianity," he said.
Dr Blanch said he thought it could be time for a change in the Act of Succession but he could not see anyone launching into the problem at this time.
See Norman St JohnStevas page 7