VATICAN CITY – As supreme governor of the Church of England, King Charles III is expected to carry on his mother’s friendship and esteem for the Catholic Church, but that will only be part of his broad interest in all Christian denominations, other world religions and his apparent religious fervor for environmental concerns.
The new monarch, who took the throne immediately after the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8 and will be crowned on May 6 at Westminster Abbey, has long had close ties to the Catholic Church. As heir to the throne, he spent many years supporting Catholic charities and often speaking out on behalf of persecuted Christians, including working with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
He hosted Pope Saint John Paul II during his historic visit to Canterbury in 1982 and has made numerous trips to the Vatican, including meeting John Paul II in private audience in 1985 and attending his funeral in 2005, meeting Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, and visiting Pope Francis in 2017.
In 2019 he represented the Queen at the canonization in Rome of Saint John Henry Newman and wrote a commentary for L’Osservatore Romano in which he praised how, through his Catholic faith, Cardinal Newman had contributed so much to the Catholic Church and to his homeland.
“I know of nothing that leads me to believe that he does not strongly support the faith and devotional life of his Catholic subjects and of Pope Francis,” said Anglican Archbishop Ian Ernest, director of the Anglican Center in Rome.
But how does King Charles understand the Catholic faith? Does he recognize the differences between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, and how might he influence relations in the future?
“He will certainly be aware that the Roman Catholic Church teaches transubstantiation and the Church of England does not,” said Gavin Ashenden, a former Anglican bishop and chaplain to the Queen who was received into the Catholic Church. in 2019. “He is probably aware that the Church of England recognizes only two sacraments compared to the seven of historic Christianity.
Adrian Hilton, editor of the popular Anglican website ArchbishopCranmer.com, also believes Charles is aware of denominational differences and recalled how, when visiting John Paul II in 1985 with his then-wife, Princess Diana, he had wished to attend mass with the pope, on which the queen intervened. But for Hilton, it suggests “he sees the Church as one and instead laments the divisions within.”
“He is clearly aware of sacramental differences and inter-church tensions, but does not view them as primary issues of salvation,” he said. “Which he offered to the Pope [in 1985] a copy of Bede Ecclesiastical History of the English People also suggests that he sees the Church of England as an expression of Catholic continuity.
Does it relate to Jesus as Lord?
But when asked if Charles saw the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion as equals in serving the same Lord, Ashenden said he saw “no evidence in Charles’ public language that he relates to Jesus as Lord” and noted that he “resented the exclusivity of Christianity and only recently committed himself to Anglicanism.
Ashenden could not testify that Charles had a special interest in the Catholic Church per se; he rather thinks that Charles turned to “spirituality, both Islamic and that of Greek Orthodoxy”, but added that it seems to be nothing more “than observer status” and that the Charles’ affection for Orthodoxy is more diplomatic than personal.
When asked if Charles was perhaps closer to the Greek Orthodox Church, like his father, the late Duke of Edinburgh, who was a member of the Greek royal family, Hilton said: ‘It’s difficult , especially because he obviously changed his mind. on certain theological issues over the years – as I assume we all do – so his thinking on Eastern Orthodox Christianity 20 years ago may not be what it is today.
Still, Hilton said he felt Charles had inherited a “deep respect for orthodoxy and also for the cosmology of universalism”, and that Mount Athos, which Charles visited many times, “represents for him a cultural history, a spiritual unity and an inter-religious harmony that supersedes the divisions within and between Jerusalem, Rome and Canterbury.
The new king would be a higher church Anglican than his mother and predecessor, Queen Elizabeth II. Could this bring him closer to the Catholic Church?
“The truth is more likely to be that his aesthetic sense is more developed than his mother’s, meaning he’s less averse to ritual than she was,” Ashenden said. “I don’t think that translates to personal allegiance.”
Hilton said he thought Charles was “relaxed about women priests and bishops” in the Anglican Communion and that they “presented no priestly or ontological difficulty for him.”
“‘Full unity’ is not as important to him as respectful and peaceful coexistence,” he said.
As to whether Charles might eventually change his denomination, Hilton said the king “is as likely to convert to Catholicism as he is to Orthodoxy, which I would rate as zero. He swore to be “Defender of the Faith”, and while Henry VIII might have earned this title by defending the Catholic Church, Charles III has his feet firmly planted in his mother’s understanding of the established Church.
“He will not want to go down in history as a monarch who reneged on his coronation oath,” Hilton continued, adding that he will respect the constitution to give royal assent to parliamentary bills. “He can sometimes do it gritting his teeth, but so can his mother,” he said.
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