Will Charles Wed? Speculation Rife in UK

British media has been awash this past week with claims that the heir to the throne may marry again

British mass media for the first time are talking openly about Camilla Parker Bowles as the future wife of Prince Charles - and possibly his queen.

A surge of TV programs and newspaper profiles is stirring debate about the woman who for 27 years has been an intimate friend of the heir to the British throne.

In one TV program, Charles Benson, a close friend of the prince and Mrs. Parker Bowles, forecast that the heir to the throne would soon make his views public.

The wave of publicity has also triggered concern about the state of marriage in Britain, and the problems Charles's extramarital liaison poses for the Church of England and the monarchy.

The official church line

Official Anglican teaching is that divorced individuals must not remarry, and that sex outside marriage is wrong. But in a country where 1 in every 3 marriages ends in the divorce court, many Anglicans ignore the teaching. Some Church of England clergy are willing to marry divorced couples.

Charles's position is complicated by the fact that constitutionally, as well as being head of state, a British monarch is Supreme Governor of the Church of England. To marry Parker Bowles would appear to be incompatible with his future role as head of the Church of England.

Charles first met Parker Bowles in 1970, when she was still single, but decided against marrying her. She later wedded Andrew Parker Bowles, a wealthy cavalry officer. A year after Charles in 1994 admitted adultery, the Parker Bowleses divorced. In 1996, Charles and Diana also divorced.

Prospects of his remarriage have divided church leaders. The Rev. David Streater, director of the Church Society, an evangelical movement within the Church of England, warns that the prince's "equivocation" between his "private wishes and public duties" must cease.

"The prince must make a choice," Mr. Streater says. "Either he is a private person, or he adheres to the job prescription for British monarchs and accepts that remarriage, particularly to a divorced woman, is unacceptable."

Some churchmen dissent

Other influential Anglican churchmen argue that Charles and Parker Bowles ought to be allowed to marry anyway, if only on compassionate grounds.

George Austin, Archdeacon of York, says: "Remarrying might not be an ideal solution, but it is better than an affair conducted outside marriage. I think a flexible line is needed."

Such views run up against public opinion. Results of a poll reported in London's Sunday Times suggested that 79 percent of Britons are opposed to Parker Bowles becoming queen, and that 50 percent do not like her as a person.

Many commentators note that whereas Diana is a glamorous and eloquent superstar, Parker Bowles, close to 15 years Diana's senior, takes little trouble with her appearance and has never spoken in public.

There are unmistakable signs that conservative opinion in Britain is beginning to contemplate marriage between Charles and Parker Bowles.

The right-wing Daily Telegraph in a weekend editorial commented: "She is a sensible, ungrasping woman, who exercises a good influence over the prince."

The Telegraph, a faithful defender of the monarchy and the Church of England, concluded: "It would make the best of a bad job if the public were to come gradually to accept this."

The paper's comments came a day before British audiences viewed the first-ever TV profile of Parker Bowles and, in another program, an hour-long studio discussion about the implications of a marriage between Charles and her.

Also on Sunday, the London Sunday Times profiled the woman it described as the prince's "mistress" and reported that their marriage appeared likely. "Love - and good public relations - will find a way," the paper said.

The newspaper articles and TV programs now appearing are remarkable for the absence of any comment by either Charles or Parker Bowles.

An unpredictable element in the debate is the reaction of Diana if Charles were to wed the woman Diana has accused of breaking up her own marriage.

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