The Archbishop of Canterbury is head of the Church of England.
Part of the raison d'etre of the Church of England as a seperate
church from the catholic church geographically centred in Rome,
was King Henry VIII's wish in the C16 to be rid of his wife Catherine of Aragon.
The laws on nullity of marriage and divorce in the England of 1527
were largely those of catholic church and determined through Rome.
Henry VIII's Act in Restraint of Appeals in 1533 effectively outlawed appeals
to Rome then the next year, by the Act of Supremacy England was declared a sovereign state with the King as Head of both the country and the Church.
The King having got rid of the religious laws of Rome,
then also appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury as head of the CoE
and rid himself of his wife and several subsequent wives.
Ironic then in the C21 that the Archbishop of Canterbury, whether
by accident or design, by his words this week
caused many to believe that the CoE would
welcome the return of some non-uk based religious laws
to bind English citizens.
Sharia Law has its origins in 7th Century Saudi Arabia
whereas the CoE's origins are a combination of earlier Christian values and
later secular English royal and political overtones. Catholics
or Jews or others already have private tribunals to which
individuals may submit certain aspects of religious/personal
life for decisions, if they so chose and there is nothing
to prevent other faiths or even secular groups from doing the same
as eg the Jockey Club in England does for Horse Racing. However
such a forum for settling issues is private and voluntary and always
subject to the secular law. Thus the catholic marriage tribunal
will expect those who seek a declaration of nullity
of marriage first to have secured secular divorces.
Why then did the Archbishop of Canterbury need to
make comment in this area at all? Possibly
simply to cause people to think and debate or possibly
he was surprised by the subsequent criticism. Either
way I hope that he now also participates enthusiastically
in the public discussions initiated as a consequence of his
The freedom of individuals to have a particular religious belief
or none or to change their belief, is a secular human right
in most civilised countries. The need at the same time, to respect secular laws
is emphasised by the; "Render to Caesar that which is Caesar's
and to God that which is God"; quotation in St Matthew's Gospel.
Deeply held religious (or other) beliefs may lead to individuals
refusing to obey particular laws or others working for their repeal
but the Reformation itself evidences only too well, how oppressive
laws become when the religious authorities on earth try to
combine the roles of Caesar and God.
The Archbishop in his further comments I hope
will not seek to revisit the errors of the 16th Century
for fear of catalysing their remaking in the 21st.