Decline in support for royal head of Church

THE Queen's role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England is welcomed by fewer than half of the clergy and churchgoers canvassed for a survey published today.

Forty-nine per cent agreed that the monarch should remain as the titular head of the established Church, while 28 per cent disagreed and 23 per cent were uncertain.

Among those aged under 50, support for the role dropped to 36 per cent. The 1,300 clergy canvassed were only 42 per cent in favour of the Queen's Supreme Governor role.

But only 31 per cent of the 5,000 clergy and churchgoers canvassed by the Church Times newspaper favoured disestablishment - the severing of the ties between Church and state. Forty-one per cent were against and 28 per cent unsure.

There was strong resistance (83 per cent) to the idea that bishops should be appointed by the state, and 66 per cent wanted an end to Parliament's control of Church legislation.

Eighty per cent wanted senior bishops to remain in Parliament.

The present status of the Church dates from the 16th century when Henry VIII, denied a divorce by the Pope, broke from Rome and reserved the right to appoint bishops.

Commenting on the survey, the Rev Timothy Jenkins, an assistant director of research in the divinity faculty at Cambridge University, said: "The respondents believe that the Church should contribute to forms of government, but reject any reciprocal control of the Government over the Church."

The debate about the Church's links to the state has been thrown into sharp relief by the airing of the views of possible candidates to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

The leading liberal contender, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Rowan Williams, has questioned the role of the Queen as Supreme Governor.

However, the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, favours the status quo as does the leading evangelical contender, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali.