UK Ambassador to Holy See foresees excellent relations under King Charles III

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UK Ambassador to Holy See foresees excellent relations under King Charles IIIChristopher Trott, His Majesty’s Ambassador to the Holy See, highlights several new elements of the Coronation, and expresses confidence for a continued fruitful and warm relationship between the British government and the Vatican under the new King.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin is to represent Pope Francis and the Holy See at the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla in Westminster Abbey on 6 May 2023, a historic occasion steeped in history but tinged with modernity.

In an interview with Vatican News, His Majesty’s Ambassador to the Holy See said he looks forward to developing further the excellent relationship that exists between the British monarch and the Vatican. And “as something of a history geek,” Ambassador Chris Trott dwelt on some significant details that firmly place the ancient ceremony in the new millennium.

First of all, he said, it will be the first time a papal representative will have been present for the Coronation inside Westminster Abbey since 1553.

The ambassador explained it was prior to the Second Vatican Council when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953. That meant, he added, that Pope Pius XII’s representative in Britain had to follow the ceremony from an especially-built stand outside Westminister Cathedral – the Catholic mother church - that is situated some 400 metres from the Abbey.

The Second Vatican Council

The presence now of a papal representative inside the Abbey for the Coronation is not due to British government policy, he said: “It is a result of Vatican Two.”

“When Queen Elizabeth was crowned, the Vatican's approach was not to allow members of the Church to participate in a ceremony run by a different Christian denomination.”

Thus, Ambassador Trott continued, the delegation sent a delegation to the 1953 Coronation headed by the Nuncio to Belgium, who had to sit on this platform outside the west door of the Abbey, and “when the service started, the doors closed and he was still outside.”

On this occasion, he said, two senior members of the Catholic Church (Cardinal Parolin and most probably the newly appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain) will be present in the Abbey and will be part of the Coronation service for the first time in almost 500 years.

“They will be assisting the public part of the ceremony,” the ambassador said, “They'll be watching the crown being put on the King and the Queen. But probably they won't be seeing the anointing ceremony, which I understand is a very private rite.”

Ambassador Trott noted already back in 1953 the Coronation was transmitted live by the media and since then coverage has become broader, allowing more and more people to participate in the modernization of the monarchy.

“We've already seen changes,” he said, mentioning the fact that the proclamation of the Accession Council that took place shortly after the Queen died last year was televised.

“We were able to see the first thing the King did, was promise to look after the Church of Scotland.”

Although the media is a lot more sophisticated than it was in 1953, and the King will try to maximize the reach of the Coronation ceremony, Ambassador Trott explained that after having sworn an oath to uphold the law and the Church, the King is partially undressed and anointed with holy oil. This, he said, is the most “sacred” part of the ceremony and will probably be screened from public view.

One of the novelties pertains to this sacred moment as the oil, that has been produced and blessed in Jerusalem, does not include any animal products as per a specific personal request of King Charles.

The religiosity of this moment, Ambassador Trott explained, “reflects the promises that the King makes to God as opposed to just to his people.”

Defender of the Faith

Among the many titles of the King are Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The ambassador said that “to say that this role is merely titular, would be underestimating it.”

“Symbolically, he is regarded as the head of the Church of England and technically, therefore, an archbishop of the Church of England would be appointed by the King. Because of the relationship between State and Church, the appointment of an archbishop, particularly the Archbishop of Canterbury, is done on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, to the monarch,” he said.

The role of faith

For Charles’ mother, Queen Elizabeth II, faith played an important role in her governance. Ambassador Trott expressed his belief this trait will continue, as witnessed also by the fact that “the very first time he addressed his people, the day after Her Majesty the Queen died in September, he referred to the fact that his mother had used her faith as a basic foundation for everything that she did, and he also undertook to work on the same basis.”

“And it's well known that he has a strong personal faith.”

“And while he's always been interested in reaching out to other faiths, his faith is grounded in his Christian upbringing and his role as head of both the Church of England and the Church of Scotland,” he said.

The diplomat also noted that Charles has made no secret of reaching out to other faiths and said it will be interesting to see what sort of acknowledgement there will be of the nation’s multifaith society during the Coronation ceremony.

Diplomatic relations with the Holy See and ecumenism

Ambassador Trott expressed absolute confidence in being able to continue to develop the warm and fruitful diplomatic relations that thrived between the Holy See and the United Kingdom during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

King Charles, he noted, has already met three Popes in his life: John Paul II, Benedict XVI when he visited the UK, and Pope Francis.

“I expect there will be a continued, mutually respectful relationship between the British sovereign and the Holy Father,” he said, and he recalled the “really striking gesture made by Pope Francis in the run-up to the Coronation with this gift of a piece of the True Cross.”

“That gift has been incorporated in this beautiful Welsh cross that will be used to lead the Coronation Procession into the abbey.”

So there is already, he said, a sense that this is there is this mutual respect and therefore will be a continued engagement, at the top level, also within an ecumenical perspective.

“A charming interlocutor”

Finally, the diplomat looked back to the times he has spent with the new King and Queen Consort, and he described Charles as “a really charming interlocutor.”

He revealed that his main contact with Charles was when he and Camilla went to South Africa on an official visit in September 2011 when Ambassador Trott was Consul General and was in charge of their visit.

“The thing that really struck me (…) was the ease with which he could engage people, including people who are much younger than him, and the genuine interest he and Camilla showed in the people that we had identified for them to meet, even in the contact he had with the press, he was very relaxed.”

“I know, the new reign will be equally sort of supportive of the work that I'm doing here as His Majesty's Ambassador to the Holy See, he concluded, and “I'm confident that King Charles will want the relationship to continue to develop in the way that it has over the last 60 years since Vatican 2, and over the last 40 years since an ambassador was appointed to this post”.

Linda Bordoni