The Archbishop of Canterbury has compared being a member of the royal family to serving ‘life without parole’ as he warned that Prince Harry will never escape his ‘celeb’ status in an astonishing intervention.
Justin Welby, the outspoken head of the Church of England, suggested the British public have unrealistic expectations when it comes to members of the royal family as he claimed: ‘We expect them to be superhuman’.
The 65-year-old Anglican presided over the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at Windsor Castle in 2018, having earlier joined them for a secret exchange of vows in Kensington Palace Gardens.
He later rejected Meghan’s claim in her interview with Oprah Winfrey that he had married them at the secret ceremony, insisting that he signed their wedding certificate on the day millions watched them marry.
But in a wide-ranging chat with the Financial Times published today, Mr Welby expressed his sympathy for Harry and Meghan’s exit from royalty and even compared their plight to that of Edward VIII, the king who abdicated in 1936 so he could marry American socialite and divorcee Wallis Simpson.
‘It’s life without parole, isn’t it? If you go back to the 1930s, Edward VIII – he was still a celeb and followed everywhere once he’d abdicated,’ he told the paper. ‘We expect them to be superhuman.’
Mr Welby has been an outspoken critic of the Government’s policy on Brexit and austerity, and has clashed repeatedly with Tory MPs in recent years. His repeated political interventions recently prompted Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister, to call for a severing of ties between Church and state.
Royal experts have rounded on Mr Welby’s ‘singularly inappropriate’ remarks. Dickie Arbiter, the Queen’s former press secretary, told MailOnline: ‘I find it extraordinary that he would compare service to parole. I’m not sure what he means. Is he suggesting that being a royal is a jail term? The Queen was brought up in an era where duty meant duty. For Welby to say something as banal as ‘parole’ I find an amazing thing to say.’
Richard Fitzwilliam, a royal commentator and former Editor of International Who’s Who, accused the archbishop of putting his foot in his mouth and of trying ‘to show as much sympathy with Harry and Meghan as he can, especially since he has had to deny having them married twice’.
Royal author Phil Dampier blasted the head of the Church for ‘tending to stray into politics’ and accused him of ‘jumping on a woke bandwagon which he might think will attract younger people to the church’. However, he warned that Mr Welby’s comments ‘will certainly raise eyebrows among older churchgoers’.
Justin Welby, the outspoken head of the Church of England, suggested the British public have unrealistic expectations when it comes to members of the royal family as he claimed: ‘We expect them to be superhuman’. The 65-year-old Anglican presided over the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at Windsor Castle in 2018
Welby’s pearls of wit and wisdom: What the archbishop has said
Justin Welby is regarded by critics as an unusually political archbishop.
The 65-year-old Anglican has made his position on a number of policies, from the UK’s departure from the EU to austerity and cancel culture, public.
Welby has been highly critical of the Government and has clashed with Tory MPs in recent years.
In 2018, he argued that Brexit had ‘divided the country’ and called for a ‘new narrative’ rooted in ‘solidarity, courage, aspiration, resilience and care for each other’.
Welby has also warned austerity was ‘crushing the weak, the sick and many others’, adding: ‘There is a danger that there is a schism in our society into which the most vulnerable are falling.’
He has described the gig economy as a form of injustice and called Britain’s economic model ‘broken’.
In his first briefing as archbishop, Welby spoke out strongly against homophobia – but later admitted seeing problems with special services of blessing for same-sex couples.
Speaking to Alastair Campbell in 2017, he admitted to being ‘much less certain’ about sexuality, and refused to give a ‘blanket condemnation’.
Earlier this month, Welby called cancel culture a ‘huge threat’ to the Church of England’s future.
He also defended the right to freedom of speech after a teacher was suspended for showing his class a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.
Welby has said the problem of Islamic extremism is far deeper than the problem of combating jihadism.
Welby offered his support for air strikes against ISIS in Syria in 2015 and later told the Telegraph that stating the actions of the terror group are ‘nothing to do with Islam’ damaged efforts to combat extremism.
Mr Fitzwilliam told MailOnline: ‘It is perfectly clear what the archbishop means when he says being a member of the royal family is like ‘serving life without parole’.
‘It is also a singularly inappropriate way of describing, for example, the position of the Queen where her dedication to duty as a symbol of national unity has been beneficial to the whole nation.
‘In an ideal world she might well have preferred the life of a countrywoman with her dogs and horses but I doubt, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, she will feel that comparing her situation and that of her family to prisoners is appropriate.
‘It is clear what the Archbishop intends, to show as much sympathy with Harry and Meghan as he can, especially since he has had to deny having them married them twice.
‘It is also true that, as he says, life in the public eye can be ferocious However someone of Archbishop’s Welby’s exalted status should use a less controversial turn of phrase. In talking of ‘life without parole’ he is guilty of dontopedalogy, the Duke of Edinburgh’s term for opening your mouth and putting your foot in it.’
Mr Dampier, author of Prince Philip: Wise words and Golden Gaffes, said that he doubted the Queen, Prince Philip and Harry’s father Prince Charles ‘will like the Archbishop’s choice of words’.
‘The Queen has put in an extraordinary 69-year stint as monarch and head of the Church of England and has devoted her life to those institutions, as well as the Commonwealth,’ he told MailOnline.
‘She has a sense of duty, but I don’t think she sees it as a life sentence, which implies something which has to be endured. She said at a young age that she would devote her whole life to service, and she has always wanted to do her parents proud, which no-one can deny she has. So for him to use such words is very surprising.
Mr Dampier went on: ‘Archbishop Welby has tended to stray into politics and all sorts of other fields far too frequently in my opinion and he would be better off finding ways to increase his flock by getting people back into churches after the pandemic.
‘The Queen is theoretically his boss so he shouldn’t be making sweeping statements like this without consulting her first, which I’m sure he hasn’t. By siding with Harry and Meghan he seems to be jumping on a woke bandwagon which he might think will attract younger people to the church, but his comments will certainly raise eyebrows among older churchgoers.’
Royal commentator Rob Jobson accused the outspoken Archbishop of Canterbury of being ‘a little clumsy with his words’ and ‘sure to irritate’ senior royals.
‘I think he was trying to emphasise what being Queen and royal involves,’ Mr Jobson said. ‘But coming on the back of Harry saying Charles and William are ‘trapped’ by the system, Welby’s remarks are sure to irritate’.
The Archbishop of Canterbury broke his silence on what Harry and Meghan told US chatshow legend Oprah last month, insisting the legal wedding was on Saturday, May 19, 2018 at St George’s Chapel in Windsor – the day millions watched the public ceremony.
In her bombshell interview, the duchess raised eyebrows when she claimed that she and Harry were married ‘just the two of us in our backyard with the Archbishop of Canterbury’ before the ceremony.
But the 65-year-old Anglican waded into the controversy by telling an Italian newspaper: ‘The legal wedding was on the Saturday.’ The archbishop was asked ‘what happened with Meghan and Harry? Did you really marry them three days before the official wedding?’
But then he added: ‘I had a number of private and pastoral meetings with the duke and duchess before the wedding. The legal wedding was on the Saturday.
‘I signed the wedding certificate, which is a legal document, and I would have committed a serious criminal offence if I signed it knowing it was false. So you can make what you like about it. But the legal wedding was on the Saturday. But I won’t say what happened at any other meetings.’
Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Welby also admitted that he did not ‘push hard enough’ to keep churches open during the first lockdown, in a fig leaf to critics who accuse him of acquiescing to government diktat. And he repeated his Easter Sunday service warning that the UK is suffering a ‘national case of PTSD’ from coronavirus.
In a wide-ranging chat with the Financial Times, Mr Welby expressed his sympathy for Harry and Meghan’s exit from royalty, even comparing their plight to that of Edward VIII, the abdicating king. ‘It’s life without parole, isn’t it? If you go back to the 1930s, Edward VIII – he was still a celeb and followed everywhere once he’d abdicated,’ he told the paper
The archbishop also told the paper that the Church of England cannot take for granted its place at the heart of English society. ‘Remember, we go back, the church in England, to 597,’ he cautioned. There’s a sense that we’ll always be here. Inertia gets built into the whole culture of the thing. … We need to change.’
The head of the Church was also asked whether pets can go to heaven, remarking: ‘I have never been asked that question before.’ Pausing for thought, the archbishop then replied: ‘Given the fondness we have for our dog, our current dog and the previous one, I am quite prepared to believe that pets go to heaven.’
Mr Welby also condemned banks that force their junior employees to work up to 95 hours per week, declaring them to be unethical and ‘plain wrong’. Bankers at Goldman Sachs complained of ‘inhumane’ working conditions earlier this year and called their workload a form of ‘workplace abuse’.
‘I just think it’s plain wrong,’ the archbishop said. ‘We all have times when you have to work ridiculous hours in a real crisis. [But] when you look at the remuneration of the really senior people… The attitude that you don’t hire some more junior people, so that they can work still a long, heavy week – a 50/60-hour week – but have time for family, for dating, for fun and sport, [means that] you’re saying nothing matters more than the maximum amount of money we can get. You’ll carry that into the ethics of the organisation.’
Mr Welby has previously claimed the austerity programme introduced by David Cameron and George Osborne after the 2008 financial crisis was ‘crushing the weak, the sick and many others’, saying: ‘There is a danger that there is a schism in our society into which the most vulnerable are falling.’
He has also described the gig economy as a form of injustice and warned Britain’s economic model is ‘broken’, saying the ‘gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country is significant and destabilising’.