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First papal visit for Charles since divorce

  • Story Highlights
  • UK's Prince Charles meets pope for first time since divorce from Princess Diana
  • Heir to UK throne was accompanied by 2nd wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
  • Charles's first visit to Vatican since he attended funeral of Pope John Paul II
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Prince Charles visited the Vatican on Monday for his first meeting with a pope since his 1996 divorce from Princess Diana.

Prince Charles and Camilla arrive Monday at the Italian Parliament for a conference on the environment.

Pope Benedict XVI is flanked by Prince Charles and his wife Camilla during their meeting at the Vatican.

The heir to the UK throne was accompanied by his second wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, who wore the mandatory modest black dress and veil which the Vatican requires for wives of dignitaries who meet the pope.

The 20-minute meeting was "cordial," the Vatican said in a statement afterwards.

Prince Charles's accession to the throne was likely to be an unspoken subtext of the meeting, an expert on the prince told CNN.

"The biggest thing on Prince Charles's agenda is the preparation for his coronation," said Christopher Wilson, author of "The Windsor Knot: Charles, Camilla and the Legacy of Diana."

Charles would like the pope to attend personally, unlikely as that may be, given the religious divide between London and Rome, Wilson said.

"He will expect a high-profile Roman Catholic presence in Westminster Abbey," where he will be crowned, Wilson argued. "The combined heads of state come from everywhere. Every democratically elected head of state will be invited. It bigs up your coronation if you can get the highest Roman Catholic to come."

The meeting between prince and pope came days after the 500th anniversary of the crowning of Henry VIII, the English king who broke with the Roman Catholic Church and established the Church of England because he wanted to divorce.

It was Prince Charles's first visit to the Vatican since he went to the funeral of Pope John Paul II four years ago, and his first meeting with a head of the Roman Catholic Church since 1985.

There are multiple factors complicating his relationship with the Vatican, Wilson pointed out. Not only is he divorced, which the Roman Catholic Church disapproves of, but so is Camilla -- and her children are being raised as Catholics because their father is one.

A centuries-old British law forbids Catholics or their spouses from holding the throne.

The Prince of Wales "is trying to break down the breach between the Vatican and the House of Windsor," Wilson said. "It's a path-smoothing exercise."

Additionally, he said: "Prince Charles likes very much to be photographed with heads of state. He's not the head of state himself. It adds luster to his royal presence."

Charles and the pope were expected to discuss issues such as interfaith dialogue and climate change -- subjects to which Prince Charles has devoted himself.

The pair exchanged gifts. Benedict gave Charles a gold pontifical medal and an antique engraved copper plate of St. Peter's Basilica dating from the 16th century. Charles gave Benedict a set of 12 porcelain plates with floral design of the plants and flowers that grow at his country estate in Gloucestershire.

Afterwards, Prince Charles met Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarciso Bertone and Vatican foreign affairs minister Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, while Camilla received a private tour of the Sistine Chapel.

Charles and Camilla are on a tour of Italy and Germany at the request of Britain's Foreign Office, Clarence House said.

The European Union director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Matthew Rycroft, cited "the prince's personal passion and personal engagement over the years on the issue of climate change" as a major reason for the trip, a Clarence House statement said.

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