03 June 2021, The Tablet

Now let Boris embrace Catholic Social Teaching

Marriage in the cathedral


Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has many things to apologise for, but marrying his fiancée in Westminster Cathedral last Saturday is not one of them. He and his wife Carrie should be warmly congratulated without reservation. According to the cathedral authorities, Mr Johnson was free to marry in civil law, having had two divorces and having met his obligations under them; and he was also free to marry in Catholic canon law – but on entirely different grounds. Both he and Carrie Symonds were baptised as Catholics, and she is “practising”. Neither of Johnson’s two previous marriages is recognised by the Catholic Church as neither was in accordance with canonical form, which Catholics are required to follow if their marriages are to be regarded by the Church as valid. That clearly implies that Johnson was still under the Catholic Church’s jurisdiction even though he had been a communicant member of the Church of England, having received Anglican Confirmation while at Eton. Johnson was certainly never excommunicated, nor can “doing what was expected of him” at Eton amount to the deliberate disavowal of his (Roman) Catholic identity. Catholicism is not something one can just resign from.

Such arguments might have impeccable logic, but as the widespread reaction to the marriage shows, they sound to many like casuistry. But they enabled his pastor, former cathedral sub-administrator Fr Daniel Humphreys, to find a way through the Catholic marriage maze to a happy destination. He can only be commended for doing so. Any good priest would have done the same. As for the many critics of this event, some of whom make their feelings felt on The Tablet letters pages this week, they have to answer a simple question – what else could Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds be expected to do, given the circumstances? The couple wished to marry in the Catholic Church; they had the right to do so; and they have a son, Wilfred, whom Fr Humphreys had baptised last year. Having had the amount of pre-marriage instruction the rules required, the Church gave them a green light.

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