17 June 2021, The Tablet

The Catholic marriage maze

The Catholic marriage maze

Boris and Carrie Johnson were married at Westminster Cathedral.


The present teaching of the Catholic Church that marriage is indissoluble has a complex history. Might a better understanding of the scriptural basis of the teaching and historical context of its formulation help release some of the hurt and scandal that current marriage discipline creates?

The marriage of Boris Johnson to Carrie Symonds in Westminster Cathedral has scandalised many Catholics. This is not because of ­prejudice against either of them, though spite may have entered in here and there, but because, in ignoring his previous marriages, it seemed a flagrant contradiction of the Church’s witness to the indissolubility of marriages. Yet there may be something prophetic in that uncomfortable outcome, if it causes Catholics to look again at what marriage really is and what indissolubility really means.

These are rocks on which many lives have been painfully bruised. Part of the adverse reaction to the Johnson marriage was driven by a sense of unfairness: the strict rigours of the Catholic marriage discipline, with its complex web of hurdles and dispensations – the Catholic marriage maze – allowed this particular couple to marry. Many are not so lucky.

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