30 May 2021, The Tablet

Boris weds Carrie at Westminster Cathedral

Boris weds Carrie at Westminster Cathedral

Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds were married at Westminster Cathedral.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has married Carrie Symonds in a Catholic ceremony at Westminster Cathedral. The small, low-key ceremony was attended by a few close friends and family.

Downing Street confirmed the ceremony had taken place in a brief statement.

The total number of guests was 30, the maximum permitted under Covid restrictions, and the wedding took place in the early afternoon. The bride wore a flowing white dress with no veil.

They were married by Father Daniel Humphreys, the priest who baptised their son Wilfred in September last year.

This was the first time a prime minister married in office since Robert Banks Jenkinson in 1822.

Johnson is twice-divorced. He and his second wife Marina Wheeler were married for 27 years and were divorced last year. They had four children together. Johnson also has a daughter with Helen McIntyre, an art consultant. He was married to Allegra Mostyn-Owen from 1987 to 1993.

Westminster Cathedral said: “On Saturday 29 May, the wedding of Carrie Symonds and Boris Johnson took place in Westminster Cathedral. The bride and groom are both parishioners of the Westminster Cathedral parish and baptised Catholic. All necessary steps were taken, in both Church and civil law, and all formalities completed before the wedding.”

Many MPs and other congratulated the couple on Twitter.

However, some reactions from within the Catholic Church were more muted.

Father James Martin SJ tweeted: “#BorisJohnson, a twice-divorced man, whose girlfriend recently had a baby with him out of wedlock (and who also has another child out of wedlock) was married in a Catholic ceremony in Westminster Cathedral, the seat of English Catholicism. At the same time, a same-sex couple who are both Catholics (unlike Mr Johnson, who was confirmed as an Anglican) cannot have their civil union blessed even in private by a priest because ‘God does not and cannot bless sin...’ Mr and Mrs Johnson were married within the rules of the Catholic Church. And I wish them well. I also wish that the same mercy and compassion that was offered to them, recognising their complex lives, could also be extended to same-sex couples who are lifelong Catholics.”

Professor of theology and religion, Francis Davis, tweeted: “Jargony comment from RC twitter on canon law: BE CLEAR @CardinalNichols + @RCWestminster just told the Johnson children their mums + dad were never married + their mums didn't matter.”

Father Mark Drew, an assistant priest in Liverpool, said: “Can anyone explain to me how ‘Boris’ Johnson, who left the Catholic Church while at Eaton and is twice divorced, can be married at Westminster Cathedral, while I have to tell practising Catholics in good faith who want a second marriage in Church that it’s not possible?”

Others explained that because Johnson was baptised Catholic, a marriage that was took place in a non-Catholic setting would not be recognised by the Catholic Church, leaving him free to remarry if he wished. For a non-Catholic who converted, however, a first marriage in a non-Catholic setting would be recognised as valid by the Church, and this would need to be annulled if they wished to remarry in a Catholic church. 

Another tweeter wrote: “My friend, a practising #Catholic, married a divorced man & had to marry in a Register Office. She still goes to Mass but is denied the Sacraments. So how the hell does a multiple divorced, serial adulterer manage to have a lockdown wedding in a Catholic cathedral? #boriswedding.”

Fiction writer Amanda Egan tweeted: “I don't get it. He married in a Catholic cathedral after 2 divorces. For my divorced husband to marry me in a C of E church, we had to attend counselling sessions at the vicarage and he practically had to be exorcised!”

One of the fullest explanations was given by papal biographer and commentator Austen Ivereigh, who spoke on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday

He said: “Many will ask: how it is that the Catholic Church, famous for its vigorous commitment to the permanence of marriage, should be witnessing the marriage of a twice-divorced PM who is publicly notorious for the opposite? What kind of message does that send?”

Catholics have a right to the sacraments, and if they fulfil the requirements in law, and properly enter into them, no one can stop them exercising those rights, he added.

To be married sacramentally, both partners must be baptised Christians (in this case, both are baptised Catholics) and at least one must be a Catholic. Carrie is RC, as she announced on Twitter in 2016. Boris is a confirmed Anglican.

Ivereign said: “They must also be ‘free to marry’, that is, not already married, marrying someone of the opposite sex, etc. Boris’s two previous marriages (probably) lacked canonical form, that is, are not recognised in Catholic law. So he (probably) didn’t need an annulment.

“When the canonical form of marriage has not been observed and the marriage was not later validated in the Church, a simple administrative process is used to declare such marriages invalid in church law.

“Another requirement is that the partners involved receive instruction, to ensure that they fully understand what they are entering into, and what the Church teaches about marriage (indissoluble, etc). Carrie and Boris received instruction over many months.

“The priest who instructed them, the administrator (head) of Westminster Cathedral, Father Daniel Humpreys, also baptised their son Wilfred back in December, also in the Lady Chapel where yesterday they married.”

A statement from the cathedral says both are parishioners, so they are marrying in their parish church and that “all necessary steps were taken, in both church and civil law, and all formalities completed before the wedding”.

Ivereigh said: “So whatever anyone thinks of their decision to marry sacramentally, and of the Church’s witness to that marriage, they were exercising their rights, and the Church has done everything to ensure that it is solemnly and properly entered into.”

He concluded: “I don’t believe Boris will become a Catholic as PM – there are too many reasons, political and constitutional, which make it impossible. But let’s hope he is on a journey of faith and wish the happy couple every joy in their vocation of marriage.”


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