The surprise wedding of the prime minster, Boris Johnson, and his fiancée, Carrie Symonds, at Westminster Cathedral this weekend has provoked sharp responses on the relationship between church law and ethics. At first there was shock that Boris Johnson, twice married and divorced, was allowed to marry in a Catholic church. But then it was explained that, although he was baptised Catholic, he had not previously married under Catholic church law, therefore his earlier marriages were invalid. So this is his first valid marriage in the eyes of the church. His wife is also a Catholic. They were married by Father Daniel Humphreys, who also baptised their son at Westminster Abbey last year.
Westminster Cathedral said: “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. We wish them every happiness.”
Catherine Pepinster in the Telegraph: “For those who have sometimes spent years trying to get their previous Catholic marriages annulled so that they can marry again in church, the apparent ease with which Boris has wed may well seem painful. Others will be wondering how his older children will be feeling if their parents’ marriage is deemed invalid. But the church’s approach is not that the legal contract never existed; its focus is on the sacramental. As for the rest of us, enough of the finger-wagging. A wedding is, after all, a moment to celebrate love.”
… and on Twitter @CPsPepTalk: “Hmm. A Reformation whose origins in this country were tied up with a king trying to dump his wife of 24 years for a younger model and decided to set up his own church when the one he belonged to wouldn’t agree?”
Christopher Lamb, on Twitter and 5Live: “The church should always be ready to welcome a prodigal son but this case highlights what are perceived as unfair rules preventing some divorcees from remarrying while allowing others “
Professor Tina Beattie, professor emerita, School of Humanities, Roehampton University @TinaBeattie: “I know there are coherent canonical reasons for Saturday’s nuptials but this just shows the cruel legalism of the system. What must his betrayed wife and four children be feeling now? What comfort can they draw from procedural canonical correctness?”
James Martin, SJ Jesuit priest, editor at large @Americamag @JamesMartinSJ: “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”.
Father Mark Drew @PhilHellene1960: “Can anyone explain to me how ‘Boris’ Johnson, who left the Catholic church while at Eton 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? … he was confirmed CofE and is therefore presumably no longer a Catholic. Even so, if it’s effectively a technicality, then the optics for the church are terrible”
Professor Louise Locock, professor of health services research, Aberdeen University @LLocock: “I’m not talking about fidelity here, though Johnson clearly has an appalling record on that score. It’s the fact that two women (in this case) have just been told their entire married life doesn’t count. In Marina Wheeler’s case that’s 27 years and 4 children. On a technicality.”
June Barker @Auliffe1Jp: “As a divorced woman and Catholic when I wanted to remarry I knew I would be refused a church wedding. I was even refused a blessing. Strangely I’m not surprised that Johnson was allowed the privilege. Not even the church is immune to the overtures of the rich and powerful.”