Why Boris got married in a Catholic church | Ed condon

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On May 29, British Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson married his girlfriend Carrie Symonds, a Catholic and mother of his youngest child, in Westminster Cathedral in London.

The wedding came as a surprise, both because it had not been announced until today and because Boris was not known to be a practicing Catholic. It was also surprising to many as this is Boris’ putative third marriage. Previously, he married Allegra Mostyn-Owen in 1987 and Marina Wheeler in 1993.

One of the few doctrines of the Church still widely understood by the public is the teaching that marriage is a permanent, lifelong union between a man and a woman, and that those who divorce cannot enter into a second recognized marriage. by the Church. So how did Boris get married in the Church?


Well, first of all, Boris is Catholic. Not many people know this, but he was baptized into the Catholic Church as a child. Boris says he converted to Anglicanism while in school, but what canon law calls “the defection of the Catholic Church by a formal act” requires a specific legal process, in dialogue with the Church. hierarchy of the Church, which Boris did not do. The conversion cannot be simply public or notorious. In short: Boris has never ceased to be Catholic in the eyes of the Church.


Second, IIn addition to natural and divine law, the canon law of the Catholic Church also contains what are called “purely ecclesiastical laws”. These are laws that the Church promulgates on her own authority to better order the life of the faithful and the society of the Church; they only apply to baptized Catholics like Boris.

Marriage, at its most basic level, is open to all mankind. It is contracted by a couple through an exchange of consent to its essential aspects: unity, indissolubility, the good of the spouses, fidelity and openness to children. Marriage as a life partnership between a man and a woman is part of natural law and is therefore contained in the Code of Canon Law. But the Code also contains a number of ecclesiastical laws governing how and when Catholics can enter into marriage. Among the canonists, they are called the requirements of the “canonical form”. They ask Catholics to marry in churches (preferably in their own parish church), seek permission from their bishop before marrying outside the Church, and ask for a special dispensation to marry non-Christians.

The roots of these laws are found in the Council of Trent. At the time of the council, it was unfortunately common for a young man to exchange his consent with a woman and then deny having done so later, effectively renouncing the union, the woman and their children. To solve this problem, the Council Fathers instituted the requirements of the canonical form. The sacrament of marriage fell under the immediate jurisdiction of the Church and a cleric (priest or deacon) was required to receive the exchange of consent from the couple.

What does this mean for Boris? Because the prime minister is a baptized Catholic subject to the requirements of canonical form, and because his two previous marriages lacked canonical form, a Church tribunal could declare these two previous unions invalid. Therefore, Boris was allowed to marry Carrie Symonds in a Catholic ceremony in a Catholic church.

I should Remark that this provision of canon law is hotly debated among canonists, many in favor of removing the requirement of canonical form for validity, precisely because it can lead to situations like this. That said, it would be wrong to assert, as many have done, that Boris must have enjoyed a position advantage in order for his previous two unions to be declared invalid. Ask any canonist working in a marriage court. He will tell you that it is hardly new for a Catholic cradle to quit the practice of the faith, to contract more than one marriage without canonical form, and then to return to the Church to remarry. It is also not unusual for such a Catholic to be granted more than one declaration of invalidity, if applicable.

Unfortunately, more than one person has maliciously argued on social media that by having their previous marriage declared invalid, Boris made the children of this previous union “illegitimate”. Let’s put aside the kind of animosity it takes to call someone a bastard to upset the father. These arguments are also false.

Canon law has a long memory, and it is not uncommon for a king, for example, to request annulment. In such cases, questions of legal legitimacy are more about inheritance rights than being horrible to someone on Twitter. For this reason, the law expressly recognizes that children born of putative marriages declared null or invalid are just as legitimate as those born of valid marriages.

Other critics, half understanding the concept of canonical form, have railed that the Church apparently only recognizes Catholic marriages between Catholics in Catholic churches and considers everyone else’s marriages to be invalid. But that too is wrong.

The Church maintains that only a marriage between two baptized Christians is a sacrament. But it considers as valid all marriages contracted according to its properties and essential elements, whether between Buddhists, atheists, Hindus or anyone else. The only exception made by the Church is for Catholics, who have the additional requirements of the canonical form.

Many have also claimed that the Johnsons received a special advantage by being allowed to marry in Westminster Cathedral, and that the Church publicly favors the Prime Minister despite his checkered marital history. But in fact, since Boris lives in Downing Street, the cathedral is his own territorial parish. According to canon law, this is where their marriage is supposed to be celebrated. In fact, they would have needed permission from the Church to get married elsewhere.

Despite all the noise and fury, the only exception given to the couple (as the Diocese of Westminster said in an after-the-fact statement), was the temporary closure of Westminster Cathedral for security reasons.

Ed Condon is editor-in-chief of The Pillar.

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