Why was Boris Johnson able to get married in a Catholic church?


LONDON – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s wedding to his fiancee Carrie Symonds on Saturday caught even his closest advisers off guard. Yet perhaps the most surprising thing about the stealth ceremony was how up to standard it was.

The bride wore a flowing white dress and a crown of white flowers in her hair; the groom a dark suit with a buttonhole. They were married by a Catholic priest in Westminster Cathedral in London, seat of the English Catholic Church.

This last detail became a subject of lingering intrigue as, after all, it was Boris Johnson, no altar boy, walking towards the altar. The question bubbling up in Catholic circles: How did a twice divorced man, with at least one child born out of wedlock, manage to get married in the Roman Catholic Church?

The answer is simple and, for some, unsatisfactory: Mr Johnson, 56, and Ms Symonds, 33, have both been baptized Catholics. Neither of Mr Johnson’s two previous marriages were in the Catholic Church, so the Church does not recognize them, and Ms Symonds had never married.

Under canon law it is cut and dried – except that when Mr Johnson was a teenager at boarding school he was confirmed as a member of the Church of England. Then, of course, there’s the issue of double standards: many other practicing Catholics who are divorced are turned down by the church when they seek to remarry – not to mention same-sex couples who are Catholics.

“It’s not about whether Boris and Carrie should be allowed to marry in church – they should – but why other Catholics can’t,” said Christopher Lamb, Rome correspondent. from Tablet, a weekly Catholic publication. “Laws are only worth their salt if they are seen as fair or consistent. “

“Boris seems to have been able to do what Henry VIII could not do,” Lamb said. “For her third marriage to be recognized by the church.”

The church has apparently ignored Mr Johnson’s conversion to the Anglican faith because under church law it is now virtually impossible – once baptized – to officially leave Catholicism. (He inherited the faith from his mother.) Mr Johnson has been confirmed into the Church of England with his class at Eton College, although some students choose to opt out of the process.

“It would have been a very conventional thing to confirm,” said Andrew Gimson, Mr Johnson’s biographer, “and Boris Johnson is in many ways a very conventional person.”

Regardless of the Prime Minister’s religious affiliation, the Diocese of Westminster said in a statement: “The bride and groom are both parishioners of Westminster Cathedral parish and baptized Catholics. All necessary measures have been taken, both in ecclesiastical and civil law, and all formalities have been completed before the marriage.

Some have objected the church invalidated Mr Johnson’s 27-year marriage to Marina Wheeler, which produced four children and ended in divorce just last year, after he and Ms Symonds moved to Downing Street. He was married to his first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, from 1987 to 1993. They had no children.

For others, Mr Johnson’s Catholic marriage is part of a political career and a private life in which the normal rules don’t seem to apply.

He declined, for example, to say exactly how many children he has – beyond the four with Ms Wheeler and her one-year-old son with Ms Symonds, Wilfred, who was at the ceremony. Wilfred was baptized last year by the same priest, Reverend Daniel Humphreys, who officiated at the wedding.

Mr Johnson is believed to have at least one other child – a daughter, Stephanie, from a relationship with art consultant Helen Macintyre. He has also been dogged by questions over whether he rendered inappropriate favors to an American girlfriend, Jennifer Arcuri, while he was mayor of London.

The Prime Minister’s messy personal life is more of a subject of mockery than opprobrium in 21st century Britain. As a politician, he has rarely invoked religion, and the depth of his faith is a moving target.

“It’s kind of like trying to get Virgin Radio when you’re driving in the Chilterns,” he once said. “It kind of comes and goes.”

Mr Gimson described Mr Johnson as a “pre-Christian figure”, although he noted that the Prime Minister issued a remarkably witty statement to mark Easter this year. Some say it may reflect Ms Symonds’ influence.

For Britain, having a Catholic Prime Minister is in itself a novelty. Tony Blair regularly attended Catholic mass when he was Prime Minister, but only formally converted to Catholicism after leaving Downing Street.

For some Catholics, the problem is less Mr Johnson’s picaresque path to the altar and more the inability of other Catholics to follow the same path.

“Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were married under the rules of the Catholic Church. And I wish them well,” Reverend James Martin, Jesuit priest and editor of America magazine, wrote on Twitter. “I also wish that the same mercy and compassion that were offered to them, recognizing their complex lives, could also be extended to same-sex couples who are long-standing Catholics.”

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