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On Saturday, May 29, Prime Minister Boris Johnson married for the third time, on a date kept secret, largely away from the prying eyes of the media.

He and his fiancée — some would say concubine — Carrie Symonds were married in a Catholic ceremony at Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused with Westminster Abbey) in central London.

Because of coronavirus restrictions, only 30 people were in attendance.

The happy couple are pictured here at their reception in the garden of No. 10. James Cleverly MP was not in attendance, by the way:

The wedding provoked controversy regarding Canon Law.

It turns out that Boris was baptised a Catholic in his infancy but was confirmed as an Anglican during his schooldays at Eton.

Carrie Symonds has been a lifelong Catholic. Their son, Wilfred, was baptised a Catholic in 2020.

Catholics in Britain wonder how the couple could be married under Canon Law at Britain’s most famous Catholic cathedral.

On Sunday, May 30, a Telegraph article discussed the consternation expressed by British Catholics (emphases mine):

Disgruntled congregants at Westminster Cathedral have asked the resident priest to clarify how the twice-divorced Prime Minister was able to remarry in Catholic church.

Speaking outside the cathedral on Sunday, churchgoers said that they were “confused” over Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’s wedding on Saturday and said that “doesn’t look very well for us” given his history.

One member of the congregation, named only as Maria, who was baptised in the cathedral and has been attending for 70 years, said that she asked the priest for clarification on the rules surrounding divorcees.

Catholic canon law does not permit the marriage of a divorcee whose former spouse is still alive.

Both of Boris’s ex-wives are still alive.

This was the response the Telegraph received:

the church confirmed that as neither his six-year first marriage to Allegra Mostyn-Owen, nor his second 27-year marriage to Marina Wheeler were Catholic ceremonies they are not recognised in the eyes of the church

A spokesman for Westminster Cathedral said: “The bride and groom are both parishioners of the Westminster Cathedral parish and baptised Catholics.

All necessary steps were taken, in both Church and civil law, and all formalities completed before the wedding.

“We wish them every happiness.”

Hmm.

The article discussed the couple’s relationship with the Revd Daniel Humphreys, one of the priests at the cathedral and the officiant at their marriage:

Father Humphreys also baptised their son Wilfred in the chapel where they wed (the Lady Chapel) just six months ago.

The couple were both baptised Catholics, though the Prime Minister renounced his mother’s Catholicism when he was confirmed in the Anglican faith whilst at Eton.

It is understood that the couple had been “under instruction” with the priest for “many months” before the ceremony.

On Monday, May 31, the Daily Mail carried the cathedral’s statement on the wedding and reported more dissatisfaction among British Catholics, including the following:

On Twitter another user asked: ‘If Boris marrying is Westminster Cathedral is true then, as a Catholic, I would like to know why a twice divorced adulterer was able to and my practising Catholic friend who divorced a husband who battered hell out of her had to re-marry in a registry office.’

Conservative Woman had a good article on Canon Law and Boris’s wedding written by Roger Watson, a professor of nursing and practising Catholic: ‘Johnson’s Catholic marriage: How to have your wedding cake and eat it’.

He says:

The unexpected timing was one thing, but when I recognised the portal from which he and his bride emerged after the wedding as that of Westminster Cathedral, I uttered a few words that will extend my time in Purgatory.

I had read a report and was sure that the journalist made a mistake and meant Westminster Abbey. But no, it really was the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Diocese of Westminster. The newlyweds are both Roman Catholics, apparently. Who knew?

As a Roman Catholic, I was taken aback. Boris, no stranger to matrimony, is twice divorced, and my Church famously and uniquely forbids the remarriage of divorcees in the Church.

I am genuinely surprised that this marriage was permitted under Canon Law. It seems to have nothing to do, as some commentators have said, with ‘changing times’, ‘the need for Catholics to move on’ – the ‘conservative’ Catholics that is – and how, under the populist Pope Francis, we are becoming a different church.

I sense a great deal of sacramental sophistry in arriving at the conclusion that it was acceptable for two adulterers to marry according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church.

The bottom of the canonical barrel must have been scraped clean. By whatever loophole this marriage is deemed legal, I have known of no another example.

Of course, forgiveness is a significant pillar of the Christian faith. But forgiveness is an aspect of God’s justice, and justice is possible only following judgement.

It is largely none of my business but, while a decision has clearly been taken to permit the marriage of Johnson and Symonds, to what extent were they judged suitable candidates to proceed to matrimony under the auspices of the Church of Rome, and what amends did they make for their sins? Sin, of course is not a popular word these days, but sin they did. The facts speak for themselves.

Having ‘renounced’ his Catholic faith at school, Johnson has sinned by marrying outside the Church, he has sinned by committing adultery and having sex outside marriage. The Church does not formally recognise renouncement of faith, and this was, in fact, his ecclesiastical get-out clause.

It transpires that Ms Symonds often spoke about her Catholic faith. If so, she has sinned by having sex outside marriage and persisting in that relationship.

If the couple were to marry legitimately under Church law, they would both have had to make a confession of these sins and promised to sin no more. That would have meant them living ‘as brother and sister’ until they were married. Maybe that happened. Who knows?

Watson says there is a larger issue here, one with the Catholic Church in general:

Notwithstanding the legality of the Prime Ministerial wedding, I worry about the marital message this sends to young Catholic men, and men are always the winners where infidelity is concerned.

It suggests to me that they are being given permission to sow their wild oats at liberty; even to try out a few marriages outside the auspices of the Church first. Have some kids, see how that goes. If these fail and you fancy a return to the fold, no impediments will be put in your way.

Ultimately:

There is always great rejoicing at the return of sinners to the fold. I wish the Johnsons well and pray they bring up their son in the Catholic Church.

Agreed.

The comments to the article included several anecdotes about people being unable to marry in the Catholic Church. I have a distant relative who was unable to marry his fiancée in a Catholic ceremony. She was divorced, he was a bachelor and the priest refused them because her ex-husband was still alive. As she was an Episcopalian — who was willing to become Catholic — they married in the Episcopal Church.

As for Canon Law and the rather unorthodox relationship of Symonds living with Johnson at No. 10, one commenter wrote:

I agree and disagree with this article.

With respect to the legality and the question of the divorces; there is not a problem here. We shouldn’t be surprised that the Catholic Church values its own marriages and its own laws. It would be a major concession to the secular order if it started giving too much credence to Johnson’s previous “marriages”. The fact is that marriage – Catholic and non-Catholic – involve a legal form and Johnson’s previous marriages simply did not comply with it from a Catholic perspective. The Catholic Church should no more consider them valid than the British courts should have considered Mick Jagger’s wedding on the Bali beach valid (which they didn’t). We wouldn’t expect wedding vows exchanged on a door step in front of a postman to be valid and so there is no reason for the Catholic Church to consider marriages that break its laws to be valid.

Two points should be made clear – the Catholic church does consider Church of England marriages to be valid when they involve non Catholics. The problem is that when Johnson was baptised a Catholic it meant that legal responsibilities came with it from the point of view of the Catholic Church including the need to follow its marriage laws.

I do agree with the article when it states that the wrong marital message is being sent out. Johnson has created scandal by installing a concubine in Downing Street. I am pleased he has now married her and brought this to an end. But the nation has been left with the impression that he simply tumbled out of their shared bed into a taxi to the most prestigious Catholic Church in England and married her just like that. Even if this was not so (who knows), it should have been seen to not have been so with Symonds moving out for a period of time, a public statement or similar. Even now the Catholic Church should be using the opportunity as a teaching moment. Cheating on women, breaking church law are all sins

The Johnson-Symonds union in a Catholic ceremony seems to be a matter of the Church kowtowing to the powerful.

There can be no other explanation.

I’ll have more tomorrow on how the Johnsons kept their wedding plans a secret.

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