Saturday, September 18, 2021
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Johnson’s Catholic marriage: How to have your wedding cake and eat it

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THE first Prime Minister to marry while in office for more than 200 years surprised the nation by doing it at the weekend.  

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? 

If this all sounds judgemental, then may God be my judge. These are facts and, if there has been some general mission drift away from some of the basic tenets of Catholic Christian teaching on marriage and its accoutrements such as sex and fidelity then, clearly, I missed the memo. 

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.  

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.  

The Prodigal Son was welcomed back with open arms. But the Prodigal Son had reached rock bottom, eating the food thrown out for the pigs he was tending. He saw the error of his ways and made a conscious decision to repent and return.  

It is hard to envisage this sense of spiritual enlightenment in Boris Johnson, unless his brush with death from Covid was, literally, a Damascene moment. I have no idea if he ever ate with the swine, but something smells a bit funny to me. 

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Roger Watson
Roger Watson is a Professor of Nursing.

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