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Johnson’s Catholic wedding and the jilting of Northern Ireland

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ONE of the most thorough analyses of PM Johnson’s recent Roman Catholic wedding was from Ben Macintyre in his Times article ‘Is Johnson Britain’s first Catholic PM?’ He ends his rehearsal of Roman Catholic and British law by saying no one is now concerned what church or other faith he binds himself to: 

‘Johnson’s white wedding in Westminster is proof that faith is no longer an issue of concern in politics, least of all to the man himself. As the first serving prime minister to follow the Church of Rome might put it: Catholic Schmatholic. Most people are simply uninterested in which God Johnson worships.’ It may also be arguable that the PM’s history of philandering bothers no one.  

But this judgement, typical of our thoroughly secular MSM, arguably omits the most neuralgic part of the UK, Northern Ireland, where the largely Protestant Unionists are being tortured by the Northern Ireland Protocol and being economically annexed by the EU. Northern Ireland is a religiously serious part of the UK. PM Johnson promised not to betray it, but did so and thus approved the legal attack institutionalised by that astonishing document. Ben Macintyre is almost certainly correct in saying that the PM is being recognised as a Roman Catholic by the church which has baptised his newest son, has ignored the validity of his two earlier marriages, and has the Johnson family listed as regular parishioners of Westminster Cathedral.  

Students of church history and theology will have been fascinated by the Roman Catholic marriage of Boris Johnson to Carrie Symonds, and surprised for several reasons. The secrecy and furtive nature of the event adds a note of conspiratorial plotting, and the Roman dimension adds yet another layer of mystery as to who Johnson really is in his personal history of shapeshifting and disguise. Baptised in the Roman Catholic Church, it seems, then confirmed an Anglican at Eton, thus rejecting his Romanist start to church life since Anglican confirmation is the rite by which RCs move to the Anglican family of the church. Unless he underwent a re-conversion to Rome before this marriage service, he is still an Anglican and Rome permitted him to wed sacramentally in their main English cathedral church.  

Continuing along the logic of Rome, their system works a kind of get-out mechanism of annulment for RCs who have been married but want to divorce and remarry: the authorities do not accept divorce but can be persuaded to annul even a longstanding and fruitful marriage. We all know that Henry VIII demanded an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon who had failed to bear him a son and heir, but the Pope refused this, leading to Henry’s decision to rescind ecclesiastical jurisdiction from Rome and return it to England. Probably a big mistake by the Pope. Annulments are extremely hard to get from the Curia for ordinary folk, less so for the wealthy and powerful. Annulment of the marriage of course makes children of that marriage illegitimate in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church, a nasty consequence for Marina, the long-suffering former wife of the promiscuous PM, and their four children. Johnson’s philandering has been rewarded by Rome with this official church marriage. 

Here we bump into another bizarre aspect of this union. Carrie Johnson is reportedly a ‘practising Catholic’, but clearly needs to do much more in the way of actual Christian practice. Pastoral principles take account of whether a requested re-marriage in church after a divorce involves a partner being responsible for the break-up of the existing marriage by adultery. This would be a reason for turning down the request, on moral and sacramental grounds. This seems to have been the case of Carrie Symonds living with the still-married Johnson and so weakening his marriage to Marina. But this sub-Christian behaviour has been rewarded by Rome, and Marina and her children have been told their status as properly married was always invalid. By the stroke of a curial pen, this becomes Johnson’s first marriage. What a reversal of basic morality and Christian pastoral care.

Christianity and basic moral virtue seem to have nothing to do with this union, which should have been conducted in a secular registrar’s office if at all. The sleight of hand by annulment betrays the innocent spouses dumped by the guilty promise breakers. The semi-pagan party afterwards, dancing around a fire pit, completes a grotesque picture. 

How very apt that Boris Johnson should be taking advantage of this dishonest religious system. We could say that he has been walking away from promises clearly made in his political work for decades, most recently to the fishing industry, to the public on immigration control, on the Withdrawal Agreement being dead, on freedom of speech.  

But he has really betrayed NI Unionists, and they will be now wondering whether his new religious adherence is a factor in his casual sacrifice of this loyal section of the UK. With Joe Biden, a Catholic and dark-green supporter of a united Ireland, now supporting the EU and Eire’s existential attack on the Province as British, the PM has taken another reckless and needless risk by appeasing Carrie.

Why the UK signed the NIP is a major puzzle which now has a religious dimension to it. It is producing what the EU intended, a mechanism to repress the Unionists, with UK complicity. 

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Timothy Bradshaw
Timothy Bradshaw is a Theological lecturer and Anglican clergyman

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