The Catholic explanation behind Boris Johnson’s third ‘marriage’

2 June 2021
Boris Johnson. Image: UK Government.

 

Earlier this week, reports in the media surfaced of the prime minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, marrying in the Catholic Church.

Normally, this would not be much of a big deal. Except that Mr Johnson is twice-divorced and this is his third marriage.

So, how can someone twice-divorced marry in the Catholic Church? Catholic Outlook spoke to Paula Kerr and is republishing tweets from Dr Austen Ivereigh about the wedding that’s been making noise across the Catholic and non-Catholic world.

 
Paula Kerr
Director of the Tribunal Office of the Diocese of Parramatta

Since the prime minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson is a baptised Catholic, he is obliged by Canon Law to marry in the Catholic Church in order to ensure the marriage is valid.

The fact that he was confirmed in the Anglican Church does not change his Catholic baptismal status. Mr Johnson’s two previous weddings were done in civil ceremonies. These marriages would have been investigated using the process of Lack of Canonical Form.

Mr Johnson would have been required to submit a copy of his up-to-date Baptism Certificate to show that neither of his previous marriages were ever convalidated (blessed) in the Catholic Church. The investigation would also check the parish registers where the couples lived during their marriages, in order to show that a convalidation was not done in any of these parishes and not recorded on the baptismal register of the parish in which he was baptised.

He would also have been required to submit both previous marriage certificates and divorce decrees to fulfil the legal requirements.

Any baptised Catholic must be married in a Catholic Church in order to fulfil the requirements of Canon Law. The only way for a baptised Catholic to marry in any other ceremony, is with the permission of his/her Bishop and this permission would only be granted for very serious reasons. If this permission had been given, the marriage would have been recorded in the baptismal register at the parish of Mr Johnson’s baptism.

The Catholic Church upholds the dignity of marriage as a Sacrament, however every person has the right to challenge the validity of any previous marriage if they wish to remarry in the Catholic Church.

Should there be need for further clarification of this situation or any other questions regarding marriage in the Catholic Church, please contact the Tribunal Office in the Diocese of Parramatta.  Our telephone number is: (02) 8838 3480 and our email address is tribunal@parracatholic.org. There is also an abundance of information regarding marriage annulments on the Diocesan website parracatholic.org/tribunal.

 

Dr Austen Ivereigh
Papal biographer

People say they are scandalised by Boris getting special treatment. In fact, he has been treated just like anyone else under a universal law. And that’s the real stumbling block. He hasn’t been singled out, rejected because of his past and his position, but embraced.

Explaining how the heck a twice-divorced prime minister known for his affairs could have got married in England’s premier Catholic cathedral (Westminster Cathedral), many will ask: how it is that the Catholic Church, famous for its vigorous commitment to the permanence of marriage, should be witnessing the marriage of a twice-divorced PM who is publicly notorious for the opposite? What kind of message does that send?

But Catholics have a right to the Sacraments, and if they fulfill the requirements in law, and properly enter into them, no one can stop them exercising those rights.

To be married Sacramentally, both partners must be baptised Christians (in this case, both are baptised Catholics) and at least one must be a Catholic. Carrie [Boris Johnson’s wife] is Roman Catholic, as she announced on Twitter in 2016. Boris is a confirmed Anglican.

They must also be “free to marry”, that is, not already married, marrying someone of the opposite sex, et cetera. Boris’ two previous marriages (probably) lacked canonical form, that is, are not recognised in Catholic law. So, he (probably) didn’t need an annulment.

When the canonical form of marriage has not been observed and the marriage was not later validated in the Church, a simple administrative process is used to declare such marriages invalid in Church law.

Another requirement is that the partners involved receive instruction, to ensure that they fully understand what they are entering into, and what the Church teaches about marriage (indissoluble, et cetera.) Carrie and Boris received instruction over many months.

A statement from the Cathedral says both are parishioners, so they are marrying in their parish church; and that “all necessary steps were taken, in both church and civil law, and all formalities completed before the wedding.”

So, whatever anyone thinks of their decision to marry sacramentally, and of the Church’s witness to that marriage, they were exercising their rights, and the Church has done everything to ensure that it is solemnly and properly entered into.

The rest is over to them. Who knows what has gone on in their hearts and minds these past months, and how God’s grace has been operating?

I don’t believe Boris will become a Catholic as Prime Minister — there are too many reasons, political and constitutional, which make it impossible. But let’s hope he is on a journey of faith and wish the happy couple every joy in their vocation of marriage.

 

With thanks to Paula Kerr and Dr Austen Ivereigh.

 

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