As I was sitting down after the Sunday Masses, I discovered that everybody on the Catholic internet was talking about the recent marriage of the PM, the Rt. Hon. Mr. Johnson. We certainly wish Mr. and Mrs. Johnson well and we shall continue to pray for them and for Mr. Johnson’s government of our country.
What seems to have excited everybody, and the commentary (as usual) has been coming from foreign countries as well, is that Mr. Johnson is a Catholic and that he has married a Catholic, and that the ceremony took place at the cathedral church of our metropolitan archbishop, HE Cardinal Nichols. And, of course, it is public knowledge that Mr. Johnson has been married twice before this and has several children from these previous marriages, and that both those marriages have ended in registry divorces. How could a Catholic marriage have been arranged in these particular circumstances, especially given that the Church does not admit the word ‘divorce’ into her vocabulary?
Well, I’m no expert in such matters, so I’m going to embed the most useful short summary of the situation according the law of the Church, presented by one of my fellow-students at seminary, Father Dench, who actually is an expert on such matters. There are twenty short points made and these are the first nine or ten.
2. The Church believes that marriage is a covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring. (c.1055)— Fr Gary Dench (@garydench) May 30, 2021
3. Marriage is governed by divine and natural law. Where marriage takes place between Catholics, ecclesiastical laws also apply. (c.1059) This only applies to Catholics because laws which are merely ecclesiastical to do not bind non-Catholics (c.6).— Fr Gary Dench (@garydench) May 30, 2021
3. Boris Johnson was baptised a Catholic and, his reception of Anglican confirmation as a child at school notwithstanding, he remains a Catholic.— Fr Gary Dench (@garydench) May 30, 2021
4. This is for two reasons. The first is that receiving Confirmation in the CoE on its own does not meet the threshold for determining a formal defection from the Church, as set out by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.— Fr Gary Dench (@garydench) May 30, 2021
5. The second is that such a defection was not possible before the 1983 Code anyway, and was no longer recognised as possible following Omnium in Mentem in 2009, promulgated by Benedict XVI.— Fr Gary Dench (@garydench) May 30, 2021
6. As such, Boris Johnson remained bound by ecclesiastical laws in force and which were binding on him as a Catholic when he contracted his previous marriages. These marriages were, therefore, governed by both natural law and canon law.— Fr Gary Dench (@garydench) May 30, 2021
7. Marriage is brought into being by the lawfully manifested consent of persons legally capably (c.1057) and must be manifested before competent authority which, for Catholics, is their local Ordinary, their Parish Priest, or a priest/deacon their PP has delegated this to.— Fr Gary Dench (@garydench) May 30, 2021
8. Without this, or without a dispensation, the marriages of Catholics which do not take place before such lawful ecclesiastical authority are invalid. This applies to marriages in registry offices, hotels, non-Catholic Churches, beaches, Elvis impersonators etc etc— Fr Gary Dench (@garydench) May 30, 2021
9. These cases do not require a formal annulment procedure. It is a brief documentary process which the Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Westminster would have investigated before the Prime Minister’s wedding could have gone ahead.— Fr Gary Dench (@garydench) May 30, 2021
10. This is purely to explain why it has been possible for someone with several civil divorces behind them to marry in the Church. The annulment procedure is separate from the civil divorce, and often doesn’t begin until a divorce absolute has been granted.— Fr Gary Dench (@garydench) May 30, 2021
This update is a letter from Westminster (placed here on the 13th of June):
“On Saturday 29 May, the wedding of Carrie Symonds and Boris Johnson took place in Westminster Cathedral. The bride and groom are both parishioners of the Westminster Cathedral parish and baptised Catholics.Wedding in Westminster Cathedral, a statement from the Cathedral clergy
“It is not appropriate to comment on the personal circumstances or disposition of this couple, other than to confirm that this marriage took place in full accordance with the requirements of the Church. These requirements, rather than sentiment, must guide action. No privileges or exceptions were afforded to this couple, other than the closure of the Cathedral for security reasons.
“The Catholic Church celebrates marriage as a great blessing instituted by God for the good of the spouses, their children and the wider community. Marriage is a sign of God’s love for all of human creation and the marriage of a man and a woman, both of whom are baptised Christians, is considered a Sacrament–a sacred sign of the enduring union of Christ and the Church. The Catholic Church holds that it is the legitimately manifested consent of the man and the woman marrying that creates the marriage bond which is a lifelong bond of love and fidelity and is particularly characterised by an openness to receiving the blessing of children.
“The Catholic Church holds: (i) That a valid marriage creates a bond which ends only with the death of one of the spouses. (ii) That to marry validly a number of factors must be present including capacity to marry, both legal and personal, as well as genuine marital intent and the absence of any other existing marital bond. (iii) That a Catholic, defined as a person who was baptised or formally received into the Catholic Church, who wishes to enter a marriage which is recognised as valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church must exchange marital consent before a Catholic priest/deacon or receive special permission to exchange marital consent in another setting. If a Catholic does not observe this rule the marriage is considered not to be valid under Catholic Canon Law. (iv) That a civil decree of divorce impacts only the civil effects of marriage and does not, in and of itself, leave the parties free to enter a marriage recognised as valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church. (v) That after a civil divorce has been issued either of the parties may ask the Catholic Church to look into whether the presumption that the marriage is valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church is verified or whether there is information present which requires that the presumption be overturned. In situations where the presumption is overturned what is commonly called an annulment is issued by the Catholic Church. It is to be noted that an annulment has no implications for the children of the couple.
“For those who wish to pursue these difficult questions further, please contact your parish priest, especially if you are personally affected by these matters. He will accompany you, or refer you to someone who is able to do so.”