Catholic worshippers at Westminster Cathedral and beyond appeared bewildered and confused at the weekend after the surprise news that twice divorced Prime Minister Boris Johnson had married his girlfriend Carrie Symonds in a religious ceremony at the cathedral.
However, the Church has moved to clear up any confusion, pointing out that a full investigation was held before it was agreed the service could go ahead.
Catholic Canon law does not permit the remarriage of a divorcee whose former spouse is still alive. However, the Church confirmed that as neither Johnson’s six-year first marriage to Allegra Mostyn-Owen, nor his second marriage to Marina Wheeler, which lasted 27 years, were Catholic ceremonies, so they are not recognised as legitimate in the eyes of the Church.
Saturday’s wedding had been a closely guarded secret and it is understood that only a handful of people were aware of the preparations. Just 30 close friends and family attended the low-key ceremony.
A spokesman for Catholic Voices told The Catholic Universe: “The PM entered into a sacramental marriage…many will ask: how is it 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 fulfil the requirements in law, and properly enter into them, no one can stop them exercising those rights.”
It was also pointed out that Johnson’s new wife, Carrie, is a lifelong Catholic and this is her first marriage.
Fr Daniel Humphreys, who married the couple, has revealed he has been giving them pre-wedding instruction over the last few months ahead of the ceremony. A spokesman for No 10 Downing Street pointed this out too, to deflect suggestions by some in the media that the timing of the wedding was aimed at moving the media spotlight off the government after Dominic Cummings’ Select Committee attack on the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Fr 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 while at Eton. However, this decision was not held against him after a change in Canon law in 1983 and a further change by Pope Benedict to make it easier for baptised Catholics to marry.
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.”
Mr Johnson is the first Prime Minister to marry in office since Lord Liverpool married Mary Chester in 1822.
Carrie and Boris Johnson’s wedding caused considerable confusion among Catholics. Photo: Rebecca Fulton/10 Downing Street/AFP