Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds exchanged vows at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday, leaving many Catholics bewildered over why the prime minister, who is twice divorced and had converted to Anglicanism during his school years, was able to get married in a Catholic church.
“I thought the Catholic Church didn’t recognise divorce? How comes the mant [sic] times divorced Johnson was allowed to marry in a Catholic cathedral?” was one of the most common reactions to the news on social media.
Warrington’s assistant priest Father Mark Drew asked on Twitter whether “anyone” could explain to him “how ‘Boris’ Johnson, who left the Catholic church while at Eaton [sic] and is twice divorced, can be married at Westminster Cathedral, while I have to tell practising Catholics in good faith who want a second marriage in Church that it’s not possible?”
Father Paul Butler, the rector of St. Paul’s in Deptford, echoed this surprise, sarcastically saying in a tweet that there is “always one canon law for the rich and one for the poor”.
Many also remained outraged that the prime minister was given much more privileges than the same-sex couples who are not allowed to get married in the church.
My friend and his partner (both devout Catholics and innocent parties in divorces) are not allowed to marry in a Catholic church and this has caused them untold pain. I cant imagine how they felt yesterday reading about Johnson being allowed to marry in Westminster Cathedral— Martin Atherton #keepyourdistance (@AthertonPne) May 31, 2021
The prime minister, who is said to have renounced his Catholic faith for Anglicanism while studying at Eton, first got hitched in 1987, when marrying his Oxford University sweetheart Allegra Mostyn-Owen. Six years later and just 12 days into his divorce, he married his childhood friend Marina Wheeler, who was already pregnant with their first child.
How did Johnson get around this one to 'marry' Carrie Symonds? Has Canon law changed?— Amparo Torregrosa 🇪🇺🇪🇦🇬🇧 #seriouslyannoying (@spantrans1) May 29, 2021
"Catholic canon law does not permit the marriage of a divorcee whose former spouse is still alive, although annulments can be granted to certify the original marriage as invalid from the start"
Must be a bit of a shocker for Boris Johnson’ previous 2 wives to find out that their marriages have been annulled— Traceva🕷☮️💙💚%FBPE #FBSI #ProgressiveAlliance (@Traceva001) May 29, 2021
This would be the only way that the Catholic Church would allow Boris Johnson to marry again in Westminster Cathedral
Unless, of course, someone bribed The Pope
Serious question: if lapsed Catholic B. Johnson can marry by Catholic rite because previous marriages annulled, does that mean the children of his second marriage are illegitimised (cf. Henry VIII)? @DrFrancisYoung— Caroline Murray (@Prof_hedgehog) May 30, 2021
Many have shared concerns on Twitter that the British prime minister probably had to annul his previous marriages to be allowed to re-marry according to Catholic canon, as his previous wives were still alive and well. But Catholic author Catherine Pepinster pointed out that this should not be necessarily the case, as Johnson’s previous ceremonies were not carried out in Catholic settings and thus were not recognised by the Church.
“As far as the Church is concerned, this is his first marriage. They don’t need to be annulled. They didn’t happen, according to Roman Catholic law,” Pepinster explained.
Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh seems to agree – Johnson’s previous spouses were not Catholic, unlike Symonds, and the weddings they had were not Catholic:
“Boris’s 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.”
Johnson and Symonds, formerly the Conservative Party head of communications, announced their engagement last year, while the bride was already pregnant with their son Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson. He was born in April 2020, few months after Johnson and Wheeler had managed to reach a financial statement around their divorce, which was finalised in November the same year.
The newly-weds had invited only 30 guests to their secret ceremony, which was reportedly carried out by Father Daniel Humphreys. Even Downing Street’s senior aides were not briefed about the proceeding in advance, sources told BBC. The wedding became the first one for a sitting British prime minister in 199 years.