How the Devil did he do it? A Catholic marriage of convenience

Is Boris Johnson a Catholic?

A few weeks ago, West Country Voices published a couple of excellent articles by Sadie Parker, focused on the matter of Boris Johnson apparently being a Catholic. The fact is that he does not correspond in any way to what I would consider a Catholic; he has merely adopted this as yet another ‘cloak of convenience’. OK, he may have been baptised Catholic, but he renounced Catholicism by being confirmed by the Church of England while at Eton. He seems to change his badges to suit the circumstances.

I am reminded of a statement in another WCB article, “(General) Franco adopted, or rather expropriated, various symbols and badges from other movements to give himself a ‘cloak of acceptability’ ….” And “As if by a miracle, he suddenly ‘became’ a devout Catholic, having previously been indifferent to religion!”.

Johnson himself was asked by Robert Peston in an ITV interview if he is now a practising Roman Catholic. The prime minister replied: “I don’t discuss these deep issues, certainly not with you.” Yet he is ‘Catholic’ enough to be able to exploit a church principle regarding marriage, as explained in the Irish Times; his previous marriages having been civil marriages, they don’t count! Whatever his current views, “he cannot defect from the Church, says canon law”.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

What do Catholics think?

The issue even hit the headlines in Catholic Weekly in Australia; in an article which clarified the situation for its readers, it stated: “A Catholic party who participates in a wedding ceremony that does not observe the canonical form is not considered to have married in accord with the law. The only exception to this is if a special permission has been given.”

Even some Catholic priests are disconcerted by all this; in an article titled ‘Priest questions why twice-divorced Boris was allowed to remarry in church’, the Metro quotes Father Mark Drew: “Can anyone explain to me how “Boris” Johnson, who left the Catholic Church while at Eton 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?”

I would describe myself as a lifelong committed but pragmatic Catholic. That means having to accept rules and norms of behaviour which are hard to stick to; yet at the same time, I have a fairly liberal attitude to many of them, provided the basic principles of Christianity are adhered to. Even so, like many Catholics, I’m sure, I was incensed not only at the way Johnson suddenly and conveniently ‘became a Catholic’ but also at the way the Catholic Church – my Church – appears to have accepted this for the sake of his (third) marriage, all the more galling given Johnson’s record as an unfaithful husband and neglectful, feckless father.

My faith rocked…

A few days after the ‘marriage’, I was waiting to speak to my parish priest after Mass, and could not help but overhear a fellow-parishioner asking the priest the very same question I had been pondering: how on earth was it that twice-divorced Johnson had been allowed to marry in a Catholic church? The fact is that, like many Catholics, I know of several devoted but devout couples who have not been allowed to marry because one of them was divorced after an unhappy marriage (annulment is possible, but is a lengthy and expensive legal process); the rigid application of this ‘rule’ deprived them of the chance to spend a happy life together. Yet again, as so often before, it seems to be a case of ‘one rule for Johnson, another for ordinary people’. This has been a very bad bit of PR for the Church.

As a practising Catholic who happens to be a Remainer, and very much opposed to the current government and the way the PM ‘manages’ it and the country on the basis of untruths and bluster, I now find myself horrified that such an amoral person on such a lofty political pedestal can call himself ‘Catholic’. Indeed, he offends my intellectual integrity by being so transparently without principle and guilty of mismanaging my country; like so many Catholic friends and thousands of others, I suspect, I feel that Johnson has invaded, misused, usurped and somehow contaminated something which was and is quite sacred to me. I despise him all the more for it.

It remains to be seen…

Talking of my position as an ardent Remainer, I remain incensed that, as reported in various newspapers in 2019, the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that Remainers should stop whingeing and embrace Brexit. He subsequently had to apologise for that remark, but his attitude is more reprehensible than merely a case of a cleric interfering in politics. The notion of ‘forgiveness’ is covered in a Letter to the Editor in West Country Voices. To ‘accept Brexit’ would require Remainers to forgive the perpetrators of the unwise decision to hold a referendum, the failure to guarantee a fair result by requiring a minimum voter turnout and a ‘super-majority’, the democratic nonsense of imposing on the entire nation what was only ever an advisory referendum, and the corrupt practices which led to a narrow majority in favour of leaving the EU.

This weird suggestion of Justin Welby’s would require us not just to forgive the ‘villains’, but also to turn an indulgent blind eye to behaviours which run counter to our principles of honesty and integrity in all things, effectively trashing our values. It remains to be seen how Welby can expect me and other Christians to do this.

Returning to the topic of Johnson’s third marriage – or first in the eyes of the Catholic Church: as we have seen, observing the aspects of canon law which deal with marriage, it seems that the Catholic Church has in fact been faithful to its rules and principles in this matter. It’s all down to the technicalities of canon law. OK, fine, but it is of no consolation to people like me who are only too aware of how a self-confessed non-practising ‘Catholic’ has yet again been able to exploit rules to his own benefit. I call that downright hypocrisy; Johnson is not just a proven out-and-out liar, but he is also a religious hypocrite.

How the devil has he got away with it?