Last week Boris Johnson was married at Westminster Cathedral in a full Catholic wedding. You may have been pleased, puzzled, amused, angry. When did he undergo the marriage preparation course? When had he followed the baptism preparation course for the baptism of his latest child – also in Westminster Cathedral? Were we witnessing a new moral moment in Boris’ notorious sexually immoral life, would he now bring his Catholic understanding into his life as Prime Minister? William Gladstone and Tony Blair might have been our first Catholic prime ministers, but both knew it would cost votes and decided against conversion. Boris has gone ahead of them – because he doesn’t care what people say about his life, loves, lusts, broken homes and families, or because he truly wants to begin personal life again.
Be careful not to judge him on his laughingly immoral life. Many are promiscuous and unfaithful as he has reportedly been – and there are regular well-paid-for stories about various people in the gossipy media, unknown or uninteresting because they are boring. Those mentioned may change (St Augustine did) when finding true love and faith, and so may Boris.
Last week’s wedding is better seen more as a legal than a moral matter. According to the law of the United Kingdom Boris freely married, freely divorced (every country in the world allows divorce, though often cruelly in favour of the man – but then laws are man-made: there is better to come) and was thus free to enter another legal marriage.
The Roman Catholic Church recognises every legal marriage in every country. It has to. It cannot, dare not, challenge the legality of the law of established government. But our Church holds a blessing within the ceremony which makes a marriage sacramental, the beautiful union of love spoken about by Jesus in the Gospel (but read carefully what Jesus is said to have said in the accounts: Matthew and Mark are different).
Until the Catholic Church is invited by a couple it is not legally involved. A couple exclude the Church because it means nothing to them. The Church does not judge, it is simply excluded. But if it is approached the Church will want to see justice done. For Carrie it was her first marriage, for Boris he had never previously invited the Catholic Church – might he now? As a baptised Catholic he had the right to ask. The Church would carefully judge they were both sincere, want to be certain there was no injustice to previous wives or children, and then, under its own law (Canon Law, we call it) has to agree to a sacramental marriage. This would include the annulment of Boris’ previous marriages outside of the Catholic Church.
Notice the law of the land allows divorce, and the Catholic Church claims the power to annul or dissolve non-sacramental marriages. This extraordinary claim is called the Petrine privilege – the power claimed by the popes to dissolve non Catholic Church approved marriages in favour of a new start. It seems to have reached its open notoriety in the reign of Pope Pius XII – examples are easily available.
Google ‘Petrine Privilege’ and you will be astounded. Absolute power over all non-sacramental marriages. It reads like supreme arrogance but it is the logic of a Church that began to believe it ruled the world following the extraordinary ‘Donation of Constantine’ – an 8th century hoax that fooled Europe and allowed a succession of megalomaniac and power and wealth-lusting popes (read for yourselves and cringe, again Google will help you) offset by good men who tried to counter the power of the many unworthy popes. We needed the Reformation many centuries ago, with Christ to guide us. Instead, it came in the 16th century with enmity, hatred and wars.
The Christian community is a leaven, according to the Gospel, in every society, working and loving and living for the common good. Sadly, our Catholic Vatican is seen as a lump of dough, a centre of power. Each pope in my lifetime has expressed a desire to reform the Vatican, but the Vatican keeps winning. Of course there are good men, but the system is built on a lie (‘Donation of Constantine’) and power became more important than the truth. “Hide the scandal” became a primary duty of bishops, as we have seen in the last dreadful years in abuse of our children and women – and for how long before that?
According to the all-powerful law of the Roman Catholic Church Boris is in a legal sacramental marriage. For those of you who have been told to wait for your marriage case to be looked at, I offer you my sympathy and understanding and moral support. It has happened in our (my) family, too. In our human Church there is favouritism at every level. It seems Boris was favoured by not having to wait. So simple. In Church law we are all equal, but possibly some are more equal than others.
God bless God’s people,
(6th June 2021)