BORIS JOHNSON’s marriage shows the Roman Catholic Church in this country in one of its worst lights since the height of the child-abuse scandals.
He is not, of course, the worst character to have been married in a Roman Catholic church: the Emperor Napoleon was married to his second wife, Princes Marie-Louise, after he put aside the Empress Josephine. In our own time, the peculiarly loathsome American politician Newt Gingrich married his current (third) wife, Callista, after conducting a seven-year long affair with her while still married to the woman for whom he had left his first wife while she was in hospital with cancer. The happy couple were ultimately rewarded when the devout Callista was appointed her country’s ambassador to the Vatican.
By now, we know that Mr Johnson has a strong spine of insincerity. He has betrayed every principle as well as every woman he has espoused before now. No doubt, sincere prayers are offered for the reformation of his character; they are offered for world peace, too.
The rules that allowed him to try an RC marriage after his earlier experiments with civil and Anglican marriages are hugely insulting for his previous wives and various children. But that affects only people who take seriously the judgments of RC canon lawyers: a trivial fraction of the population.
For the general public whose only knowledge of RC marriage law is derived from the marital adventures of Henry VIII, this simply reinforces the impression that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. Besides, the pictures released of the wedding party have nothing religious about them at all. There is nothing in them to suggest an experience that a humanist celebrant could not have offered.
Then, to cap it all, came The Times’s explanation of the whole event in terms of court intrigue: “Carrie Symonds’s marriage to Boris Johnson is a ‘triumph’ over enemies who briefed against her, friends of hers have said.
“Symonds became Mrs Johnson on Saturday after she and the prime minister had a secretly planned wedding at Westminster Cathedral, followed by a reception in the Downing Street garden. Friends of the bride said the wedding marked a victory against Dominic Cummings and the inner circle of Johnson’s former chief adviser.”
There’s now a new question to ask in marriage prep: “Are you doing this to spite a rival gang of courtiers?”
I also liked the description of Christopher Lamb in The Guardian as The Tablet’s “religious correspondent” — corrected the next day to “Rome correspondent” when someone realised what sort of a magazine The Tablet is.
THE GUARDIAN also carried a long interview with Canon Eve Pitts: the first black woman ordained in the Church of England. She has an ambivalent attitude towards the institution: she thinks it is racist, but she’s not keen on the alternatives, either. “From a very early age, she believed Christianity had been used to put Black people into ‘new chains’. Even today, she says, this legacy means she refuses to touch on hell and damnation in her sermons, believing ‘Black people are terrified enough’.”
On the other hand, “She says having a church led by someone who looks like her is no solution: the emphasis on hellfire, damnation and using whiteness as a synonym for holiness can be even more overwhelming in Black-led churches.
“She remembers being thrown out of a Pentecostal church at 13 for questioning the pastor. In the Church of England, ‘I can stand up and say this and not be condemned. They may not like it, but duplicity will not allow them to say anything’.”
She’s obviously a fierce and effective figure. “She is petitioning the archbishop of Canterbury to recognise 1 August — the date on which the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 came into force the following year — as ancestors’ day, in honour of those enslaved Africans, and has the blessing of the Bishop of Birmingham to visit every slave port in Britain to pay respects to the dead. On these visits, she wades into the water and says prayers for the souls lost to the barbarity of transatlantic slavery.”
THE other black Christian who got a big space in The Guardian was Marcus Rashford, who told Simon Hattenstone that “My mum is very religious. It’s not that we practise it all the time, but sometimes the faith we have in God is shown by the people that we are. For me and my family, that’s definitely the case. If you could see our lives 15-20 years ago to where we are now, it’s impossible not to have faith in God and all he does for us.”
I wish someone would cover the religion of sportspeople properly. It’s clearly widespread and passionate, if doctrinally elastic. I was enchanted to discover last week that the FA has an official chaplain — an Orthodox rabbi. I wonder whether anyone has told him that the games are normally played on Saturday afternoons.