Bishop Philip writes: Our prayers and congratulations to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who last week married his fiancé Carrie Symonds in a private liturgy at Westminster Cathedral. Both are baptised Catholics and they have had their baby son, Wilfrid, baptised into the Church. We pray for them to the Lord who is now present in their family home through the Sacrament of Matrimony. We also pray for everyone in our Diocese who over these summer months will be getting married and for all our engaged couples.
People have raised with me questions about this particular marriage and how it was possible for them to marry within the Catholic Church, given that the Prime Minister appears to have been married twice before. This gives us an opportunity to reflect on the nature of matrimony and in this case on what is required for its validity. The Church’s Canon Law lays down a large number of conditions for a marriage to have ecclesial validity and for those who are Catholics “only those marriages are valid which are contracted before the local ordinary, pastor, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and before two witnesses” (Can. 1108). Sometimes it is possible for a dispensation from the usual form to be given, if there is a good reason. For example, a Catholic is given permission to marry a non-Catholic Christian, and they request that the wedding take place in the church of the non-Catholic spouse. For validity, they must obtain formal permission for this, otherwise the marriage cannot be deemed valid. This is why, as we have said before, in our Diocese of Portsmouth, it is important that couples contact their clergy in good time, usually at least twelve months before, so that not only proper formation for married and family life can be given but also so that all the required paperwork can be completed.
Matrimony is a public state of life within the Church and also within society, although, of course, every couple has a right to privacy in all the personal details. But to repeat, Catholics who marry outside the Church without a dispensation do not, from the Church’s point of view, enter into a valid marriage.