Boris Johnson baptised Catholic and cannot defect from Church, says canon law

First two marriages of Britain’s first Catholic prime minister not seen as valid by Church

Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson in the garden of 10 Downing Street, London after their wedding on Saturday. Photograph: Rebecca Fulton/10 Downing Street/AFP

British prime minister Boris Johnson was allowed marry Carrie Symonds, also Catholic, in Westminster Cathedral on Saturday as his two previous marriages were not seen as valid by the Catholic Church.

The Archdiocese of Westminster said that, while they did not comment on specific situations, “in general terms, a baptised Catholic who has contracted a marriage recognised in civil law but without observing the requirements of Catholic canon law is not recognised as validly married in the eyes of the Catholic Church.”

Mr Johnson, who is Britain's first Catholic prime minister, and his wife "are both parishioners of the Westminster Cathedral parish and baptised Catholics," an archdiocese spokesperson said, and that "all necessary steps were taken, in both Church and civil law, and all formalities completed before the wedding."

Mr Johnson had been married twice before with his first marriage annulled and the second ending in divorce. Neither marriage took place in a Catholic setting. Ms Symonds is a practising Catholic and their son Wilfred, born in April 2020, was baptised in the Catholic Church.


Mr Johnson's mother Charlotte Fawcett is Catholic and had him baptised into that denomination as a child. His godmother is Lady Rachel Billington, daughter of the late Lord Longford, a Catholic.

However, as a teenager and while attending Eton, Mr Johnson became and was confirmed as a member of the Church of England.

The archdiocese spokesperson pointed out that, according to the Catholic Church’s canon law, and despite Mr Johnson’s reception of Church of England confirmation at school, he remained a Catholic as it is not possible to formally defect from the Church.

This was underlined in a decree by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

On assuming office in July 2019, Mr Johnson became Britain’s first Catholic prime minister.

The office did not exist at the time of the Reformation, with the last Catholic to hold an equivalent position in England believed to be Cardinal Reginal Pole, principal minister to the Catholic Queen Mary from 1555 to 1558, 463 years ago.

Queen Mary died in 1558 and was succeeded by the Protestant Elizabeth I.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair became Catholic on leaving office in 2007 and following discussion with Pope Benedict.

Prevously he had attended weekly Mass with his Catholic wife Cherie and occasionally took Communion.

However in 1996, while leader of the opposition, he received a letter from then Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Basil Hume advising him to desist from taking Communion out of respect for the differing denominational traditions on the matter, as it was put.

At the time Mr Blair said he had not realised his behaviour might cause offence and agreed not to do so again, but added: “I wonder what Jesus would have made of it?”

However, although banned by the Catholic church from receiving Communion with his wife and children in Britain, Mr Blair had permission to do so when abroad, for instance when on holiday in places such as Tuscany where there were few Anglican churches.

The Blairs raised their children as Catholic and sent them to Catholic schools.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times