From THE TABLET, 12 June 2021
Jesus was invariably welcoming, forgiving and generous to those whose messy, complicated lives put them at odds with religious laws. He saved his condemnation for religious leaders when they acted as if those laws were more important than people. He described all this as hypocrisy: a kind of falsehood in which cruelty and abuse of power were justified in God’s name.
I pray that Boris Johnson’s third marriage may receive every blessing, and may be a strong step in the journey of faith and fidelity for him and his new wife. I am pleased that the Church was able to support them in this sacrament and I am sure that every aspect of canon law was properly met. Unfortunately, even if it was the right thing to do, celebrating the wedding is a disaster for the Church and for proclaiming the Good News.
I cannot think of any clearer example of religious authorities straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel than insisting on Mr Johnson’s right to access the sacrament of marriage while denying it to so many others. Surely, we cannot continue to deny the sacraments, and cause so much harm, to so many whose lives are not neatly aligned with canon law, but seem far less messy, and compromised, and far more faithful to the Gospel, than Mr Johnson’s appears to have been?
And while we work to address this scandalous hypocrisy in our Church, we should also look at all the other ways in which we elevate clerical and canonical power and rules above the love of God and service of our neighbours.
We will soon be returning in person to a liturgy that elevates adherence to the letter of the Roman text and rubric far above the needs of a hungry people of God, longing to be fed. We elevate the rules of celibacy and and male hierarchy above the urgent call to preach the Good News and shepherd God’s people.
This wedding has cast hard light on us, as have so many awful things that have been revealed in recent years. I hope, at last, that we will start listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Second Vatican Council and have the courage to live up to our calling.
I care not a whit where or whom the prime minister chooses to marry. However, I do care about how many thousands of erstwhile good Catholics or their spouses have turned away from the Church or are denied the sacraments because some priest or canon lawyer has not considered whether any previous extra-ecclesial union was “of the proper canonical form” or not.
I suppose the great thing about canon law is at least it’s flexible!