Very Rev. Fr. Paul Kehinde Ijasan (JCD) is a Canon Lawyer and currently the Secretary/Ecclesiastical Judge of the Lagos Interdiocesan Tribunal. He earned his doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical University of Santa Croce in Rome, Italy. Mystified by the Catholic Church’s solemnisation of the twice divorced Prime Minister Boris Johnson, some people including Catholics have continued to question why the Prime Minister was allowed to marry a third wife at Westminster Cathedral with negative reactions zeroed down to experiences shared by some Catholics in Johnson’s peculiar circumstances who were denied marriage in the Catholic Church. The acting Editor, Neta Nwosu interviewed Very Rev. Fr. Paul Ijasan, Administrator, Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos on issues pertaining to Boris Johnson’s marriage, as well as what the Canon law says about marriage, divorce and remarriage.
What does the Canon Law say about marriage, divorce and remarriage?
Let me begin by saying that Canon law is not the only source that deals with the subject of the definition of marriage, other documents of the Church like the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) treat the matter extensively also. But then let us begin with the stipulation of the Code of Canon Law on marriage and I will try to make it simple as much as possible and to avoid technicalities involved for a better comprehension. Canon 1055 $1 of the 1983 Code which is still in effect states that “The matrimonial consent, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptised” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church #1601, Gaudium et Spes 48 $1). In this definition therefore, you have all that the Church intends when marriage is concerned.
Let us try and break it down for a better understanding and try as much as possible to avoid the technicalities that are involved so people do not get confused. Now let us try and explain some key elements in the definition. In the first place, it talks about matrimonial consent. This consent makes marriage, it brings it into being. Canon 1057 $ 1 states that “The consent of parties, legitimately manifested between persons qualified by law, makes marriage; no human power is able to supply this consent”. This “matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which a man and a woman mutually give and accept each other through an irrevocable covenant in order to establish marriage”. This is what is done when the couples say to each other, for example, I X take you Y, to be my wife, and I Y take you X to be my husband… for better for worse, in good times or in bad, for richer for poorer, in good health and in bad until death do us part. By this exchange of consent, both parties (the man and the woman) have bound themselves in a union that only death can separate. It is presumed that the parties have the capacity for and the intention to establish a sincere interpersonal relationship that is characterised by fidelity and steadfastness. At least the minimum required to give themselves to one another not only physically but also emotionally so as to be able to embrace the uniqueness of the other and as an equal partner in the relationship. This consent must be an act of the will, free from coercion or grave external fear. The moment of consent exchange is a very crucial one during the celebration of wedding.
Between a man and a woman: the Code and other documents of the church are clear on this, that marriage in the church can only be between a male gender and a female gender with the exclusion of the third party. And it must be between one man and one woman. Anything other than this is not considered as marriage by the church. The Church did not create the institution called marriage, it only gives a juridical character to what the God had already instructed and laid down. And recall that this has been the case even before the advent of Jesus Christ as a man. Jesus only reaffirmed what the Lord had already established. “Have you not read, that from the BEGINNING, God made them male and female and said, for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?” cf. Matthew 19:4-5; Mark 10: 5-9; Genesis 2:21-24. Therefore, with this understanding of marriage as ordained by God, the various unions (polygamy, polyandry, polygyny, gay union, civil union etc.) that people talk about today have no place at all in the Church and do not deserved to be classified marriage. It is contrary to conjugal love which is undivided and exclusive.
Partnership of the whole life: This implies that this union that X and Y have entered into is binding till death. Once consent is wilfully given and received by the parties, only death can terminate this bond. This is what is expressed in “…..till death do us part”, when the couples made their promises to each other. Here come by way of extension the properties of marriage: Unity and indissolubility (cf. Canon 1056). Ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring: By this we mean the sum of all the goods which flow from the interpersonal relationship of the spouses, which enhance and promote the spiritual, moral, social, intellectual and physical good of the spouses. The spouses must have at least the minimum affective maturity for marriage. They must possess the capacity for and the willingness to engage in genuine interpersonal communication so as to establish a mutually satisfactory sexual relationship. The couples must be open to procreation and ensure that the physical, social, moral, cultural and religious education of their children are attended to. A peaceful atmosphere animated with love and reverence for God and others must be created to assist in the integral growth of their children.
Sacramentality of Christian marriage: By this also the Church teaches that, Our Lord Jesus Christ, by his passion has merited for us the grace that would strengthen the unbreakable bond of unity and sanctify the spouses and likewise to perfect the natural love already existing between the spouses. With the redeeming power of Christ over the evil damage created by the sin of our first parents, the marriage of Christians (baptised) now becomes a symbol of the marriage between Christ and His Church. To this effect, St Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church…..This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5:25,32). (cf. canon 1055 $ 2, CCC 1641; 1642; 1661). Basically, this is what the marriage in the Church is all about. It is vital that I try to lay it out because the understanding of those basic elements would help in understating the stand of the Church on other issues relating to marriage. On the issue of DIVORCE, this is a civil judicial act whereby what was a civilly valid marriage is officially terminated or ended. Divorce, once granted, terminates legal marital status, the marriage contract is dissolved. Reasons such as irreconcilable differences”, “incompatibility” and irremediable breakdown of the marriage are usually evoked as grounds for divorce, regardless of the validity of the marriage. Remarriage: here is a situation whereby someone who was once married, is separated from his or spouse and then seeks another person’s hand in marriage.
Many people, even Catholics don’t understand the difference between divorce and annulment in Catholic teaching. Canonically speaking, how would you explain the difference?
Divorce is what I just explained above in simple and plain language. What people call annulment in the Catholic Church is actually a declaration of annulment. Put simply, it is an ecclesiastical determination after due process whereby what was believed to be a valid marriage is declared never to have been a marriage in the first place. That is, a marriage took place but it was a union that should not have taken place. For example, a marriage took place between a man and a woman only for them to realise after that they are siblings. This marriage from the beginning never existed on the grounds that it suffers from the impediment of consanguinity. What the ecclesiastical Tribunal does is to simply declare the nullity of such and not annul it, since it was contracted invalidly, though the declaration does deny that a relationship existed between the parties. In case of divorce, termination of the bond is granted not minding if it is valid or not. In the Church, as long as a marriage is valid, it cannot be dissolved by any human power, or by any cause, except death. (cf. Canon 1141). But divorce implies that the State can dissolve what is in essence indissoluble (a power it simply does not have). This is one of the reasons the Church does not recognise civil divorce. From our discussion above with reference to Jesus Christ on marriage, indissolubility is a property of both Christians and good natural marriages, even that of Moslems.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was baptised in the Catholic Church and confirmed in the Church of England, Mother Church of the Anglican Communion. Is he a Catholic or an Anglican? Please tell us, what Christian denomination does he belong? Is Borris Johnson still a Catholic?
We have a saying in Latin that semel catholicus semper catholicus “once a Catholic, always a Catholic”. This is not just a principle of canon law, but a critical diagnosis of a chronic condition. Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. (CCC 1213). I love the illustration of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is reference to Baptism when it says: “Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift…. We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightened because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God’s Lordship”. CCC 1216. Baptism impresses on all the baptised an indelible spiritual mark of belonging to Christ. Not even sin can erase this mark. It is not a gift from the minister that baptises, it is God’s gift and we are told in the Scripture that God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). Baptism with the use of the Trinitarian formula is a mandate from our Lord Jesus Christ himself: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). With baptism, God has already conferred on you His gift, and He does not act like we human beings that could return to retrieve what was hitherto given. No! God it is not in the nature of our God to renege on His promise. Baptism is given once for all, it cannot be repeated. Even if Borris Johnson spends his entire life sleeping in the Anglican Cathedral, it will not stop him from being a Catholic.
Baptism among other things also incorporates into the Church, the Body of Christ, which creates by its very nature, obligation, rights and duties. Due to this Boris Johnson like every other Catholic is obliged to obey the Church’s law by ensuring the celebration of his marriage in the church in total adherence to the canonical form of marriage. Canon 1117 states that: “The form established above (canonical form of marriage) must be observed if at least one of the parties contracting marriage was baptised in the Catholic Church or received into it and has not defected from it by a formal act, without prejudice to the prescripts of can. 1127 $2”. This canonical form means the way and the manner that the Church laid down that marriage must be celebrated validly (cf. cann 1108- 1116). The failure of a Catholic to observe this form renders his or her marriage null and void. The fact that Mr. Boris received the sacrament of Confirmation from the Anglican Church (do not forget that the Catholic Church recognises the validity of the baptism and Confirmation of the Anglican Church) or has not been active in the practice of his faith as Catholic does not exempt him from the obligation of observing the canonical form. And by the way, in line with the stipulation of canon 1117, I have not heard that Mr Boris has defected from the Catholic Church by any formal act. So put straight and simple. Mr. Boris Johnson remains a Catholic.
Prime Minister Johnson’s first wedding to Allegra Mostyn – Owen didn’t take place in the Catholic Church; neither did his second wedding to Marina Wheeler. He divorced these wives and married the third wife, Carrie Symonds in Westminster Cathedral on May 26. This third marriage has raised so much dust on why the Catholic Church should solemnise this marriage. What do you think?
What I think do not really matter here. I think the question should be if there is any violation of the Church’s law or as some are already reasoning, is this a case of diplomatic advantage because a Prime Minister is involved. Let us be very clear on one thing, the issue at hand has nothing to do with the political status of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister wielding his power to get his “third” marriage solemnised by the Church. If you are familiar with the history of the Catholic Church and the King of England – Henry VIII, you would know that the Catholic does not compromise the dignity of the sacraments for political favour or influence or for any reason whatsoever. The first and the second marriages attempted by Mr. Boris were not celebrated in the Catholic Church, nor was dispensation from the canonical given by the competent authority. Meanwhile, he was bound by the obligation to observe the canonical form of marriage as part of the obligations that his baptism places on him. By this very act he has by his own action estranged himself from the active life of the Church. Readily visible is being unable to receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Communion or Eucharist), for he is living in a state of sin: adultery. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, those two earlier marriages Mr. Boris attempted were not recognised by the Church, as a matter of fact they did not exist for the simple reason that the canonical form of marriage was not observed. With his marriage to Carrie Symonds he can now live out his faith actively. Congratulations to him, at least for recognising the need to do the right thing in spite of his political status.
Many are of the view that this development would trigger marriage abuse where a man can marry in the Baptist Church, divorce the wife and remarry in the Catholic Church under the pretext that he is a baptised Catholic and his previous marriage didn’t hold in the Catholic Church.
That is laughable! It is not that quite simple. In the Tribunal what is being sought after is the truth and not a superior or fanciful argument. Canon 1059 states that “Even if only one party is Catholic, the marriage of Catholics is governed not only by divine law but also by canon law without prejudice to the competence of civil authority concerning the merely civil effects of marriage”. Remember that what we are dealing with here is a spiritual matter. It is between you and God (the couples themselves are the ministers of the marriage). You are standing before God (before God’s altar) and making such promises and would you dare make false commitment or simulate the entire thing? Why would any reasonable and decent human person go to such an extent if he truly does not wish to embrace the life of total commitment with the other person? Marriage is not a must, you do not go into marriage because everyone is getting married. I do not think anyone is committing a sin because you decide not to marry especially if you know that you are not ready for it or you have not found the right person. Every human person has a right to marry (ius connubii), no doubt, but then he is also at liberty to exercise such right or not to. Another thing is if one has the capability to marry.
For instance, an impotent person has the right to marry certainly, but does he have what it takes to assume the obligations of marriage? By abuse, if you mean that a Catholic man for instance might be hopping from one woman to another while avoiding the celebrating of his marriage in the Church since those unions are not recognised by the Church anyway. Then I do not think we are not dealing with situation of abuse here but it might be a case of an undiagnosed mental imbalance. When a human being treats another human being like a piece of electronic in Alaba market that can be purchased, used, returned, claim refund and buy another gadget, then there is a chronic problem here. He might be suffering a grave defect of discretion of judgement concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties mutually to be handed over and accepted or not able to assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature. cf. canon 1095. A psychiatric evaluation might be advised. In any case, the Tribunal still has the function of investigating what went wrong in the prior marriage in order to ascertain the free state of the person that wants to contract another marriage.
It is important to mention that the Code of canon law makes provision for situations whereby the canonical form may not be observed. In such cases, the competent authority can dispense from it. Provided that the dispensation has been granted, even if the wedding is celebrated in Methodist Church or in a traditional setting, the validity of such marriage is still upheld by the Church. Even though Boris Johnson and his newly wedded wife Carrie Symonds are both baptised Catholics, there are other situations whereby a Catholic party wants to marry a baptised non-Catholic (mixed marriage). In this case they would need the permission of the local ordinary to validly contract the marriage. Once the permission is granted by the local ordinary, the marriage is as valid as that between two Catholics. Another is when a Catholic wants to marry a non-baptised person, what is required here is a dispensation from disparity of cult to be given by the local ordinary without prejudice to all other norms regulating a valid marriage. The case of Mr. Boris Johnson’s marriage is an eye opener for all who intend to enter into marriage to ensure they find out and understand what they are getting into especially when it concerns the religious practice of their partners.
The Church made the attendance of Marriage classes compulsory. This is done in order to guarantee that the basic knowledge that is required with regards to marriage as the Church knows and teaches it is well received. Over and above all, we all need to have recourse to God. Our world today thinks and lives as if the idea of God is an outdated and old-fashioned. We have pushed and relegated Him to the background for long. Man has now taken the place of God by all sorts of devilish ideology. The spiritual dimension of marriage for many does not exist. And this can be said to be responsible for the crisis in marriage today. Glory denied God will automatically result in the deprivation of peace in the world. Let us harken to the voice of the angel joined by a vast of heavenly host at the announcement of the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ: “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those with whom He is well pleased” (Luke 2:14). God’s glory and peace on earth are inseparable. Where God is shut out, no godless ideology can save us. It is God or nothing