Is a Catholic wedding bar allowed to PM from electing bishops of the Church of England? Archaic law that says Boris Johnson can’t advise the queen on their selection won’t leave 10 officials confused
- Boris Johnson married Carrie Symonds in a Roman Catholic ceremony
- Prime Minister was baptized Catholic, but confirmed in Eton an Anglican
- He married a Catholic last week and caused a major constitutional issue
- Catholics are not allowed to advise the queen on the appointment of bishops
An anachronistic law has left officials in Downing Street scratching their heads after the prime minister’s Catholic wedding.
The Roman Catholic Auxiliary Act of 1829, passed when the Duke of Wellington was Prime Minister, contains a little-known rule about the process of appointing bishops.
By law, no “person professes the Roman Catholic religion” may advise the Queen on the selection of Church of England bishops. Which puts the prime minister in a difficult situation.
Boris Johnson married Carrie Symonds in a Roman Catholic ceremony at Wesminster Cathedral last week in a Roman Catholic ceremony, leading to a constitutional issue as Catholics are prohibited by law from advising the Queen on the selection of bishops by the Church of England
Mr Johnson may need to delegate the Prime Minister’s role to Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland
In practice, the selection of bishops is done by the C or E, but on paper the prime minister is involved. The Mail on Sunday understands that as a result of the Act, another minister would be chosen by the palace to advise the Queen, for example the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland.
The 1829 Act, which was introduced to repeal laws forbidding Catholics from becoming members of parliament or holding high office, contained a few strict rules to appease opponents.
It banned Catholic priests from becoming MPs, although this was repealed in 2001. But the paragraph on the appointment of bishops by the prime minister is still in effect. Boris Johnson was reportedly baptized as a Catholic but confirmed as an Anglican when he was a teenager.
However, legal commentators said his Catholic wedding last week at Westminster Cathedral meant he would likely be classed as ‘professing the Roman Catholic religion’.
The marriage raised the question of why Johnson was allowed to marry in the cathedral while he was twice divorced. But since neither his first marriage, to Allegra Mostyn-Owen, nor his second, to Marina Wheeler, were Catholic ceremonies, experts said they could be invalid in the eyes of the church. Matt Chinery, a church attorney, said last week, “If you’re a Roman Catholic, your marriage must be overseen by a Roman Catholic priest or deacon.”
Any other form of marriage is “not valid unless you had permission from your bishop to marry outside the Catholic Church.”
Mr Chinery added: ‘So in the eyes of the Catholic Church Boris Johnson woke up’ [before his wedding] as one who was unmarried and never married and thus free to marry in the cathedral.’