World

First UK Catholic Prime Minister

November 29, 2021

Robaird O’Cearbhaill
Hong Kong Correspondent

The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has reverted to his Catholic faith, after joining the Church of England at school. He was baptized as a baby by his devout Catholic mother. 

This is an historical breakthrough for Catholics. Johnson is the first to head the British government in democratic times. 

Johnson secretly married at Westminster cathedral to his Catholic wife. Their son has also been baptized Catholic . 

His godmother is from an openly fervently Catholic family. 

British Johnson’s ancestors are from several faiths and nationalities: Christian, Jewish and Muslim from Turkish, Ashkenazi Jewish, some Swiss-German, German, French, European Royal, and Irish, then more distant  Cornish, Dutch, Belgian, Scottish, and Scots-Irish/Northern Irish and Lithuanian and Russian. 

Of course, given this mix of faiths, and his choice of Greek and Roman polytheism literature, at Oxford University, many observers wondered if his return to the Church was part of the nature of his history. 

However, being given the Catholic sacrament of marriage in church, there was clearly no doubt about his faith. In fact many analysts assume that perhaps Johnson had long been a closet Catholic for a long time. But why the secrecy about being Catholic? 

It was sensitive for Johnson abandoning Anglican church conversion to go back to his roots. He was seen by some Church of Englanders as disloyal, and lacking sincerity. 

He has not wanted to explain why he has returned to the faith, and even declined in a UK ITV interview to answer fully the question are you a practicing Roman Catholic?  His answer was, “I don’t discuss these deep issues, certainly not with you.” Why not?         

Well isn’t it insulting or at least insensitive to doubt a prime minister’s dedication to his faith?        

Unfortunately, there has been a long historical sensitivity in England, and other Protestant majority countries, about Catholics gaining power. 

Even now, the slightly Protestant majority in UK’s Northern Ireland many have long been vehemently anti-Catholic.  Johnson’s Conservative party wants to win Northern Irish Protestant Members of Parliament on their side, so it seems that talking about his faith politically is unwise. The historical background is significant, too. 

Being Catholic and officially  influential was controversial in the UK for centuries. It was disapproved of, or illegal for high official positions under Penal Laws discriminating against Catholics. 

Another anti-Catholic issue is that, traditionally, part of the prime  minister’s duties are to be advisory for appointments for Anglican church bishops. Obviously with a Catholic prime minister another official will serve that function. 

The sensitivity originates from the historical Protestantism Catholicism divide, which sparked heavy religious wars and long bilateral prejudices – the religious separation from Rome by England and other Northern European countries.