British Prime Minister Boris Johnson — recently married to longtime girlfriend Carrie Symonds in a Catholic ceremony — ducked a reporter’s question about his religion.
At the same time, he branded Labor Party rival Keith Starmer, an atheist, as “a fool” for not believing in God.
Asked by ITV political editor Robert Peston whether Mr. Johnson was now “a practicing Catholic,” the British leader responded, “I don’t discuss these deep issues. Certainly not with you.”
Mr. Peston, who wrote in a later article on the ITV website that he is Jewish, said that he was “struggling to make sense of the prime minister’s answer to my question. … It was the ‘certainly not with you’ that took me aback.”
The question surfaced in light of Mr. Johnson’s Catholic wedding ceremony and his taking power in a nation with centuries of anti-Catholicism embedded in its history.
Apparently, Mr. Johnson’s two previous marriages have been deemed invalid by the church, and he and Ms. Symonds, a Catholic who’d never been married, were thus free to marry under church law.
While Mr. Johnson dodged the question of his own beliefs, he seemed happy to take on Mr. Starmer, the Labor Party leader who in April told The Sunday Times Magazine, “I am not of faith, I don’t believe in [G]od, but I can see the power of faith and the way it brings people together.”
When Mr. Peston asked Mr. Johnson about Mr. Starmer’s declaration, the prime minister chuckled and replied by quoting Psalm 14:1.
“The fool has said in his heart there is no God,” the Psalmist wrote.
While President Biden is hailed in many quarters as America’s second Roman Catholic chief executive — he’s been photographed with his late son Beau’s Rosary and attended a Catholic Mass while at the recent G7 summit in Cornwall, England — the religious affiliation of the British prime minister is a question freighted with centuries of animus.
Since Henry VIII rebelled against Rome over annulments and remarriage, every British prime minister has been — publicly at least — a Protestant.
Benjamin Disraeli, born in a Jewish family in 1804, became an Anglican at the age of 12. Winston Churchill was nominally Anglican, some biographers assert. And Margaret Thatcher, the daughter of a Methodist lay preacher, questioned the existence of angels, claiming one would need a six-foot breastbone to support its wings.
What no prime minister has been, while in office at least, is a Roman Catholic, a pattern that mirrors Britain’s laws regarding the monarchy.
The 1701 Act of Settlement barred Catholics from inheriting the throne, and the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 disqualified even someone married to a Catholic from the line of succession. That latter restriction was repealed in 2013.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair converted to Catholicism after he left office. Mr. Johnson was baptized as a Catholic but later became an Anglican. Britain’s Catholic Herald newspaper said the church would still consider Mr. Johnson a Catholic.