What are we to make of the announcement that Boris Johnson is to become a father again this summer – the baby’s mother being Carrie Symonds, formerly described as his girlfriend, now his fiancée?
Is the Prime Minister’s private life any of our business? Mr Johnson has never presented himself as a model of moral rectitude. So, since he doesn’t claim a moral position, perhaps there is none to be attributed to him.
Nevertheless, the chroniclers of public life frequently note that Boris has been commonly described as a “philanderer”. He has been married twice before, and social media often features jokes about the uncertain number of children he has fathered in his Wikipedia entry – “five or six”.
But even if his private life is none of our business, it will still be – in the history books – a matter of record, because he is the head of government and surely a historically significant figure.
Moreover, Boris and Carrie are setting another record: he will be the first prime minister for 200 years to marry while at 10 Downing Street. And the first British PM to be married to a pregnant bride.
The photographers will be keen to acquire the wedding snaps for that occasion. Eagle-eyed gossip reporters will be watching to see if his children from previous relationships will be present. It is noticeable that while Boris is often publicly supported by his father, Stanley, his sister Rachel, and his brothers Jo and Max, his offspring from his marriage to Marina Wheeler are seldom in evidence. Some have spoken critically about him. His eldest daughter has described him as “selfish” – in vehement terms too.
If there were a strong “family values lobby” in Britain, as there has been in America, it might indeed consider “Boris the Philanderer” as a less than edifying model for marriage and family life.
More liberal divorce laws are likely to be enacted if those at the top take a lighter approach to the dissolution of marriage. Yet all social studies stress that children benefit from a stable family life and the presence of two parents.
Christians are supposed to be restrained in making moral judgments about others – “judge not, that ye be not judged”, and advised to look at our own faults rather than the failings in others. Perhaps Boris provides us with such an opportunity. But there are quite a few secular commentators expressing the hope that, at the age of 56 in June, this Don Juan may finally settle down.
The Irish poet Máire Cruise O’Brien (also known by her maiden name of Máire Mhac an tSaoi) wrote a memoir some years ago about her being born in 1922 called The Same Age as the State. That’s the year the Irish Free State was born.
Máire – widow of the statesman Conor Cruise O’Brien, and still with us – recalled traditions that prevailed when she was growing up in the 1920s. She came from a highly educated family, and three of her uncles were scholar-priests.
She remembered the values and attitudes of older Irish people in her childhood and the way that they reacted to catastrophes and disasters. When woes befell them, they would often conclude “Welcome be the will of God.” Children died of tuberculosis, scarlatina and meningitis, and thousands of young people, especially, died of the “Great Flu” pandemic of 1918-20 – as they did everywhere. But although families grieved in full measure, they would end with acceptance of “the will of God”.
In all the concern about coronavirus currently, I now wonder if this is a wiser attitude. For myself, I’m increasingly inclined to the view of “Que sera, sera”. If I get it, I get it – the will of God.
Of course, we still need to wash our hands and behave prudently.
The Almighty also expects us to use a degree of common sense.
I would regret it if the Sign of Peace (or “kiss”) was suspended as a regular practice during Mass, or if it fell out of favour because of fear of contagion. I think it’s something that has added substantially to the sense of community which should be part of every Christian rite and ritual. Let’s hope it returns, pronto.
Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4
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