Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Friday, August 29, 2008

In case it comes up: Tim Pawlenty's religious status

There is nothing like real life to demonstrate, once again, that canon law is meant to address it.

1. Apparently
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was raised Roman Catholic, but defected to Lutheranism and then to Evangelical Christianity some years ago. That would not make him an apostate, but it would make him a schismatic (1983 CIC 751). Schismatics are liable to automatic sanction under 1983 CIC 1364, but a wide variety of factors (see e.g. 1983 CIC 1324-1324) can, and usually do, prevent the application of automatic sanctions except in very rare cases.

2. According to the extremely narrow interpretation of "act of formal defection" mentioned in
1983 CIC 1117 that was handed down in April 2006, Pawlenty's marriage (which I assume was not conducted in accord with canonical form) would not be recognized by the Church. I will not repeat here my serious misgivings about that interpretation, except to say that if my understanding of formal defection (one shared by most American canonists) were correct, Pawlenty's marriage would be recognized like that of any other Protestant free to marry.

In light of Pawlenty's public and formal adherence to a non-Catholic Christian denomination and/or the probability that his marriage is not recognized by the Church, should Pawlenty present himself for holy Communion (which is not likely, of course), he would not be eligible to receive per
1983 CIC 915.

A personal observation: Tim Pawlenty seems a very decent and thoughtful man. How someone like him could have been lost to the Catholic Church for all these years is grounds for serious reflection by those of us graced to remain. Nor is Pawlenty alone; hundreds of thousands of people in his generation left the practice of the Faith. I only hope they know what a serious matter that is for them, and how willing the Church is to help them come back.