Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Thursday, May 01, 2008

Autumn Kelly: making the wrong choice for the wrong reason

Barring Catholics from the throne of England, for no other reason than that they are Catholics, sounds more ominous than it is. I mean, who would want to be the king or queen of England anymore? Still religious bigotry is religious bigotry, and the ban prohibiting Catholics, or those married to Catholics, from ascending British throne, should be dropped.

In the meantime, making even less sense than desiring to be the monarch of England, is giving up one's Catholic faith so that one's future husband can stay ---what is it? --- 11th in line to succeed to that throne! But
that's exactly what Catholic Autumn Kelly has done, she's joined the Church of England so that, when she marries Peter Phillips later this month, he can cling to odds of ascending even slimmer than those held by "Louis Mazzini" in the Alec Guinness comedy classic Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)! Really, it's too, too bizzare.

But amid the surrealism, there is an important canonical issue: On 13 March 2006, a "notification" (
a very problematic notification, in my opinion) as to what constitutes a "formal act of defection from the Catholic Church" was handed down by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. I've always thought there were problems with that interpretation, but I sure don't see how it's up to handling this case.

As public and as unambiguous as Kelly's abandonment of the Catholic Church seems to be, it is not clear that it satisfies the (extremely rarified) definition of "formal act of defection" that is supposed to guide canonical thinking these days, leaving us on the horns of a dilemma: if Kelly's abandonment of the Catholic faith is not a "formal act of defection", what besides a rank exercise in legalism keeps it from being so? Alternatively, if Kelly's act of abandonment is an act of defection, how does she meet the requirements set forth in the interpretation when presumably most others will not?

As one who thinks that law should be able meet situations encountered in real life, I'll be curious to see this problem resolved. In the meantime, besides praying that Kelly returns to the Church (we'll take back her even if she isn't the queen of England), I am left wondering how the validity of her soon-to-be-attempted marriage will fare in light of what appears to be a sure defect of form (
1983 CIC 1108 vs 1117). Unless 10 people up and die, she's not going to be queen, and besides that, she's either not going to be Catholic, or not going to be validly married. What a mess.