Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Monday, September 01, 2008

Sarah Palin's RC baptism, and some notes on Bristol's situation

Sarah Palin's probable Roman Catholic baptism and her life spent outside the Church is of little import in assessing her character. Unlike the case of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who seems to have left the Church as an adult, Palin's parents apparently took her out of the practice of the Faith while she was yet a child, so Palin cannot be said to have decided against her Catholic identity, nor can anything be concluded about her remaining outside of full communion. Her "re-baptism" at age 12 or so, if that's what it was, would not however be recognized by the Church (1983 CIC 845.1)

Ironically, the only thing that Palin's Catholic baptism and her life-time spent in good faith outside the Church does, I must say, is underscore again how unsustainable is
the interpretation of "formal act of defection" that was handed down in April 2006. How so? Well, if "formal defection" per 1983 CIC 1117 can only be accomplished in writing (a completely new requirement, and one unattested, as far as I can tell, in canonical history!), then Palin never formally defected, which means that she is still bound by canonical form per 1983 CIC 1108, and that therefore her marriage cannot recognized by the Church!

Don't get me wrong: I think that Palin's marriage (based on what is publically known about it at this time, of course) is valid (and sacramental if Todd is baptized), and that it is this novel interpretation of "formal defection" that needs urgently to be corrected, not Palin's matrimonial status. It's just that I don't like it when law and life seem to be out of step with each other and, for a change, it looks like the law's fault.

But even beyond the question of "formal defection", the continued requirement of canonical form for the validity of marriage needs reexamination. There's nothing new in my saying that: many canonists of the first order have been suggesting for 50 years now.

Bristol Palin's situation. I suppose this is already about as public as private things can get, and I offer my few remarks on accordingly.

1. Of course I am glad that Bristol decided in favor of the life of her preborn child. Bristol could have had an abortion, and Sarah would have been the last to know. 2. A wedding is supposed to be the way two adults start a life together, not the way two kids try to rectify their mistakes. If couples who become parents before they become spouses want to marry, fine, there's plenty of time for that; but they should wait until well after the baby arrives, and make the marriage decision independently of pregnancy pressures. Which in turn might raise point 3. Deciding to keep the child is a good decision, but it might not be the best decision: babies need a mom and a dad, not a mom and two terrific grandparents. Adoption gives babies their best shot in life.

Bottom line, I hope the Palins don't rush into any decisions.