Is Palin an Apostate?

Gov. Sarah Palin was baptized in the Catholic Church but later joined a Pentecostal church as a teenager, the Wasilla Assembly of God. Her new church requires baptism by immersion, so at age 12, Palin and her mother and sisters were "re-baptized" in Beaver Lake, according to the Los Angeles Times. My colleague, Father Jim Martin, S.J., has already noted this fact in an earlier post entitled "Palin is an ex-Catholic."

One searches the Code of Canon Law in vain for the term "ex-Catholic." Similarly, the Catholic Church does not recognize the ritual the Times called "re-baptism." More importantly, it is difficult to see how submitting oneself to a "re-baptism" would not be a renunciation of your prior baptism. And the technical term for renouncing one’s baptism is apostasy.

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The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law is very nuanced. Canon 751 deals with heresy, apostasy and schism. It recognizes that in a situation like Palin’s, the severity of the crime could be mitigated by diminished personal freedom: Even a precocious teenager who commits an act of apostasy might be so strongly influenced by familial considerations that the perpetrator’s guilt is diminished. As well, while the Canon speaks of the "Catholic faith" as regards both heresy and schism, it calls apostasy a repudiation of the "Christian faith." The distinction may be literary: Through much of the Code, "Catholic" and "Christian" are used interchangeably.

Curiously, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who was on John McCain’s shortlist for the vice-presidency as well, was also "re-baptized" when he got married and joined his wife’s evangelical church, the Wooddale Church in Eden Prarie, Minnesota.

In this pluralistic society of ours, we are free to join or un-join any church we wish. There are no guards at the airport or inquisitors in the courtrooms. No one is suggesting that Palin’s apostasy should prevent her from being elected to high office. But, while many Catholics may warm to Palin’s moral views, for example, her opposition to abortion, the cavalier way she evidently treats an act of severe sacramental and canonical significance should give pause to those who take their religion seriously.

No penalty attaches latae sententiae to apostasy as it does with some other severe acts. There will not be a canonical trial for Palin. And, unless she subsequently seeks to get married or buried in a Catholic Church, the issue will not be raised by any ecclesiastical authorities. Palin could show her respect for the Catholic Church and its canons by requesting a formal separation from the Church from her local bishop. This might not be good politics but it would be good for her soul.

For the rest of us, it is beyond hypocritical for certain conservative Catholics to denounce Joe Biden because he is Catholic and does not support making abortion illegal while applauding a self-described "hockey Mom" who is skating close to apostasy. The Church’s sacramental traditions and beliefs are as worthy of respect and defense as our moral traditions and beliefs.

Michael Sean Winters

 

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9 years 2 months ago
It doesn't surprise me that Michael Sean Winters brings up this nonsense, but it does surprise me that Father Jim Martin would raise it. Michael Sean has never addressed Nancy Pelosi's recent apostacy on Meet the Press. He has the gall to raise what a 12 year old girl does. Who even knows if this true? Yes this is desperation and mean-spirited. Milbo
9 years 2 months ago
Your columns are usually insightful, but this one smacks of desperation. I pray one day that Gov. Palin will return to the Faith, but her decision to leave the Church will have no bearing on me (an observant Catholic but certainly not a "conservative" Catholic in a political sense) to vote for or against the McCain ticket. I assume she (or more correctly her mother and thus, the family) left the Church because she was either ignorant of or disagree with the Church's canon. This in opposition to those Catholic politicians-- Republican and Democrat-- who claim to know the Church's teachings including those on abortion and yet, obstinately and persistently support legislation and judicial nominees to the federal bench and supreme court who are committed to false doctrine of Roe. Should we then not be worried about the souls of the de facto apostates who are still in the pews?
9 years 2 months ago
I found your post enlightening until I reached the comparison of Palin with Biden in the last paragraph. I too hope Palin finds her way back to the Catholic Church, but as others have said, there is a huge difference between the re-baptism of a 12-year old in the company of other family members doing the same thing, and a Catholic senator with a very spotty record on the issue of abortion. I've just started your new book, "Left at the Altar," and I'm enjoying it. I haven't reached the section (I'm presuming there will be a section) on the takeover of the Democratic Party by organizations such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL, and the subsequent about face by many formerly pro-life politicians when they realized being pro-life would consign them to just the scraps from the table of party financing. Why Senator Biden chose to join other Catholic politicians (e.g., Cuomo, Daschle, Kennedy, Dodd, Sibelius, Leahy, Richardson, Kerry -- and the list goes on and on) in the decision to become pro-choice is a much more interesting subject to ponder than whether a 12-year old girl, now on the national political stage as 40-something adult, is an apostate because she was re-baptized in a Protestant denomination. Your posts are usually very good. That's why I'm chalking this one up to having a bad day. :)
9 years 2 months ago
I am rally appalled by this post... I live in Italy and I don't know much about this magazine - I was redirected here from another blog - but certainly you're not famed as intransigent Catholics, even less as Canon Law fundamentalists. Sadly, this seems to be the case now: this is where political partisanship trumps everything, using religion as an electoral weapon. Do you really think any Catholic is going to be persuasaded by this? Come on... :-(
9 years 2 months ago
Yeah, that will get her running back to the Church.
9 years 2 months ago
Having not been raised in the faith since her parents started attending an Assemblies of God church after her baptism means there can be canonical penalties only if an extremely strict interpretation of formal act of defection is used to justify it. By the way apostasy is the total rejection by a baptized person of the Christian faith he once professed. This certainly does not apply.
9 years 2 months ago
This is pretty bad. Sorry, but a 12 year old is basically a little girl, not even qualifying as possibly a ''precocious teenager.'' They are not exactly responsible for what church their parents take them to. What is expected of a 12 year old minor child? Are they supposed to dig their heels in the ground and refuse to get dressed on Sunday morning, backing up their resistance with a theological explanation of inadequate sacramental systems and true but imperfect communion? If when I was 12 my parents switched to a Protestant church I would have switched right along with them. At a child's level of theological sophistication you probably wouldn't notice much difference except that the Protestants probably would have better preaching. There are millions of Americans in Mrs. Palin's position, unfortunately. My best friend and her brothers and sisters were raised Anglican after being baptized Catholic. They do not treat anything regarding religion ''in a cavalier way'' but rather they don't give it a second thought. They were not raised Catholic. They do not consider themselves Catholic. It is not a big deal to them. Nor, I suspect, will Mrs. Palin's faith origins be a big deal to anybody else besides the crudest partisans.
9 years 2 months ago
Michael Sean Winters is being absolutely ridiculous. How can one compare the culpability of a 12-year-old (who in many ways acts and lives as though she was Catholic) with those who claim to be Catholic and yet publicly repudiate and dissent from Catholic teaching? Biden and Pelosi are without excuse. Where is Winters' indictment of them? Kennedy, Kerry, Daschle, Sebelius, etc are also without excuse. Are they not skating close enough to warrant a mention? Winters' assessment is the epitome of asinine logic.
9 years 1 month ago
This individual writes: "the severity of the crime" when noting Governor Palin's "re-baptism" at the age of 12. This is a crime? Where is this written? This is still the USA is it not? This, sir, is NOT a crime, and you are in no position to deem it a crime. Your arrogance is astounding. Further on he writes: "Even a precocious teenager who commits an act of apostasy..." Excuse me? Where does this pompous ass arrive at this idiotic conclusion? Then he digs his hole even deeper: "it is beyond hypocritical for certain conservative Catholics to denounce Joe Biden because he is Catholic and does not support making abortion illegal while applauding a self-described ‘hockey Mom' who is skating close to apostasy." I am beyond speechless at this idiocy...comparing Biden's stance on murdering the unborn to a 12 year old's re-baptism. I cannot take anymore of this secular liberalism in Catholic disguise. It is sick, as is any form of "Liberal Catholic" gibberish. Your arrogance will be judged, but not by Man.
9 years 2 months ago
This ''analysis'' is pathetic almost beyond the ability of words to convey. The level of ''reasoning'' employed is indicated towards the beginning by the reference to a 12-year-old as a ''teenager''. And it goes downhill from there.
9 years 2 months ago
To pile on. Really, it was really worth your time to throw out the notion of apostasy for a person who converted with her parents at 12 y/o. This is really the way you want play this. This almost rises to a level of canceling my subscription.
9 years 2 months ago
I wish Sarah Palin had not left the Church, but cannot blame her for following her parents into a different Christian denomination. I do blame the Democratic and Republican politicians who, as adults, place advancing their political careers before the Faith by advocating the mass murder of innocent unborn children, and then have the effrontery to put on an act before voters of how important Catholicism is to them, even embarrassing the Holy Father by presenting themselves for Holy Communion at a papal mass, as did the "ardent" Catholic Nancy Pelosi in Washington and Rudy Giuliani in New York. Those Catholics do far more harm to the Faith by their actions--which signal to millions that it is okay for a Catholic to support abortion, despite definitive and binding statements from the Magisterium to the contrary--than does the fact that Sarah Palin followed her parents in leaving the Faith when she was a child. Interestingly, the Obama campaign, in the wake of the Palin selection and the stories about Palin's Down syndrome son and her teenage daughter's pregnancy, has begun running ads attacking McCain for being pro-life, no doubt intending to signal to voters that, if McCain is elected, women will no longer be free to kill handicapped children or children conceived when they are teenagers. And while I believe that John McCain will not do much to attempt to overturn Roe v Wade, I do know that Barack Obama and the Democratic platform are committed to supporting federal funding of abortion, and Obama may very well get that from a Democratic Congress, thereby increasing the number of abortions performed in America. And all this is met with deafening silence by Obama's Catholic apologists, who point out the mote in Palin's eye while ignoring the beam in Obama's.
9 years 2 months ago
Wow! The radical left is grasping and gasping. This would be funny if I didn't get the sense that you are actually serious.
9 years 2 months ago
Anyone can return to a faith. But what is important in this connection is the faith that she embraces and the intolerance she demonstrates to conflicting views. The Catholic Church has many many doctrinal changes to keep current with advances in knowledge but her current congregation rejects many of them.
9 years 2 months ago
Desperate. Definitely. And disgusting, this one of your otherwise very readable and enlightening postings.
9 years 2 months ago
This article is simply moronic. Apostasy, (''the total repudiation of the Christian faith'', c. 751), is surely not Sarah Palin's crime or her sin. Further, to have canonical effect heresy, apostasy and schism, according to the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of Canon Law, requires a formal declaration to ecclesiastical authority. So, Sarah Palin is still a Catholic in the Church's eyes, and while her marriage might not be a valid marriage without her formal declaration, which then removes her from the obligation to the Catholic form, she is certainly innocent of any crimes. On the other hand, Joe Biden OUGHT to know better. Simply moronic.
9 years 2 months ago
Come on, give me a break. She was 12 years old. It is ridiculous to speak of it as "the cavalier way she evidently treats an act of severe sacramental and canonical significance should give pause to those who take their religion seriously." What 12-year old knows enough about the Catholic faith to even understand what you're talking about? This post is just plain silly. The real point of it, I suspect, is to try and tarnish Sarah Palin as an "apostate" as if that means Catholics shouldn't support her, because she does not walk in step with the usually liberal social views that America espouses in its pages. Besides, abortion is an entirely different issue from accepting the truths of the Catholic faith. Abortion is an issue of public policy that affects--or should affect--how we vote. The personal religious beliefs of government leaders are not a matter of public policy and have no bearing on voting. I'm really surprised that you would publish this absurd post.
9 years 2 months ago
''The Church's sacramental traditions and beliefs are as worthy of respect and defense as our moral traditions and beliefs'' So, we've made such a 'holy cow' out of abortion that we've gone soft on 'apostasy'? Seriously? So politicians whose parents left the Catholic church when they were CHILDREN should be viewed as apostates? So their 'apostasy' should be regarded by catholic voters as just as weighty a voting matter as their stand on abortion? Good Lord, is this the best you can do? This kind of desperate argumentation is surely beneath you.
9 years 1 month ago
Gotta love the inconsistencies people are able to embrace: folks who think that a 12-year-old should not be held accountable for her religious decisions nonetheless believe that a baptism is binding on an infant who can neither consent nor refuse to consent to becoming a member of the Catholic church. How can those two ideas coexist?
9 years 1 month ago
What hypocrisy, Mr. Winters. You want to support a Catholic who pushes the murder of the unborn (Biden), so you bring up the Heath family's departure from the Catholic church when Sarah was 12 and call her an apostate so you can justify telling Catholics to vote against her. You Catholics are the apostates. You have stood the simple Gospel on its head so profoundly that a good Catholic who listens to church teaching would realize believing in the Words of Jesus makes one a rebel against the magisterium. Sarah is walking with the Lord in obedience, Biden is not. Jesus doesn't tell the sinners on the last day ''Depart from me, you workers of iniquity, you weren't good catholics'' but ''Department from me, you workers of iniquity, I never knew you.'' Jesus knows Sarah.
9 years 2 months ago
I'm really surprised that you would publish this absurd post. Yeah. "Quod scripsi, scripsi?" Come on, you are not another Pilate. You could delete this absurd post.
9 years 2 months ago
You're scraping the bottom of the barrel here to try to score political points off the act of a 12-year-old girl. For shame.
9 years 2 months ago
Hi Michael, I too raised the "a" word on Vox Nova (http://vox-nova.com/2008/09/03/palins-dangerously-distorted-christianity/) and was attacked by those who seem to think that oppposition to abortion is the defining creed of Catholicism. For one, I became a "tridentine attack machine"! (http://markshea.blogspot.com/2008_09_01_archive.html#5330191514895521652)
9 years 2 months ago
What Tom Piatak said....plus Mr Obama supports abortion, partial birth abortion(which includes crushing the baby's skull, and sucking its brains out), and voted AGAINST the born-alive bill in the Il state senate, even though it had the same wording as the US Senate bill, which he says he would have supported, and then claims at the Saddleback Forum that people are lying about that. Then the next day his staff admitted that Mr Obama was mistaken, yes the Illinois bill had the same wording as the US Senate bill had. I really can't understand how any Catholic can vote for him while knowing this.
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