People think that Catholic morality is casuistical and legalistic. Hah! For real legalism, you need the law, particularly the law having to do with entry into a country--the point at which, incidentally, you are most legally vulnerable and have the least amount of rights.I went to Italy, and then England, on March 29 -April 5. Around March 1, I looked at my passport--it expired on April 19. I thought, well, that's no problem, I'll be back two weeks before it expires. That's a good enough cushion.So I get to the airport on March 29, and check in with Northwest. I swipe my passport, the machine gives me my boarding passes, and cryptically puts up the ominious message "Some countries may require your passport to be valid for at least six months after the date you plan to leave the country."What? Which countries? The countries I'm going to visit? Needless to say, the gate agent wasn't quite sure. I had thoughts of flying for ten hours and Italy denying me entry. But was it Italy I needed to worry about? I was landing in Amsterdam to change planes. Maybe the Dutch would send me home. Wouldn't I clear passport control in Amsterdam because of the whole European Union thing? But then England's not part of the EU. So do they have their own passport control that I'll have to come through when flying from Italy? And what's this "may require"? If I'm nice, and look like I'll spend my euros and go home on time, will they let me in anyway?So. . . .waiting to go to the gate, I called a friend of mine with a computer, and google skills. Things look bad. The US Department of State, as well as the World Travel Guide, says I need a passport that is valid at least three months past my trip. My little two week cushion was starting to seem ridiculous.It turns out there is this thing called the Schengen Agreement, which governs free movmenet in Europe --but not England. The three-month requirement has to do with visas, not passports, it seems. But stil. . . . should I get on the plane? I called friends who traveled a lot --they said get on the plane, at most you will be denied entry and sent home. Mmm. . . . I watch too much tv for that. I had visions of cold, dark interrogation rooms.I was really annoyed --and really kicking myself at the same time--a valid passport should be a valid passport. With the six month or three month requirement, a passport's validity ended up being shorter than advertised.South Bend being South Bend, the plane didn't leave that night. I was rescheduled for the next afternoon. So I asked a crack research librarian from ND Law School to get to the bottom of this. Which is. . . . some countries probably a valid passport to be valid three-month or six months past the exit date.BUT. . . a series of countries, including the US, have signed an agreement that extends the validity of a passport valid on entry for six months past the date of expiration. So . . . bottom line, if your passport is valid when you leave, you're OK. Two steps forward and two steps back. Two international agreements to get to the common-sense point of view that your passport is valid (i.e., useful) during the time period in which it says it is valid.I printed out the pages from the Foreign Service Manual and stuck them in my carry-on, prepared to argue my way into Italy and England if necessary.As it turned out, no argument was necessary. Everyone at the border was very nice.So. . .go ahead. . . take that last minute fling to Europe before your passport runs out. But if I were you, I'd still pack the regs --just in case.
Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.