One Upside to the Pope’s Comments March 23, 2009

One Upside to the Pope’s Comments

There’s one good thing about the Pope’s absurd comments lately.

People are leaving the Catholic Church.

Well, at least blogger Jim Gardner is… but surely he’s not alone.

He needs to go through a “formal act of defection” first:

Roman Catholic canon law allows a process known as a “formal act of defection” from the faith. This means that a note will be made on a person’s baptismal record stating that they have left the church.

Here’s a bit of the note he’s sending a priest at the Bishops House, who needs the statement in writing:

But more than all of this, Father Stott, I tend to agree with Agnesë Mother Teresa Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, when she said, “I no longer feel God’s presence, even in the Eucharist”, because to my mind, it is a simple matter of deductive logic that there is no such omnipotent being as God, least of all the petulant sadist worshipped by those of my former faith from which I now seek final and public excommunication.

For these reasons and myriad others, which I am almost certain you are equally uninterested in hearing about as you are those above, I hereby formally request that I am no longer, as a matter of public record, to be considered a Catholic. I would be grateful for written confirmation of this request as and when you are able to provide it.

Look on the bright side, father. You lose me, you gain Tony Blair.

Nice. Here’s the rest of the note. How cool would it be if you got a formal letter of un-acceptance from the Vatican. With a stamped signature from the Pope.

That would be worth framing.

(via How Good Is That?)

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  • I’m building my list of atheist blogs, i wonder if you could add a favicon to your site to make it more identifiable in my bookmarks list? Thanks!

  • Dallas

    Excellent letter! I am a “recovering Catholic,” as well, and I am very interested in seeing what kind of a response Jim receives. Please keep us posted!

  • Thanks for the mention Hemant. If I can encourage just one other person to join me in writing to the diocese into which they were baptised, seeking a similar clarification, I’d be delighted.

    From the feedback I’ve received so far, it seems I’m not alone in thinking that this mechanism might be used as an ideal form of protest. It would be much appreciated if you could keep your readers informed of my progress and hopefully more of us who are already atheist with no intention of returning to Catholicism, can send a message to the Vatican that enough is enough.

    Thanks again—and stay tuned!

  • Richard Wade

    Is there a fee for getting the formal act of defection? There usually is a fee for getting anything done by the church. Pay to get converted, pay to get dunked, pay to get married, pay to get annulled, pay to get back in if you’re excommunicated, pay to defect, and if you don’t get around to that, pay to get buried. And it’s all tax free for them. Can you get a defection deduction on your income tax?

  • I’m waiting for a reply from the Bishops house on that Richard. If you subscribe to the RSS feed for my blog I’ll be posting more on this under the tag “formal act of defection” and the category “Religion and Atheism”

  • I’m truly fascinated by this. I was born to a Catholic family, went through the whole gauntlet of baptism, Catechism, confirmation, the works. I’ve been an atheist or agnostic of some form or other for the better part of the last 16 years, and they never asked me to go through any kind of formality.

    Maybe I’m just not important enough for them to ask. But the,n I never asked them if there was a formal process for leaving either, so, maybe it’s just something they don’t publicize.

    But this is fascinating. Could this mean that I’m still technically Catholic, even though I haven’t identified as such for years? In Canada, they don’t ask for a person’s religion on census forms, so could it be that the church is still counting me among them in lieu of some other method of gathering data? Should I send them a letter of defection? Is it worth the bother? What good could it possibly do besides putting myself out to keep their records straight? And if they do charge a fee, would I really want to give them the satisfaction of paying it?

    Or should I just wait until I do something to piss them off and get excommunicated?

    This is interesting. I look forward to hearing more.

  • Mer

    Huh. My situation’s similar to Peregrine’s — born catholic, baptized, atheist since I was 13. (Though I never went through any other of the Catholic Sacraments because my parent’s just weren’t that interested.)

    There’s no way in hell I’m giving them any money, though.

  • Jeff Satterley

    Thanks for the info on this, Hemant and Jim. I’m in the process of writing my own letter to the Rockville Center diocese. I’ve been appalled by the Catholic church for a long time now; it’s nice to know there’s some way to actively speak out and reject them, and that others are taking that stand too.

    Please keep us posted, I’d like to know if there is any resistance from the church on this.

  • Secular Humanist

    I converted to Catholicism in college. I was studying philosophy and needed a logical reason for everything. The priest gave me that.

    When I finally decided I didn’t want to remain in the church, I was told I would be going to hell if I left.

    I can laugh now, but I couldn’t laugh then. They had me worried for awhile.

  • I never knew about this before. Now I feel the need to take part in this formal defection.

  • Richard Wade

    I Googled how to officially leave the Catholic church and found dozens of people wanting to know how to do more than just stop showing up at mass. Then I Googled formal act of defection and found dozens of other people who are doing it in a similar way as Jim is doing, with a formal letter to their Bishop. Wikipedia has this short article about the “official” way, the “Actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia catholica.” When it has a Latin name, it’s gotta be official, right? Apparently, you really have to be clear and convincing to the Bishop when you write your letter, more than just being pissed off about something you heard in the news.

    One comment in a blog discussing this gave me pause: The person pointed out that by making such a big deal about wanting an “official” breaking away, the apostate is in a sense reaffirming the Church’s authority that may still hold sway over his or her mind. Just leave, the writer challenged, instead of giving more credence to the institution that you now disdain.

    I can understand that idea, but I can also understand wanting to be sure you get that institution’s attention, to make sure they see your parting middle finger. It’s not so much about affirming the Church’s lingering authority over you, but affirming your own new, assertive authority over yourself.

  • Richard Wade

    Hey Jim, if you haven’t mailed the letter yet, maybe you could nail it to the church’s door.

  • flood

    A downside, in predominantly Catholic societies, is that you might not be allowed to be buried in a Catholic cemetery. Or have a church funeral ceremony.
    Maybe not a problem for the ex-member at that point but it could be upsetting for friends and relatives.

  • Daniele

    In Italy we fought for a long time to obtain something we sarcastically call “de-baptism” and it’s essentially what is described in this article: a formal defection from the church by means of a note on a person’s baptismal record.

    Are you taking advantage of this? It would be great news for us to know we did something that has had worldwide affection.


  • Peregrine: The “good that it would do” is purely as a protest, as far as I can see. That is why I am doing it.

  • Jeff Satterley:
    Good luck and please keep me informed of your progress. I am genuinely interested in hearing from as many fellow defectors as possible!

  • Rene Horn:
    I’d be delighted to hear from you again if you decide to go through with this.

  • Richard Wade:
    Do you think that I have made it clear enough in the letter that this is about a protest vote, rather than as you say, giving any control back to the church?

  • Urgh, Tony Blair. He’s such an embarrasment to we English. Still, better than Bush, eh?

  • When I read “formal act of defection”, I inadvertently mentally inserted an “a” between the “c” and the “t” in “defection”.

    That made it even more appropriate in my mind.

  • Richard Wade

    Jim, your letter is excellent. It is unambiguous, unflinching and thorough. It is a powerful indictment of the Church on the reprehensible issues you have described, handing them their responsibility without remitting back to them any power, clout or credibility.

    I hope more fed-up Catholics follow your example and take this assertive action. It is important to do more than slip quietly away from the pernicious influence of the Church. Such world-wide villainy and hypocrisy as you are protesting must be publicly denounced. They should be told exactly why their membership is dwindling and why you personally are leaving, forced to look at the ugly truth rather than being left to continually rationalize and fantasize causes that do not include their own culpability.

  • Joey Bear

    There’s just one problem: the research seems to support the Pope’s assertion:

    (I ain’t Catholic.)

  • Gaga

    Hello there, I hope I’m not late for the party.

    I’m one of those in the process of being dechristened… If you are italian there is a good deal of resources at, including a proforma letter.

    As a further comment.. I have been atheist for years now and I really couldn’t be arsed to print and send the snail mail (someone asked abt fees: posting stamps are your only cost if you cannot deliver the letter in person) but I finally realized that the pope and the rest of the high-ups are such criminal heartless dickheads unpleasant fellows that I do not want to have anything to do with them.
    Besides (and this is probably the most important reason to do this in places like Italy) the lesser registered catholics there are, the smaller the subsidy to the church will be.

    ciao, buona fortuna

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