Note to Catholic Church: Let Her Go! August 23, 2010

Note to Catholic Church: Let Her Go!

Karolina Sygula lives in Toronto and wants the Catholic Church to stop counting her as one of its members… but they refuse to take her off the books:

It would be easy to blame various child-abuse scandals within the Church for her decision to leave, but if that were the case, she explained, her inclination would be to stay to work for change.

“But the fact that I don’t believe in God clearly is in contravention to the official policy of the Church and I can’t work within the Church to change that.”

She explains that she really never should’ve been on the List to begin with:

… this quest to end her relationship with the Church began, she said, 20 years ago at the time of her confirmation in a church in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga.

“They gave me a questionnaire to fill out and in it I actually wrote, ‘I’m an atheist and my parents are making me do this.’ They went ahead and did it anyway. Surely there must be some technicality that undoes the sacrament of confirmation when you say you don’t believe in God.”

The article documents her futile efforts… it just goes to show that the Church is always going to be overestimating its membership count since there’s no real way to get out of the system.

According to the article, even if she were excommunicated, she’d still be considered a Catholic.

Father Frank Morrisey, an expert in Church law at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, said when you cut through canon law the explanation is really quite simple.

“As far as the Church is concerned: once a Catholic, always a Catholic.”

That could be an opportunity… can you imagine someone standing in front of a church (that they belong to no matter what they believe) with signs reading:

“I support abortion! And I’m a member of Catholic Church!”

“I support same-sex marriage! And I’m a member of Catholic Church!”

“Pope Benedict XVI doesn’t speak for me! And I’m a member of Catholic Church!”

Keep doing that until they finally revoke your membership 🙂

(Thanks to J B for the link!)

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  • KeithLM

    Haven’t there been posts here before about people requesting to be removed from the Catholic Church by writing the parish they were baptized in? I’d been considering doing that for a while now as I keep being more offended by the pope’s actions each and every day.

  • flawedprefect

    Ugh. I know exactly how you feel. It’s like the mob. Funny it originates from roughly the same Mediterranean area.

  • The Code of Canon Law describes a formal act of defection, which is described briefly here.

    I submitted a letter to the parish I was baptized in requesting one, and have yet to receive a response. I plan on writing a follow-up soon.

  • Richard Wade

    “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the Catholic Church.”

    “We are the Catholic Church. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”

    “We don’ need to show you no steenking meembersheep leests.”

    “There is nothing wrong with your mind. Do not attempt to adjust your beliefs. We are controlling your thoughts. If we wish to make them louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make them softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control your horizontal. We will control your vertical. We can roll your vision, make it flutter. We can change your focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next lifetime, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your mind. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Catholic Church.

  • Ben

    I left the Catholic Church when I was 17 but they still count me. I don’t care though…they’re the ones that believe in the whole God thing. Seems to me to be just another illusion they have: me a member of their church. HA!

  • Margy

    Bravo, Richard! Paraphrasing The Phone Company from The Groove Tube, the Borg from Star Trek, and the intro to The Outer Limits–brilliant!

    If any entity excels at mind control, it is the Catholic church. I was raised in the church and attended Catholic schools for 12 years. Decades later, I still can’t quite shake off all the “Catholic guilt.”

  • JulietEcho

    What complete bullshit. This information (the Catholic Church will continue to count you as a Catholic pretty much no matter what) should be trumpeted loudly and often, until no government bases any sort of funding decisions on the numbers given out by the CC. I mean, I’d rather they didn’t fund Catholic organizations at all, but if we’re going to have this faith-based initiative rubbish, I’d prefer it be common knowledge that they’re proudly inflating their numbers.

  • Peregrine

    This is one of the reasons I’ve never bothered with “formally defecting” or whatever they call it. Once you’re in, there’s no way out. Excommunication is often mistaken for being kicked out, but that’s not what it really means. They still count you as a member; you just can’t have your cracker. Formal defection is bureaucratically pointless at best. And to the best of my recollection, this story is the first I’ve heard of anyone in Canada attempting it.

    The only way out that I can tell, is legally; on the census. That’s one of the reasons I’m against the Harper government’s decision to make the long-form census voluntary. Wikipedia lists something like 43% of Canada’s population as Catholic based on the 2001 census. And one of them is me, even though I’ve been an atheist since 1993.

    The question of religion is only asked on the census every 10 years, and the census is completed by the head of the household. And in 2001, I was still living with my parents. So you can bet my dad had me listed as Catholic.

    So whenever something goes through Parliament, like same-sex marriage, or abortion, or something else that the Catholic church likes to get involved in, they can hoist up their inflated numbers from their baptismal records, and say “Oh, but 25 million Canadians are Catholic”. And the government can go to their census information, and say “Nope. Only 12 million.” For that reason, I’ve actually been looking forward to next year’s census, and correcting that oversight.

    But if you make the long-form census optional, that data becomes useless. It’s impossible to tell how many people actually identify as Catholic, Christian, atheist, agnostic, non-religious, or anything else, when millions of people “decline to answer”. That gives more weight to the inflated number, and no power for the government to refute it. And that’s just one statistic. There other important details; some maybe even more important that will be obfuscated by a voluntary long-form.

    Sorry, fellow “Catholic” atheists; getting out is difficult, assuming it’s even possible. Especially in Canada.

  • When I resigned from the Mormon church, they sent me all kinds of “We want you back!” and “It’s not too late to change your mind!” letters. It was worse than trying to cancel a gym membership.

  • Oh no, the catholic church lie about their numbers. Let’s face it: It isn’t the worst thing that they’ve done.

  • Cathy Fiorello

    Having or procuring an abortion is an excommunicable offense. (You can petition to be excommunicated for other things, but this is automatic.) So help someone get an abortion, be non-repentant about it, and write to them!


  • Mike Wolfe

    There should – if not all ready – be an organised roster, counter-roster, where all people who want to apostatise or disassociate with the catholic church but cannot because the church wont let them enrol on.

    An official list of people who say the church refuse to stop counting them as Catholics would help us trim down the numbers and it would help us tell the Church that they are doing something very wrong here.

  • HamsterWheel

    Seems like more of a publicity stunt than anything else. I can see the entertainment value of asking to be excommunicated from the Catholic church, but beyond that it seems about as relevant as trying to have your name removed from Santa’s list of who’s been naughty and nice. Maybe the Catholic church would excommunicate her if she wrote them a brief letter stating that for the record Jesus Christ can go fuck his mother.

  • Mike Wolfe

    that said I think “catholic” apostates should do the signs out front of the church “I’m part of the catholic church and we support abortion and homo-sex” etc. anything to force the church to recognise this.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Don’t sweat it, she’ll be baptised Mormon some day – after she dies.

  • Owl700

    I understand this site is a good place to start:

  • Julie

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but who cares if the church lists you as a member? I can certainly understand not wanting to have your name associated with the Catholic Church, but if their membership roles are solely based on baptismal records, I doubt anyone would take their word for it anyway.

    Also, it’s funny that they won’t let you get your children baptized in their church unless you are a “practicing Catholic” and do your tithing, but they’ll consider you a Catholic when it suits their own purposes. “Do as I say and not as I do.” That pretty much sums up the Catholic Church, doesn’t it?

    Maybe they don’t let you off the books because if they did, according to the Bible, they’d have to kill you.

    Richard Wade, your comments are hysterical! To continue along those lines, “The Catholic Church: it’s everywhere *you* want to be.”

    I’m going to tell my born-again dad that he’s still a Catholic and see what he says.

  • flatlander100

    Sorry, but I don’t see why an ex-Catholic [I am one] should give a tinker’s dam about finding a way to “undo confirmation.” If you’re not longer a believer of any sort, the rite of confirmation is meaningless mumbo jumbo. There’s nothing there, really, to be “undone” at all.

    You’re out. Congratulations. You’re no longer a believer. Whether the OTC [One True Church] wants to recognize that or not in writing, seems to me, doesn’t matter in the least.

  • Citizen Z

    Do you still have reader Jordan’s contact info? The one who asked recently whether he should baptize his baby in the Catholic faith? Because this would appear to be relevant.

  • I’ve never even considered this ’til now. That shows that it’s absolutely meaningless and doesn’t affect my life one iota, of course, but it’s still kind of creepy. Granted, I’ll take my name in a ledger somewhere over what some folks still entrenched in the dogma have been put through, or what all those poor kids had to endure…but still. If Newsweek hounds me to resubscribe and I tell them “No, take me off your list, please,” then they do it and I don’t hear from them again. But somewhere, I’ll always be considered a Catholic. In Massachusetts, where I was born and raised, it was always more of a cultural identity than anything, so I’ve tried to view it that way, in much the same way some of my atheist friends still culturally identify as Jews, but damn it, I’m proud of having left the woo behind! Still, in the end, some men in pointy hats could think I was the Queen of Norway and…you know…I wouldn’t be. I mean, I’m not even Norwegian. And I’m a guy. That’s just silly. Hmm. I fear I’ve wandered off course again.

  • Also, good call, Z. That popped into my mind as well, as this article firmly locked a door that was already closed for me in terms of going through the ritual with my kids for those few members of my family that think it’s important. DEFINITELY not gonna happen now, if it ever was.

  • Demonhype

    @flatlander100: I, too, am an ex-Catholic, and I, too, couldn’t care less about ridding myself of the magicalness of confirmation since I don’t even believe in that magic to begin with–I might as well look into ridding my house of a leprechaun infestation.

    But what does bother me and affect my life is their tendency to use those rosters to artificially boost their perceived influence to politicians. If that was just a stupid name in their stupid book, I wouldn’t care, but they are using it to fraudulently create an image of being more powerful than they are to politicians, which can translate into either more evil legislation or an even harder battle to prevent or remove evil legislation.

    Personally, I think what they are doing is illegal, or should be. If my name was on someone’s mailing list and I told them to take it the fuck off and they refused me because “once a Home Shopper, always a Home Shopper”, that is, to my understanding, not acceptable legally. I want my name off your roster, you do it. You don’t argue, you don’t fight me, you don’t ignore me, because I have a right to have my name off that roster. Or to not have it on there in the first place (so many people have it on there only because they were forced to in the first place, kind of like someone signing you up for a mailing list you don’t want or sending you magazines or pizzas you didn’t order).

    But since they are using those names as a justification for politicians to appease their Holy Writ, I think it should definitely be illegal and prosecuted fully. Basically, they are hijacking my name and offering it in support of legislation that I would be against–it’s like forgery, kind of like when people would commit voter fraud by adding in votes from dead citizens–only worse, because these are living citizens who are personally being forced to lend support to political views that we do not agree with and that will affect us and our loved ones. This is a form of fraud and they are not even doing it behind the scenes but in direct violation of the wishes of the people who want off the roster–a blatant Fuck You to anyone who dares defy the Divine Rule of the Church. They are getting pretty belligerent in the face of so much loss of power in the wake of their child-rape martyrdom, and they are initiating a stop-loss program.

    “No, we are not going to remove your name. Someday you will return to the Holy Mother Church and you will be glad that we used your name to bar same-sex marriage and/or enact Leviticus as law regarding those same-sex couples/(insert Catholic-based violation of human decency here). Because we know better than you do about what you want, and we know this is just a silly phase. And even if it isn’t, we’re still going to use your own name against you, because you don’t deserve fair treatment, leaving the church as you did, joining that Sinful World out there that actually has the audacity to Persecute us when all we did was defile some children–and it was all the atheists/gays/children’s fault anyway! We will not submit!”

    And they do this while being a tax-exempt organization!

    NEVER get your kids baptized, and sure as fuck never get them confirmed just to appease someone else! Let the family and in-laws piss and whine and cry all they want. I’m still pissed that my parents did this to me just because they assumed it’s “the way” to raise a kid “right”, without giving the idea any thought.

  • Erp

    I suspect if individual Catholics had any power within the church (e.g., could vote for who their parish priest was or bishop or the diocese budget) the number of former Catholics on the rolls would drop. In some European countries you can resign and though the Catholic Church might still consider you a Catholic you aren’t one in the eyes of the law (which means some of your tax money doesn’t go to the church). In the US this is not relevant.

    Denominations like the Unitarian Universalists who do give members power apparently have twice as many people claiming to be UUs in polls than are on the denomination’s books.

  • Par for the course. I thought this was common knowledge, so it’s surprising to me that there are so many atheists who are willing to let other people influence them to baptize their children. I would think this sort of thing would dissuade them. The Catholic church never lets anyone leave. It doesn’t matter what you say or do. Even if you get them to excommunicate you, they still consider you a Catholic, just a Catholic who’s been officially damned to hell.

  • Dan W

    I was baptised Catholic, though I never went through communion or confirmation with them. I wonder if they have me on their records somewhere. Hopefully not, but if they do I guess it would not be worth the effort to try and get myself removed from their records. I’ve been an atheist for at least 7 years, and my family went to United Church of Christ before that.

    If I have kids in the future, I won’t want them baptised in any church.

  • I’m with Demonhype here… I really could care less about my supposed metaphysical union with the Church (though for me it’s the less serious Anglican type), but hate to see my membership cited as a sign that “The Church is still relevant!”

  • So much for “freewill.”

  • mike dave

    I’d be insulted to be called a Catholic, maybe you could sue them for slandering your good name

  • Brian


    “Haven’t there been posts here before about people requesting to be removed from the Catholic Church by writing the parish they were baptized in?”

    The article claims that she already tried that:

    “She … was told if she wanted to renounce her faith she would have to send a request in writing to the parish where she was baptized. … She did as she was advised but heard nothing back.”

    Maybe she needs to nail it to the front door instead. The Church tends to notice that sort of thing eventually.

  • Henry Gallagher

    About a month ago I submitted my “Formal Act Of Defection”. I emailed the priest last week to ask if there was any progress and he replied telling me he is waiting for a response from one of the churches I mentioned.

    So far it looks like things are moving along nicely!

  • AxeGrrl

    Peregrine wrote:

    The only way out that I can tell, is legally; on the census. That’s one of the reasons I’m against the Harper government’s decision to make the long-form census voluntary. Wikipedia lists something like 43% of Canada’s population as Catholic based on the 2001 census.

    Yet another thing that prompts the question: when are we going to come to our collective senses and get rid of Harper?

  • Its good that this case is getting some publicity. It will draw attention to the fact that the number of Catholics reported (by the church) are inflated. People (including politicians) will then tend to not believe those numbers any more and rely more on other forms of polling the public.

  • thanks for this post. i’d never considered the matter. and yes: it is important that people be able to remove their names from church lists, for political reasons others explain above. i will definitely refer to this post the next time i’m arguing with someone who makes claims about how widespread belief “really is.”

  • Jeff

    That’s funny because my grandmother goes to the Catholic Church down the block. When my atheist cousin and her BF had twins, they gave me the position of Godfather. Nowadays, due to incidents of people wanting to revoke godparent status, you need to get a letter from your pastor. Obviously, with me being an atheist and all, that was going to prove difficult.

    But, you know, my great grandparents got married in that church, my grandmother has been going there all her life, so she figured a 4-generation family might be able to throw their weight around. Not so! She started going back and forth between two churches (both catholic and in the same neighborhood) a few months prior because the one by our house is bilingual (polish and english); the polish masses were at all the convenient times. So while she still went to this church occasionally, they said that she was not on the parishioner list because she hadn’t turned in a donations envelope in 6 months (despite the fact that she wastes $100s of dollars on Catholic Church donations).

    Moral of that story? They won’t count you as part of their community unless you give them money. But you can’t just denounce your faith either. Perhaps you have to want to stay to get out and want to get out to stay?

  • Anonymous

    You beat me to it, Owl700. Bravo for:

  • Steve

    Erp wrote:

    In some European countries you can resign and though the Catholic Church might still consider you a Catholic you aren’t one in the eyes of the law (which means some of your tax money doesn’t go to the church). In the US this is not relevant

    Yeah, that can happen when there isn’t a 100%ly strict separation of church and state and the two are intertwined somewhat for administrative purposes. The church will still consider you a member according to canon law (which can affect things like marriage), but by secular law you aren’t. The good part is that there are very exact numbers for church membership in such countries.

  • ButchKitties

    I formally defected for all the reasons Demonhype mentions. The archbishop never responded to the snail mail letter I sent, so I started emailing the webmaster of the archdiocese’s website. She was very helpful and polite, and she got my request to go through about two weeks after I first contacted her. I became an official ex-Catholic on Blasphemy Day last year.

    In my letter, I asked for a sacra rotum tribunal to annul my baptism. My reasoning was that if they are willing to annul a sacrament that is only undertaken by consenting adults, then they definitely should be able to annul a sacrament that is performed on unconsenting babies. I wasn’t really worried about getting the annulment. I just wanted to point out how faulty that the whole “once a Catholic, always a Catholic” reasoning is. Apparently rituals only have permanent ontological significance when it’s convenient for the church.

  • Canadiannalberta

    We (my siblings and I) hear stories like this all the time. This is why we aren’t even bothering to try and get off the books. None of us will have our respective children baptized. (though my sisters and I probably will never have children, and my brother is already driving our parents crazy with his daughter. My mom is angry that he won’t baptize my niece)

  • miss_ellie

    there is a way to get out of the church without being excommunicated. its called formally defecting. pretty much you write a letter to the bishop in your area telling why you want to leave the church. they can amend their records so you are no longer counted. here are some sights that deal with it:

    i have not as of yet done so but plan on doing this in the near future, once i have my living arrangements all settled.

  • JB Tait

    I like the idea of the counter-roster so that government funding can be reduced, surveys can be corrected, demographics can be adjusted, and advertisers, politicians, and manufacturers can have a better assessment of their customers.

  • muggle

    Perigne, I’ve already made up my mind that if the US Census ever sends me the intrusive long form again (and they claim it’s not voluntary here), I will fill it out none of your damned business, especially if they have the damned audacity to ask me my religion. There are some things the government should not be prying into and literally is none of their damned business. The purpose of the census (here in the US anyway) is supposed to be soley for counting the population and determining the number of representatives we get to Congress based thereon.

    Originally, I didn’t get why anyone cares what the Church says but reading a lot of the political points above does give one pause.

  • Erp

    The US census form has never asked about religion which is one reason why we don’t know how many people are in a given religion except what the denominations report (less true for the big denominations where polls can give a fairly accurate idea).

  • Funny you should bring this up. I mailed off my declaration of defection to the diocese over a month ago, and I haven’t received a reply. I’ll have to send them another letter asking what the hold-up is.

  • Jason

    Yea I did the same thing when my parents made me get confirmed. We also had to go on a retreat which sucked more then anything. I told my group I was in that I was atheist and my parents are just making me go and do it and it turned out I wasn’t the only one in my group that was atheist. It made me happy I wasn’t alone in a place with a bunch of crazy religious people.

  • Peregrine


    I’ll admit that it was mostly an emotional thing a few years back; being able to claim my religious status as something other than “Catholic” on an official government census. I was a little disappointed when the 2006 census didn’t ask that question. I was looking forward to it. I kind of thought of it as a self-determining act; “now it’s official, I’m an atheist, and the government knows it.”

    But aside from that, I’ll agree; Religious organizations shouldn’t get any kind of payouts from the government. Off the top of my head, I don’t know if they do in Canada, and I’d have to go searching to find out, but I wouldn’t be surprised. And I can’t think of too many other reasons the government needs to know what a person’s religion is, except to refute these inflated claims.

    But that’s just one question. When you see how the long-form data is used for healthcare, social assistance, civic planning, you can see why it’s important. The questions may seem prying, but you can see how the data is used to track things like the status of women, or poverty, or comparing high-income to low-income neighbourhoods, determining education and technical skill levels…

    I come from a Computer Science background, and one of my profs was into data analysis, so I touched on that sort of thing back in the day. So maybe it’s just more obvious to me how important this kind of information is to a number of government organizations, non-profit groups, and others, even if it does seem prying. Making this kind of thing voluntary, instead of mandatory, is making vital data pretty much useless. They really are cutting off the flow of important statistics that they need to make effective policy decisions.

    But enough of that. It’s just a semi-related tangent.

  • From the article:

    Kristen Carey, a spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, explained it this way: “It is like the relationship between a mother and her daughter. No matter how estranged the relationship, the mother will always welcome back her daughter. You can’t break that bond.”

    Gah, what a patronizing attitude!

    There’s a church near me that hangs out a big banner that says “St. Bartholomew’s Welcomes Catholics Returning Home,” with a picture of Jesus embracing someone who’s returning to the church. Every time I pass it, I waffle between amusement and indignation. On the one hand, it’s such a blatant passive-aggressive guilt trip, but on the other hand, that picture of Jesus hugging the wayward Catholic is awfully funny.

  • Peregrine

    I wonder if they’ll kill the fatted calf.

  • LS

    I also am “on the books,” though I’ve never really cared enough to take myself off.

    I may have to do something about that, though. And to be honest? I would skip all the nonsense and jump right to the threats. I wouldn’t have any compunction about threatening to publicly desecrate a host every day until they took me off the books.

  • Greman

    If you cant leve the church then you can get kicked out for good if you do something bad hahaha

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