The Vatican Blocks the Exit October 23, 2010

The Vatican Blocks the Exit

Richard Wade reporting.

Reader Eoin recently commented on an Ask Richard post from last February dealing with a question about officially leaving the Catholic Church. Eoin brings to our attention the fact that the Vatican has suspended all processing of individual acts of formal defection from the RCC.

The Irish website Count Me Out has been providing information, guidance and access to the forms needed for people wanting to file a “Declaration of Defection.” They report:

In April of this year, the Catholic Church modified the Code of Canon Law to remove all references to the act of formal defection, the process used by those who wish to formally renounce their membership of the Church.

This resolution, dubbed “Omnium in Mentem” apparently puts all applicants who have filed but have been waiting a long time for any response, into church bureaucratic limbo. Because there are many questions left unanswered, Count Me Out has temporarily suspended all further creation of Declarations of Defection via their website, starting October 12, 2010.

Assuming that “Omnium in Mentem” invalidates the concept of formal defection, the Church no longer deems that an act of defection changes a person’s relationship with the Catholic Church; instead the annotation of the baptismal register becomes merely an administrative task.

Whatever the hell “an administrative task” means.

Count Me Out offers some insight about the backqround of this action by the RCC, and some advice concerning the possible ramifications. They speculate on the reasons why the Vatican has done this, focusing on the confusion caused by making certain exceptions to canon law regarding defections pertaining to marriage. It’s confusing to even read their explanation.

I have three simpler and perhaps more cynical ideas about the Vatican’s motives, but I don’t pretend to know for certain. I’m offering them here to stimulate a discussion, and I ask readers who have more experience and insight about this to correct me and/or add their own ideas:

  1. It will save them a lot of embarrassment. Having this official procedure forces them to individually acknowledge each one of the growing numbers of people who are dissatisfied, disappointed or even disgusted with the Church, and each Declaration of Defection is a powerful public demonstration of both their failure as an institution and the power of their members to defy them.
  2. It will save them a lot of work. People are informally leaving the Church in stampedes lately. If more and more of them want to have official documents to formally and finally signify and certify that, the Vatican will need a new clerical staff as big as the Internal Revenue Service.
  3. Most importantly, it will save them a lot of money. In several countries, the Catholic Church gets government subsidies for various activities and services. The amount of taxpayer money they get depends on their claim of how many people are Catholics in those countries. Unless I’m wrong, I think they use Baptismal records rather than church attendance census, since the numbers will always be larger. Without the Declarations of Defection, there won’t be documents that can be used to discredit their claims of having large numbers of adherents.

So if you want to leave the Roman Catholic Church, you can no longer get them to officially acknowledge and document your exit out the door. You can go, but you’ll have to climb out the window. They don’t want to know about it.

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  • Steve

    The tax thing really depends on how it is handled. In some countries the state collects an explicit Church Tax of a few monetary units per month. They don’t just take some unspecified money and hand it to the church (though that may happen in addition). So people are free to unregister with the state, which can be as simple as walking into an office and filling out some forms. That makes it possible to track the number of people leaving the Church, regardless of how Catholic authorities view the relationship according to Canon Law.

  • Steve

    My late dad was Catholic but I was baptised in the Church of England, my late mum was Protestant though neither ever set foot in a church again. My dad’s sister was a staunch Catholic, apparently as a babe in arms, she wouldn’t let me in her house as I wasn’t Catholic!! Of course, when I was about six or seven, I decided it was all rubbish anyway! Thnks, dad, you saved me from being brainwashed!!

  • L

    Damn! I wish I had known about this sooner! I’d love to have had an actual document, suitable for framing, no doubt, to hang on my wall.

  • mikespeir

    I don’t want to come across as rude, but who gives a flying fig? If somebody says they’re not Catholic anymore, they’re not Catholic anymore. If the Catholic Church wants to artificially inflate its membership rolls…well, I don’t expect a lot of honest there anyway.

  • Hermes

    Class action lawsuit?

    #1 – Very public and quite embarrassing.

    #2 – Will cause them some more work, but may be more efficient than the previous useless and often ignored process.

    #3 – Could cause them a great deal of money in specific countries as the defections could be done in bulk and could be tied to damages in some other countries.

  • Hermes

    Mikespeir, re-read item 3 in the original blog post.

  • Erp

    There are three ways of leaving the Catholic church. First the individual decides they are no longer a member no matter what the church thinks, second the church formally recognizes you as having left (defected, note that excommunication is not the same since one is still in the church but just not in good standing, a bit like the difference between treason versus renouncing citizenship, in the former you are still a citizen), third is having the state recognize you are no longer a member.

    The third is a bit odd for people in the US since the US does not keep records of membership in churches (barring people in the military). It does matter in countries like Germany or Finland where you pay tax to the church depending on affiliation (some countries your religious affiliation can also affect your legal status in civil law such as marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance). Off-hand I can’t think of any country that does keep such records where the church can prevent you from opting out (though I’m not sure how you opt out if you are Orthodox in Greece or Jewish in Israel and some Muslim dominated countries allow you to opt out of being a Catholic but not of being Muslim).

  • mikespeir

    RE-read, Hermes? If I’d read that in the first place, I wouldn’t have embarrassed myself!

  • cass_m

    It wasn’t that easy to leave anyway. First find all your documentation – uh huh. This is the way it used to be for annulments; long drawn out process for pretty well paperwork. Most RCC would just have to be honest and they would be excommunicated (well women anyway).

  • gwen

    In countries where the churches are state supported in proportion to their percentage of the population, I would urge everyone who wants to withdraw from the RCC to go down to their city hall and find out if there is a way to unregister there.Is there a way to register an Atheist/Agnostic organization and get funds for them? That would only be just, and it would be just AWSOME!!

  • HamsterWheel

    There is no such thing as abandoning the Catholic Church. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

  • Judith Bandsma

    Ratzinger was head of the Inquistion until his elevation to pope (and yes, under a different name, the Inquistion still exists). And this sounds like a very ‘inquisitiony’ thing to do. Make sure they continue to belong to the church whether they want to or not and later brand them as heretics.

  • ljvillanueva

    I started the process of formally requesting to leave the Catholic Church a few weeks ago, and apparently it is moving forward. Well, at least I have been contacted by a priest asking for some details. I’ll see what happens…

  • Richard Wade

    Ratzinger was head of the Inquistion until his elevation to pope (and yes, under a different name, the Inquistion still exists). And this sounds like a very ‘inquisitiony’ thing to do.


    Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. 😉

  • Yet another reason why atheist parents should not let themselves be pressured into baptizing their children Catholic.

  • Cortex

    What we ought to do is compile our own list of apostates. Then, anytime they want to brag about their membership numbers, we can just put our number up with a minus sign next to it.

  • Richard wins the thread for that joke. For the joke and the timing. The joke, the timing, and the blockquote. The joke, the…I’ll come in again.

  • Luther

    Maybe a man and a woman could marry and divorce and then remarry and be excommunicated.

    Easier if two guys or gals married then excommunicated for just for that.

    Or they could start a genocide…ooops Hitler proved that won’t work.

    Oh, just get a job and CVS and sell a condom!!!

  • Manly Bowler

    If you want to leave the RCC in Germany (where the church taxes are collected by the government) you receive a written confirmation with the advice to not lose it or throw it away. There were a lot of cases when the church would contact you years (or even decades) later, claim you never left and demand back pay.
    The good thing is that, since the government officially handles the taxes, you don’t need to deal with the church but instead go to the Local Court and request the relevant documents. So there’s no way the RCC can try to pull a fast one and deny disgruntled members their way out. 🙂
    This behaviour still bugs me. Do people who want to leave now have to sue the church so they are heard?

  • Hermes

    Mikespeir, LOL! Best comment of the day!

  • I just mailed my notice of defection two days ago. (bangs head against desk) If ljvillanueva’s had some progress, though, that’s hopeful. If not, I’m making a list of fun ways to get excommunicated. 🙂

  • I’m torn as to how to feel about all this. On the one hand, I’m happy because it shows how full of shit the Catholic church is, and how little they can be trusted to present honest figures (much less divine accounts).

    On the other hand, I know that many people simply won’t care and will still continue to live and act as though the Catholic church is “a force for good” in the world. So in that sense it’s maybe not so good.

  • JD

    Maybe tell them you’re a gay atheist condom-using abortionist? That should get someone’s attention. Heck, performing an abortion necessary to save a woman’s life was enough for them to expel a nun.

  • ASD

    I’m still trying to figure it out for Australia. All I can think of is just having the ‘religion’ field on my birth certificate changed. (It doesn’t matter a lot, AFAIK the RCC isn’t supported in any way by the federal government but anything to stop them from inflating their numbers.)

  • Catinthewall

    @ASD Go/write to the general registrar of where your file is that you’d like a correction on your file and a re-issuing of it. There might be a fee.

  • This is not true. In Italy parishes still recognize the requests for debaptism. Tomorrow, in Italy, is “Debaptism Day”, and hundreds of Italians are debaptize themselves in these days. On Thursday I was hosted in the Press Room of the Parliament to speak on it (see, and our “counter” ( has already 585 uploads. Further info (in Italian) on

  • I read the apostolic letter and I didn’t find anything abolishing the act of formal defection.
    They simply changed the Code of Canon Law eliminating the reference to the act of deflection from the chapters relative to marriage.
    Whoever wants to abandon the Catholic Church can (and definitely shall) do it as usual.
    Obviously, the Church hierarchy is more than happy to let us think that the process is changed or abolished or in a way in jeopardy.
    Their strategy is always “confusion and eyewash”.

    Tomorrow will be the “Third National Debaptism Day”, here in Italy (or maybe I shall call it Vaticanitaly).
    The date has been chosen in memory of what happened on Oct. 25, 1958: the Court of Appealof Florence acquitted the Bishop of Prato, who had publicly vilified a young couple who wanted to marry civilly. It acquitted him not because they hadn’t been defamed, but because the couple were “his subjects, because they were baptized” and therefore church authorities were free to denigrate them.
    The battle to let the Church akcnowledge the requests from atheists and agnostics to leave was won years ago.

    Tomorrow I too will send my letter to the priest of the church in which I was baptized.
    According to the Italian law, he has to reply within 15 days.
    I look forward to receive the formal proclamation of my excommunication.

  • Personally, I don’t see why I should have to ask the Catholic church to stop recording my membership of an organization that I never signed up to in the first place (at least once I had reached a legal age).

    However, I am curious (and countmeout has mentioned it) how the Catholic church is affected by the Data Protection Act. Two questions come to mind: (1) what information do they hold and (2) what do they use it for.

    Has anyone invoked their rights to request information under the DPA?

  • Steve

    Any company acting in the same manner would have long since been sued and possibly run out of business if they pulled something similar: i.e. signing up people against their explicit wishes and then not providing a clear and simple way to opt out

  • muggle

    Count Me Out has temporarily suspended all further creation of Declarations of Defection via their website, starting October 12, 2010.

    Why? Just because the Catholic Church tells them to? That’s giving the Church way too much respect. I think, as a form of protest, they should still keep doing it and still mail them in and they should try to do this with as much publicity as possible but, at the very least, ignore the command to stop helping people leave and keep insisting oh, yes, they are leaving if they so choose.

    Inuadate them with mail of forms, requesting status of previously filed cases and anything and everything else they can dream up.

    But I seriously don’t see why they’re just rolling over and playing dead. Thank SNAP that they aren’t so wishy-washy.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    TMI. Look, if you’re going to defecate, there is no need to tell me about.

  • <.<


    You know, this does offer possibilities, like skewing poll results in favor of recovering Catholics.

    *evil grin*

  • stogoe



  • Rieux

    “Polish Inquisition”?

    You do know that the current Pope is German, not Polish, right?

  • darlene

    I just contacted the Brooklyn Diosese in NY to get info, they said I had to write a letter explaining why I was leaving and where all my sacraments had occurred, and then they would clear the rolls and I would receive a letter in return stating it was done…

    And it would be as if it had never happened.

  • I’m not a lawyer, so maybe someone who is can correct me if this is wrong. But at least in the United States, I believe there is some precedent that a voluntary organization such as a church is required to remove you from its membership rolls as soon as you inform them in writing of your resignation. I know the Mormon church has definitely backed down in cases where a person had resigned but was still being threatened with church “discipline”.

    Oklahoma Supreme Court, 1989-01-17: Guinn v. Church of Christ in Collinsville

  • ljvillanueva

    Good news, I got the official letter a couple of week ago that I am an apostate of the Catholic Church. So apparently, it is still possible without much trouble.

  • An update to my “debaptism” process.

    I received the letter from the Archdiocese of Milan in which they confirm that they have recorded on the register of baptisms my desire not to be considered members of the Catholic Church.
    They hasten to let me know the legal and canonical consequences of my choice:
    – exclusion from the office of godfather and sponsor at confirmation
    – deprivation of ecclesiastical funerals
    – exclusion from the celebration and reception of the sacraments
    – excommunication latae sententiae

    The letter is written in “Comic Sans”:
    I would have preferred a more serious and appropriate font.

    Anyway, I did it! 🙂

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