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Formal Defection from Roman Catholicism - Social and Legal Implications

As membership in the Roman Catholic Church implies tacit approval for the lies and damage the Church does it is important for people of integrity to consider leaving the Church - defecting. Critics of the Church still tacitly approve in the sense that they don't consider the harm bad enough or the threat great enough to consider going.


Membership of any religion or organisation requires:

1 That you have your name listed as a member.

2 That you believe in what the organisation stands for or are on a journey to believe. This means you must not deliberately repudiate what the organisation believes in. It means you know it is at least possible that the beliefs are true. If Catholicism is false and you know it, you cannot be a real member of the Catholic Church.

3 That you work for the ideals of the organisation.

If your name is listed that does not necessarily make you a real member but merely one that is listed as a member. It's legal membership. Its membership according to the rules. It is nominal membership. But reality may be different. For example, you can be considered married in the eyes of the law but for some reason the marriage might not be valid or real. Number 2 is essential for real membership. If you do not fit requirement number 3 then clearly you may be a member but not a good one.


Defection from a religion is ceasing to be a member of that religion. A religion that believes in religious freedom will recognise your departure.

Baptism and confirmation confer membership in the Roman Catholic Church. If you've been baptised in the Roman Catholic Church the church counts you as a member for life even if you stop attending and giving it money. The only way to cancel the membership is by formal defection or by defecting to another religion. Formal defection involves notifying the bishop of the diocese you were baptised in that you want to leave the Church and to be officially regarded as having left. The end goal is to have it recorded that you are no longer a Roman Catholic. Such a procedure is only valid if the person leaves freely and without coercion.

Some Catholics say that this formal defection is only a recognition by the Church that you refuse to obey the Church. Rather than giving any right to disobey, the Church through Canon Law is just like a parent letting a rebellious child have it his own way. But what would the Church need to engage in a formal recognition for? Why not just let the child go? If your rebel daughter walks out of the house giving her her own way only means you let her go not that you declare that she has defected from the family.

The recognition of formal defection by Canon Law then means that you can leave the Church in principle even if current Church law does not provide for formal defection. It sadly doesn't provide.

Also the Church claimed the abolition of formal defection was retrospective. This is obviously invalid. It is like the law of the land decreeing suddenly that marriages are no longer considered valid and that this applies to marriages that have taken place in the last ten years. This retrospective law would be unjust for the law recognised such marriages until recently.

We conclude that formal defection in principle is still valid.


It's only fair to be able to defect.

Suppose one was a member of The Family Must be Limited to Two Children and Further Children Must be Aborted Party. If one decided it was in error or wanted out, one would not consider it enough to not attend their meetings and not send them money. One would want one's name struck from their lists of members. It is the principle that is at stake. And it is nobody else's business to label you. You alone decide what labels you will take on and to what extent you consider them valid.

Some say that the Catholic Church is NOT a secular organisation like the named Party, so the analogy doesn't hold. But secular or not it's an organisation. The analogy does hold for it is an organisation.

Defection from a religion should be about declaring, "I reject your teachings; but I want you to formally acknowledge it and make it official. I want to be disassociated with the teachings because they are wrong or I believe they are wrong." It is about the principle. If you sacrifice your principles you give up your authenticity. You become false. You fail to give others your true self.

If it is true that if a baptised Catholic becomes say a Hindu and is still in reality a Catholic no matter what he or she does to try and become an ex-Catholic, it follows that the conversion should not be taken seriously by the Church, society, family or state. And the person is to be judged as one who fights his true identity and is to be judged as devoid of integrity. It denies the right of the person to suffer no disadvantage due to religion. Faith should never upset or violate anybody - the case of those using faith as an excuse for getting upset is a separate one. It denies the right of a person to take on a new religious identity.

To refuse to facilitate defection opens the door to forcing a Catholic burial on a defector, It is forcing a person to pay taxes to the Church in countries which send a cut of the Catholic's taxes to the Church.

Catholics say that it is pointless to defect for it is not going to do you any obvious harm in this world. For example, it will not happen that a Catholic who divorces and remarries without annulment will come home one day to find Church police blocking the doorway and forbidding them entry because they are living in sin. Or that a Catholic parent who fails to have their child baptised will come home one day to find that the child has been dragged to the nearest Church by the local priest and forcibly baptised in their absence. Thousands of examples could be created. But the fact remains, that if we claim that baptism binds you to the Church as a member forever these behaviours are to be required and expected. If you believe baptism binds to the Church forever that goes a little bit of the way towards legitimising such behaviour. After all the question arises because of religion and that says something! The doctrine of people necessarily being Catholics forever is insulting.

Every Church or religion needs to have a defection process.

- The would-be defector has the right to make it clear that on this plane of existence he or she isn't one of the Church's people and:

*Has the right to remove the right from the Church to use his or her name when lobbying or when it asserts the following, "We deserve a voice in your country - to spread our doctrine and influence - as we have so and so many Catholics there".

*To say you are a member is to say you have obligation to obey the Church and support its teaching and to give it money. An obligation that you don't suffer for breaking is not an obligation at all. You call evil on yourself by disobeying. Thus to declare a person a member of a faith against their will is an act of violence. Such a declaration cannot even be suspected of validity.

We have an obligation to formally leave any organisation that confers fictitious obligations on us.

The right of a person who cannot in good conscience allow themselves to be counted as members of the church must be respected.

If Vatican II was serious about religious liberty being a right then it was admitting this right existed.


The Church says there is an ontological matter with baptism that it does not have the power or authority to erase or undo. But that has nothing to do with proving that a person who leaves has not really left and is still a real member. Erasing the baptism is irrelevant. Its power can still be erased. Baptism can be seen as bestowing membership but everybody says you must respond to it before it does you any good. So the membership can be rejected. That is what confirmation is about - accepting for yourself the membership you got in baptism. Unless you have the right to reject the membership, there is no real choice or possibility of acceptance.

Leaving the Catholic Church makes you ineligible to receive the sacraments and that you will no longer be entitled to a Catholic burial. The Church says that baptism is an action of Christ himself and so no one can undo it. But nevertheless you can officially leave the Church.

If people cannot be forced in religion they have to be recognised as former members if they leave. "Canon. 748 §1. All persons are bound to seek the truth in those things which regard God and his Church and by virtue of divine law are bound by the obligation and possess the right of embracing and observing the truth which they have come to know. §2. No one is ever permitted to coerce persons to embrace the Catholic faith against their conscience."


It is said that the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts enacted retroactive rules that changed what it meant to leave the Catholic Church in 2009.

The Motu Proprio clearly says that formal defection no longer exempts you from the marriage rules for Catholics. Formal defection now no longer has any consequences in canon law. But this seems to apply only to marriage law. In other words, defectors will still be kept under Catholic marriage laws. So formal defection is valid but the marriage laws of the Church are still in force for defectors. This does not imply that the defectors are members of the Church. The law of the Church considers the treatment even of pagan marriages.

The reason formal defection was removed from Church law by the pope was because some people were taking advantage of the exemption it gave from the marriage laws of the Church. Thus the Church law previously recognised that formal defection meant freedom from the obligation to obey Canon Law in relation to marriage. Now the Church chooses to bind ex-Catholics to its marriage laws in order to avoid the problems and confusion that abuse of the formal defection rulings caused.

The abolition of formal defection was conducted not because the Church thinks you have no intrinsic right to leave but because the rules were being abused.  The 2009 document says, “The Code of Canon Law nonetheless prescribes that the faithful who have left the Church "by a formal act" are not bound by the ecclesiastical laws regarding the canonical form of marriage (cf. can. 1117), dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult (cf. can. 1086) and the need for permission in the case of mixed marriages (cf. can. 1124). The underlying aim of this exception from the general norm of can. 11 was to ensure that marriages contracted by those members of the faithful would not be invalid due to defect of form or the impediment of disparity of cult.”  So even if formal defection is abolished the Church still acknowledges that you can leave.  It is not impossible in itself.  The abolition is unfair for the laws could have been fixed and the abuse of formal defection does not entitle the Church to abolish it totally.  Morally, the right to defect is unchanged and unalterable.  It is important to think about the fact that references to formal defection being removed from Canon Law is not enough in itself to prove it is abolished.  It is in limbo but not abolished.

It is claimed that by formal defection that you are not being 'no longer counted' as Catholic, you are simply being dispensed from adhering to the Church's marriage laws. If you can even call it a dispensation. It's more like a formal recognition that you refuse to be bound by them anyway, a bit like a rebellious child being kicked out of their parents' home or something. You aren't being dispensed from any other obligation of a baptised Catholic.
This would be bizarre. The Church claims its laws about marriage are of foundational importance and it would not drop them for defectors many of whom have no problems staying within Church rules about marriage.
Church law decrees that it can be possible to defect from the Church. Those who say the practice of formal defection exempts the Catholic only from marriage law - like the Church letting a rebellious child have its own way - need to consider the following. If the Church can exempt from matrimonial law it can exempt from all of Church law or canon law. Also, defection means leaving the Church. To say it lets you marry as you wish without regard to the Church is ridiculous. It is like saying sacking somebody from their job only means you will give them no bonus at Christmas anymore. And most defectors are not interested in getting married in the Catholic way at all. And matrimonial law in the Church is said to be moral law not just judicial law. For example, the Church cannot exempt you so that you can contract a new marriage while your first spouse is still alive. To attempt such an exemption would be invalid. Church law is overridden by divine law.

Formal defection is definitely rooted in something deeper than marriage law in the church. Why else would it be referred to as defection or leaving?


The once Catholic, always Catholic proverb shows that some in the Church do not respect those who have gone to another religion. It denies that they have really done so. It is nasty to tell somebody who has left, "You were baptised a Catholic and you are still one." That is really an attempt to hurt their feelings. It is also to engage in the odious practice of labelling people. It is trying to lay the groundwork for getting them to submit to the Catholic Church.

There is appalling arrogance and intolerance in anyone who would tell you that because you were baptised a Catholic, even though you are a Mormon now, you are a Catholic still. These people are in the same league as Christians who say to gay people, "You call yourself homosexual. You were born heterosexual and therefore you are not homosexual. Homosexuality is a disorder meaning you are really just a heterosexual with addiction problems."

The Church says it opposes gay people saying that their sexual orientation is the core of their identity. It claims that saying you are homosexual is at best, one of many adjectives that describe someone; sexual orientation is not a person's full essence. To say it is their full essence is supposed to be a worrying diminishment of those human persons. To do that is supposed to be to fail them in love. To say a Catholic cannot cease to be a member is to say that their religion is the core of their identity. If it really believes the teaching we have outlined about gay people then it cannot teach such a thing!

To label any person as a forever Catholic even if they become Muslim is to declare the Catholicism the core of their identity. The Church goes further than any gay person has ever done in seeing an adjective as the whole of the person. If you are gay you are not baptised and confirmed into gayianity. You are into Catholicism. You are not conditioned into gay doctrine. You are into Catholicism. Gays honour individuality. The Church says we must accept the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic faith. The labelling of people as Catholics and seeing their Catholicism as their full essence or what they are all about is sectarianism. All forms of sectarianism are based on the idea that you are summed up by your religious or political label.

The Catholics would fume if a Buddhist sect for instance would say that there are no Catholics but only Buddhists who won't admit what they are. But to let the Catholics say things like that - enough said!


Some say that baptism marks you as a Catholic forever.

The purpose of the mark is so that baptism needs only be given once.

It is more reasonable to say that God does not literally mark you but has you recorded as somebody that has been baptised. After all, the soul has no extension or parts so there is nothing tangible to put a mark on. It is not a literal mark.

The mark cannot make you a Catholic forever. That is logically impossible. You can be marked as a slave and when you cease to be slave the mark is still there. The mark has nothing to do with meaning you are still a slave. The mark cannot mark you as a Catholic forever as there is more to being anything than a mark.

The baptism mark may obligate you to maintain membership in the Church. It does not make you a member.

There is no evidence at all that there is a mark. There is no evidence at all that a baptised person is going to be a holier and wiser and more godly person than the unbaptised.

Catholics say, "You have a father and mother. You can refuse to call them that but that is what they are. You have got your DNA from them. They made you. When you are baptised, a bond like the bond made by DNA exists whether you act it exists or whether you don't. You still have obligations to the family you deny".

DNA makes you a member of your family but only in the sense that you share DNA. There is more to being a family member than just DNA. You would then be only a bodily family member at least.

To be considered irrevocably Catholic is to say that if anybody is validly baptised they are Catholic even if they receive a Protestant baptism. But this contradicts Canon Law which says that though baptism puts Protestant babies into the Catholic Church it does not make them Roman Catholic.

Catholics say baptism causes an "ontological" change. In other words, it changes your nature from an ordinary human being to a child of God filled with his powerful presence. But that doesn't mean you cannot reverse that change. Maybe some day we will change our DNA so that what we got from our parents is gone. In principle, that is possible - we just haven't reached the point where we can do it yet.

Baptism can give a mark but this mark is not a sacrament. It only shows the sacrament has been given. God may give membership of the Church to babies in baptism but that does not require a mark at all never mind one that may never be effaced. The membership and the mark are separate.

The notion that the mark makes a bond is nonsense. A husband and wife who don't care if the other lives or dies are not really husband and wife anymore.

If the Church is a family of love the only bond there can be is love. To say that a mark makes a Church is to deny this and to deny the primacy of love.

Baptism gives starting membership . Confirmation gives full membership. Confirmations are invalid because they are a big step and the participants cannot make a valid choice. They are compelled to go to the ceremony and be confirmed. They do not know enough about the dark side of the faith. Their decision is not based on facts but on sanitised information. They are too young. The Church says confirmation is a big decision for it is consciously accepting membership in the one true Church outside of which there is no salvation but only separation from God for all eternity. Also the message of the Church is the message of sacrifice and the cross and obedience to authority.

So the Catholic Church must recognise the right of people to tell it, "We are not your people. Accept that."


The Church says that at baptism one is adopted as a brother or sister of Jesus Christ and a child of the God the Father. From this some conclude that the soul gains the spiritual equivalent of the DNA links that define a person's biological family. This view implies that defection means that you have separated from the visible Church structure but are still Catholic in the invisible sense.

Some say, "To not want to be counted as a member of the Catholic Church when you were baptised into it is as illogical as not wanting to be counted as the child of your biological parents because you dislike or disagree with them. Your not wanting to be their child doesn't and never can change the fact of your relationship, and you are and always will be the child of your biological parents, no matter how much you want not to be counted as such." But if this were true you could stop being counted as a believing member of the Church. There is no way a believing Catholic and a non-believing Catholic can be members of the Church to the same degree. Obviously, the first is a more real member than the latter. Now, you take your body from your parents. But this is a connection not a relationship when you completely disown your parents. Also, the soul is not made of anything physical. It cannot have anything that corresponds to DNA or genes. The soul is like a function, a mind without a body.

Baptism is said to take away the original sin you are born in. It is said by many Catholics that by defecting from the Church and sinning you cannot revert your soul to the state it was in before baptism. They say, "Defection is a juridical action, the sacraments an ontological one. They are not related in any way." This really means that the defection is only a legal declaration and is not real. It is like declaring a person dead when they are known to be alive. Original sin is supposed to be the absence of God in your heart which gives you an inclination to rebel against him. But mortal sinners put God out of their hearts and they can reverse the healing power of baptism so that they end up with a worse inclination to rebel than they would have had by original sin alone. You can then undo all the good baptism does.

If there is an indelible mark, it does not mean that defection is about trying to get it removed. It could be trying to get it recognised that you officially declare that you have not got this mark.

The doctrine of the mark is said to be claiming that the baptised person is ontologically different from a person who is not. That is not true. It is only a mark. If God changes the person in his nature or her nature that would be an ontological change. It would be distinct from the mark. Ontological change is really a horrendous idea. Racists operate by the principle that their race is the proper human nature and anything else is defective. As horrendous as it is to see somebody as defective or a different nature to you just because of their skin colour, it is worse to take this position towards anybody over something you cannot see, the alleged DNA or ontological nature of their soul.

The DNA argument sounds like the notion that somehow we are transubstantiated into something that makes us all one. Are we turned into Jesus or something?

Some ask the following. "One who wants to be formally disconnected from the Catholic Church obviously does not believe in Catholicism. If they do not believe, then why do care if the Church considers them to be Catholics? They do not care about anything else the Church teaches, so why should they care about this?"

The answer is usually that it is an immature attempt to hurt someone's feelings - perhaps parents, the community or the priest etc. But would those who give this answer be happy if the state recognised them as Hindus or some new religion?


Formal defection is only making your departure from the Church official. You do not need a defection to depart from the Catholic faith. The apostle in the First Epistle of John speaks of Christians who left the fold as not having belonged in the first place. They were only outwardly Christian but were not the real thing. Clearly, he accepted the notion of nominal members who were not members at all even though they may have done holy things and acted like members.

Most Catholics do not support the teachings of the Church. Picking what they like out of the faith is not enough for even many atheists do that. Decent persons will not want to be counted among an organization whose beliefs they do not support. This need not be spiteful. For the church to count them as members is dishonest and disrespectful to them. Likewise, for them to be able to represent themselves as Catholics is disingenuous and not fair to real Catholics. The Church teaches you excommunicate yourself when you commit certain offences, such as heresy, so you cease to become Catholic when you become convinced the Church is false. Also, if the Church is false then being Catholic is certainly only a label. It is only a man-made label conferred by a man-made faith. Nobody is really Catholic if the religion is a pure human creation.


Catholics are bound by Canon Law (whether they know it or not) from their baptism. Non-Catholics though baptised are not bound by Canon Law in any way whatsoever. In reality, the non-Catholics are treated as having received a Catholic baptism and not having become Catholics. So it is not true that Canon Law fails to admit that there are ex-Catholics. Canon Law does not decree that it is impossible to be an ex-Catholic. It presupposes that it is possible.

Non-Catholics could still be bound by Canon Law. They are not. This proves that Canon Law holds that not all who are grafted on to the Church by baptism need obey it. Their baptismal membership of the Church has been cancelled.

Some say that Canon Law treats people whether they are Catholics or ex-Catholics as Catholics. If so, they are clearly treated that way for the purpose of law. It does not mean you cannot be an ex-Catholic.

Catholic doctrine says that baptism makes the baptised baby different from the baby who is not baptised. The baptised is a different kind of human - a Catholic one. There is what is called an ontological change. The soul belongs to God. Nothing can change that belonging. But even if you belong to the Church forever, that would mean you should be a member not that you are stuck with membership whether you like it or not!

Catholic baptism confers the obligation to obey Canon Law and the Pope, who stands in the place of Jesus Christ. However this is impossible if you were baptised as a baby for you cannot take all that on.

We conclude that even in Church law, it is absurd to say that you are tied to Catholic membership forever if you are baptised.


Under data protection, data must reflect the truth. The Church should be hauled to court if it refuses say to record that Johnny is a Catholic no more but something else.

The state must be secular. It is neutral in regard to religion. It lets religion believe whatever a religion wants but not necessarily do what it wants.

What if a person who thinks he is Muslim but has never been initiated accuses his employer of discriminating against him? The state cannot accept him as a true Muslim.

The law of the land forbids discrimination on religious grounds. Thus it follows each religion owes it to the state to have clear rules on who is a member and who is not. Islam, for example, needs to require that a person be accepted as Muslim by the proper authorities in Islam. It is true that in Islam a person can be initiated but this does not mean the person is becoming a real Muslim. The initiation is need for regulation and practical reasons. The person is considered or treated as a Muslim for these reasons. But if the person does not believe that Allah alone is God and Muhammad is the apostle of Allah that person is not a true Muslim and marked as such by Allah. Allah knows.

The state has the right to legally enforce religion to have clear admission and departure rules. Secularism protects religion as long as it does not go too far. It cannot do that if the boundaries between member and fake member are not clear. It is an offence to lie on the census form that you are say a Catholic when you cannot be.

The state is under obligation to recognise transgender people as being the opposite gender to what may be on their birth cert. Thus it must recognise and protect the right of a person not to be counted part of a religion against their will.

A person should be able to accept the Church, but reject it tomorrow. The Church should accept that rejection and demand that the state must recognise its acceptance. It is only pretending the person is still a member if it refuses to accept.


Why leave?

Because you consider Church teaching untrue.

Because you consider most Catholics dishonest - they do tend to water down and lie about the content of Church teaching and undermine the right of the bishops and popes to make rules for them.

Because you consider Catholicism dangerous.

Because being counted as a member by the Church is not being respectful to yourself or to those who are true believers.

Because you sense you were never really baptised - some priests do not intend to do anything other than go through the motions. Going through the ceremony does not make it necessarily a valid ceremony.

If you joined the Church of Scientology and decided it was ripping people off and lying to them you would not say, "I no longer support this organisation. I will not attend any of its meetings or pay it any money", is sufficient for withdrawing support. You need to get the organisation to recognise you as an ex-Scientologist. Being listed as a member is a passive form of support. It is the most important form. After all, you cannot take the obligation to go to meetings and to pay money unless you become a member. Thus it is the name on the membership roll book has to be dealt with. It has to be expunged.

Departing from the Catholic faith and departing from the Catholic Church are two different and separate things. Departing from the faith is in fact a bigger separation in your heart from the Church than simply failing to practice as a Catholic.


To allege that baptism makes one irrevocably Catholic makes a mockery of free conscience and also of the faith of those who choose to belong.

It is important that Catholics who have departed the Church cease to be registered as a member of their parish.

Dioceses may still be "accepting" formal defection letters and acting as though canon law still includes such a process. But, it doesn't. Nevertheless, people are still able to send in such a letter. What can the diocese do, other than regretfully accept it? I'm not sure what, internally, the diocese would do after that. Another fact is that dioceses sometimes act a little behind the times as far as the law goes....

Formal defection results in de facto excommunication from the Church. Another way to get this excommunication is to renounce or abjure the faith. Excommunication is based on the concept that even if you are a member of the Church you are now a semi-member and out of communion with the Church. Excommunication puts you out of the visible Church structure.