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.
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.

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....

Yes, formal defection does result in a de facto excommunication. So, to answer the question which started this thread, a person can formally renounce the Catholic faith by being a public heretic, apostate, or schismatic. Such actions have always been possible and always will be, even if there is no subsequent exemption from canon law.

This point has never really been cleared up. The Motu Proprio clearly says that formal defection no longer exempts you from the marriage rules. That being the case, it also seems clear that what you say is true in that formal defection now no longer has any consequence in canon law. (I suppose it does put one in a state of excommunication), but the church doesn't recognize you as an outsider to its law. YET, bishops and their appointed subordinates are clearly still accepting formal defection letters by the thousands in the U.S. and Europe. Within a week or two, they send you a courteous letter regretfully accepting your resignation, as it were. So what gives? Are there any apologists or canon law types on here who can explain this or look into it?

The notion of formal defection seems to be rooted in something deeper than marriage law in the church. I can't cite chapter and verse on this, but I recall longstanding doctrine to the effect that church membership cannot be compelled. That idea clearly broke down during the Reformation and conquest of the Americas, but it's been reaffirmed a number of times, I think even in Vatican II. In any case, those of us who have defected were not doing it to secure some obscure marriage form exemption. Mine went though before the proprio document, but I knew full well that the church believes it has eternal ownership of my soul via baptism. They're free to believe anything they want, as am I. I can assert ownership of souls via ebay transaction, but it's neither here nor there. Defection is about making it clear that on this plane of existence, we aren't your people and you don't have the right to use our name when lobbying Congress (or in Europe, getting a cut of our income taxes).
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?


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