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.  Formal defection was abolished in 2009, but as Church law says religious freedom is a right it follows that it may still be morally possible to defect.  The current law says you can defect by converting to another religion.

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 reason was that Catholics were abusing the rules to get out of church marriage laws in Germany.

Is it correct to assume that formal defection is valid but the marriage laws of the Church are still in force for defectors? Does that exemption still imply the defectors are members?

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.

Is it the case that 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 Church is confused on the matter but the answer seems to be yes. 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.


Formal defection is only making your departure from the Church official. You do not need a formal 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.


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.


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