Before I start this, I want to say that I am being very mindful of this not turning into a "The Catholic Church is perverted, corrupt and evil" rant.  This goes far beyond that.

The ongoing (and yes, apparently systemic) sexual abuse scandals again high up in the media spotlight is of truly grave concern to so many these days (and society in general).  That is only obvious, and only right.  I am saddened beyond words for those hurt by the actions of these offending people; not only those people who have suffered directly at the hands of abusers, but also for those of true faith and piety who must now experience the degradation of their deeply-held faith not merely -via- the actions of a few, but of the unconscionable and deceitful behavior of pastoral leadership that looked the other way (or tacitly enabled the offenders to continue on in pastoral duties behind the veil of a vast and secretive church bureaucracy).

As so often is the case when one decides to follow a new spiritual path or practice, one simply stops attending an earlier congregation or church, and begins to attend or pursue another.  While this is of no true practical issue for most (very few spiritual organizations require you to formally or practically denounce or condemn a former faith to begin practice with them, although formal rites of initiation into a new faith often does, if not at least implicitly), it may be a tacit point of contention for the practitioner once they truly understand a few points.

Many (if not most) churches count their size (that is, the "official" size of their congregation) by their historical membership rolls.  What this means in a practical sense is that if you do not "un-enroll" yourself, you are being counted as a supporting member of said church, and as an implication, a supporter of the church hierarchy and its leadership.  Further, that means if you were merely baptized by a given church, and never even went to so much as a single service, you are still counted as a full and supporting member of the church, and its leadership.  So, you are de facto still a supporting member, even if in name only.

Many, many people are now estranged from (if not disaffected and wholly offended by the actions of) a number of formal dogmatic churches due to sexual scandal and pastoral impropriety.  They want nothing to do with a given church anymore, so typically they simply stop attending.  But they invariably do not take the proper steps to totally sever ties with the offending church, mostly because the mechanism for such a formal severing of ties is not something most churches make abundantly clear.  As such, they still are being counted.  For many, this "latent affiliation" is not something they can have rest comfortably with their conscience either.


  • To be fair, the Roman Catholic Church is not the only organized religion that has suffered sexual impropriety.  Buddhist traditions all over the world, and throughout history, have suffered them also, as well as any number of other faiths east and west.
  • Any time a person of good conscience leaves a formalized and institutionalized spiritual organization (read "religion") due to any number of reasons (not the least of which should be an apparent or obvious pattern of unethical behavior within its ordained practitioners and/or leadership) they should take the time to have their name removed from the pastoral rolls and record.
  • One should take time to do so especially if the ethical issues in question seem to be systemic and/or have been actively hidden from public view.
What to do?

In the Roman Catholic Church (and the Anglican/Episcopal churches, as well I believe) there is a formal mechanism for completely leaving the corpus eclesiastica.  It is called defection.

To defect, you simply need to write a letter to the archbishop of the diocese you were baptized in stating that you no longer wish to be counted as member of the church.  You need to include:
  • the date you were born
  • the date of your baptism (if you have it)
  • the reason(s) why you wish to defect (incongruity of beliefs, church impropriety, etc)
  • an example of actions you have taken to distance yourself from the church (non-attendance, lack of tithe support, public denouncement of church dogma or public demonstration of another faith)
  • a statement of "sound mind" (that is; "I am making this decision with a sound mind after careful and rigorous consideration")
  • a statement that your decision is unilateral, final and irrevocable
  • a line that states that you appreciate the gravity of your decision and fully understand what your decision means, including its ramifications (if any)
  • an unequivocal denouncement of the "trappings" of the church in question
  • a demand to be removed from all pastoral records
  • a request to have your removal confirmed in return correspondence from the archdiocese
  • a signature and date
Depending on the church or the completeness of the information you provide, you may have to take one or two more steps.  They may ask you for proof of baptism.  There are mechanisms for that.  You may or may not wish to comply with that request.  The diocese may offer to have you speak with a priest.  That is totally optional, and you can simply say that you respectfully decline that offer, and demand to have your unilateral defection recognized immediately.

As an example, below is my letter of defection:

I do this not as a way to either lash out at the Catholic Church, or encourage people towards any given spiritual direction, but simply as a way for all people of good and mindful deliberation to be able to act upon their desire to have their spiritual affiliations be either counted or not counted in accordance with their hearts and their conscience.

May those hurt find peace.

May those who have caused hurt find a way to make amends.

May all beings be free from suffering.

May all beings be at peace.

All evil karma ever committed by me since of old,
On account of my beginning-less greed, anger and ignorance,
Born of my body, mouth and thought,
Now I atone for it all.

May your life go well...


Lily said...

I have never officially withdrawn from the Catholic Church my mum had me baptized in. Your points are well made and I see now that as a responsible human I must follow suit. It misses most people's attention that sometimes we are "doing something" by NOT doing something.

Thank you for bringing this so clearly to attention.