A formal act of defection from the Catholic Church (Latin actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia catholica) was an externally provable juridic act of departure from the Catholic Church, which was recognized from 1983 to 2010 in the Code of Canon Law as having certain juridical effects enumerated in canons 1086, 1117 and 1124. The concept of "formal" act of defection was narrower than that of "notorious" (publicly known) defection recognized in the 1917 Code of Canon Law[ and still narrower than the concept of "de facto" defection. In 2006, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts specified in what a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church consisted. In 2009, all mention of a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church and of any juridical effects deriving from it was removed from the Code.
Between 1983 and 2006, the Catholic Church in Germany and some other countries treated as a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church the declaration that some made to the civil authorities for the purpose of avoiding the extra tax traditionally collected by the state for the benefit of whatever Church the tax-payer was a member of. The Church in those countries considered people who made this declaration as no longer entitled to the privileges of membership of the Church, such as having a wedding in church.
The 2006 notification ruled that such declarations did not necessarily indicate a decision to abandon the Church in reality. It laid down that only the competent bishop or parish priest was to judge whether the person genuinely intended to leave the Church through an act of apostasy, heresy, or schism. It also pointed out that single acts of apostasy, heresy or schism (which can be repented) do not necessarily involve also a decision to leave the Church, and so "do not in themselves constitute a formal act of defection if they are not externally concretized and manifested to the ecclesiastical authority in the required manner."
The notification required therefore that the decision to leave the Church had to be manifested personally, consciously and freely, and in writing, to the competent Church authority, who was then to judge whether it was genuinely a case of "true separation from the constitutive elements of the life of the Church ... (by) an act of apostasy, heresy or schism."
If the bishop or parish priest decided that the individual had indeed made a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church – making a decision on this matter would normally require a meeting with the person involved – the fact of this formal act was to be noted in the register of the person's baptism. This annotation, like other annotations in the baptismal register, such as those of marriage or ordination, was unrelated to the fact of the baptism: it was not a "debaptism" (a term sometimes used journalistically): the fact of having been baptized remained a fact, and the Catholic Church holds that baptism marks a person with a seal or character that "is an ontological and permanent bond which is not lost by reason of any act or fact of defection".
The motu proprio Omnium in mentem of 26 October 2009 removed from the canons in question all reference to an act of formal defection from the Catholic Church. Accordingly, "it is no longer appropriate to enter attempts at formal defection in the sacramental records since this juridic action is now abolished.
In late August 2010, the Holy See confirmed that it was no longer possible to defect formally from the Catholic Church. However, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin declared on 12 October 2010 that it intended to keep a register of those who expressed the wish to defect. Since this fell short of making an annotation in the baptismal register, CountMeOut (an association in the archdiocese that had been promoting formal defections from the Catholic Church) thereupon ceased to provide defection forms.
Although the act of "formal defection" from the Catholic Church has thus been abolished, public or "notorious" (in the canonical sense) defection from the Catholic faith or from the communion of the Church is of course possible, as is expressly recognized in the Code of Canon Law. Even defection that is not known publicly is subject to the automatic spiritual penalty of excommunication laid down in canon 1364 of the Code of Canon Law.
The Vatican Blocks the Exit
October 23, 2010 PATHEOS - FRIENDLY ATHEIST
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.
Most Catholics had no say in their becoming members of the Catholic Church. They were brought to be baptised as babies.
Then they were confirmed as school children and again they had no say.
Of course this is no problem if you are happy about being a Roman Catholic.
But if you are NOT HAPPY there should be a formal WAY OUT for you.
To refuse to let people is to behave like a CULT. Cults never let people leave voluntarily.
For a number of years the Vatican did allow people to register defection. But then they found it lost them money and they stopped it.
Now they want to trap you for life - and indeed eternity!
What do readers think about this?