Note: When letter writers sign with their first names instead of a pseudonym or nickname, I randomly change their name for added anonymity.
I was baptized Catholic when I was a baby, so obviously I had no say in the matter. As a non-believing adult, I want to remove myself from the central Catholic baptismal roster/records/big book…whatever it’s called? Would you know how to do this? Do I contact the bishop of the country I was originally born and baptized in, or do I try to contact a particular Vatican office? Any suggestions on where/how to start this process are very welcome.
This website, Count Me Out, was started in Ireland in part in reaction to the increasing number of child abuse scandals by various institutions of the Catholic Church, including the infamous Ryan report. They have a form that people can fill out that they say starts the process of being officially removed from the rosters of the Catholic Church with a “Declaration of Defection.” They also have a very informative FAQ section which discusses the different procedures in various countries other than Ireland. At the time of my writing, they claim to have helped more than 6,400 people to complete and send a Declaration of Defection to the proper Church authorities.
Here is an interesting six minute Irish television news report that includes Count Me Out. It’s mainly about these issues in Ireland, but it also covers issues that may be pertinent to many people.
Daniel, I don’t know if this applies to you, but some people might wonder, if you’re really over your belief in gods, then why don’t you just walk away? If you no longer believe in what gives the Church its authority, what does it matter to you that some bishop officially scratches your name off a list?
Some people might even suggest that maybe you still have some lingering notion of the Church’s intrinsic power, rather than just the power that you were giving it when you were a believer, and that wanting this formal parting from the Church is actually reaffirming the power it still has over you. They might say that if you are truly free of the Church, then you should be able to follow the advice of Paul Simon’s song, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover:
You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Just listen to me
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free
I can see the point that such people would be making, and I think it would be a good idea to search yourself for any sticky bits of the spell that might remain in the nooks and crannies of your mind, and clean them out.
But these arguments do not necessarily apply to everyone who wants to file a Declaration of Defection. I can understand at least two reasons why someone who is fully free of the Church’s authority in their mind would still want to have a formal, recognized separation.
The first is a political reason. In some countries, the Catholic Church is intermingled with the civil government in various ways, and they benefit from public funds for providing services such as schools. Their claim to have large numbers of members gives them more clout to ask for a larger portion of taxpayer money. If you don’t want to support that kind of church/state entanglement, or to have your name adding to the Church’s claim of its size, and therefore the power and money it can wield, then it would make sense to want your name properly taken off their books.
One problem with this is that it’s not in the Church’s financial or political interests to accurately report a shrinking membership to the government. So I would not be surprised if they are quite lax about getting around to removing names, or counting anyone as having ever left the Church. I don’t know if there’s any way the Church membership census can be independently audited, to really know how many people are actively involved, how many are Catholic in name only, and how many have formally left. It’s tempting for groups to pretend to be bigger than they are, especially when no one else does the counting.
The second reason is an emotional one, and emotional needs can be just as legitimate as any other. Some people have more than simply lost their interest in religion. Some have had difficult or painful experiences while under the control of the Church, or have been through a difficult or painful process of letting go of their beliefs. So they have a need to express their hard-won emancipation directly to the institution against which they struggled. They want the Church to actually hear their farewells or their screw you’s, and they want the Church to see, at least figuratively on an official document, their raised third digit. It’s important to them that the object of their disaffection actually see such a gesture. It’s about defiance, finality, and closure. Then their healing can continue.
Daniel, whatever is your need for this, I hope that it helps your healing to continue, and you can finally walk away “and get yourself free.” Perhaps the final stage of freedom is no longer thinking about the Church at all.