CountMeOut.ie, a Website That Showed Irish Catholics How to Formally Leave the Church, to Shut Down

In 2009, Cormac Flynn, Paul Dunbar and GrĂ¡inne O’Sullivan began a website called CountMeOut.ie which gave step-by-step directions for how to formally leave the Catholic Church:

They published a sample “declaration of defection” (PDF) that you could download. You just had to get it signed, witnessed, and sent to the Church where you got baptized, and that was it! You could finally wash your hands free of Catholicism.

Obviously, if you were already a former-Catholic (like the three guys starting the site), this sounded like just a mere formality. But it made a strong statement, and more than 12,000 people downloaded the form. More importantly, it removed your name from the Church’s roster, a list the Church frequently touted as it got involved in government-run things like education and health care.

You would think the Church would support such a declaration of defection — why keep people who are no longer Catholic on your rolls? Wouldn’t you want an accurate count of how many people were truly in your Church? Wouldn’t it be deceptive to inflate those numbers with people who really wanted nothing to do with you?

Well, it’s not like the Church is known for taking the ethical high road…

A year after the website was created, the Vatican modified the Code of Canon Law to remove all references to defection. The declaration no longer had any impact and there was no formal way to leave the Church.

Our own Richard Wade suggested there were three reasons for this change:

  • It saved the Church a lot of embarrassment.
  • It saved the Church a lot of work.
  • it saved the Church a lot of money.

Since then, the co-founders have been trying to figure out what options there are for people who want to officially leave the Catholic Church. They contacted Church leaders in Ireland and the Vatican but nobody’s responding.

It’s almost like they don’t want to give anyone an easy way out…

There is another option, of course — Declaring that you’re not a Catholic on the official Census — but I suspect that anyone willing to download the defection form would already be doing that. Furthermore, telling people you’re not a Catholic isn’t the same as getting your name permanently stricken from the Church registry.

In any case, since the declaration of defection is meaningless now and Church leaders won’t respond to their inquiries, the founders of CountMeOut are shutting down the site for good:

The campaign proved very successful in the early stages and generated a lot of debate. As a group, we felt it was important for people to reflect on their relationship with the church and decide whether they could remain as a member. Countmeout.ie very much regrets having to cease operations. We continue to receive emails regularly from people who wish to leave the church and it is clear that there are large numbers counted as Catholic who no longer regard themselves as adherents to the faith. The failure of the church to allow people to exercise their religious freedom is contrary to the most basic understanding of human rights and religious expression. Furthermore, the church’s decision to ignore repeated requests for clarity and provide alternatives to defection is deeply regrettable.

I don’t know that it’s a violation of human rights and religious expression, but it is a dick move on the Church’s part. And it’s really too bad. The atheists were offering a service that would have allowed for more honesty within the Church walls — and the Church refuses to cooperate. There’s still no easy way to get your name off their lists even if you no longer attend Church and even if you actively campaign against Catholic beliefs.

Then again, the Church has rarely ever done the right thing when it involved bad publicity. Why start now?

(via The Irish Times)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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