Are You Sure You’re Not Catholic?
The question sounds silly only as long as you don’t know about the weird policy the church has regarding whom they consider to be a member. Essentially, once you’ve been baptized they regard you as a member for life – it doesn’t matter whether you actually believe in any of their doctrine, attend service, or belong to any community. Once a member, always a member, like it or not.
There are only two ways to end your membership in the Roman Catholic Church (and, by the way, most other churches too): Through either excommunication or formal defection.
Why is this important?
So if you have ever been baptized, by default you should assume that you are a member. Now before I tell you how to put an end to that sorry state, let’s discuss what reasons there are for withdrawing your membership. It’s quite simple: As most of us live in democracies, the churches’ claim to power is the number of people it represents, or claims to represent. Large membership numbers give them a kind of we-are-the-people-authority. Ending your membership is the most direct and effective way of diminishing the churches political power.
You don’t need to be an atheist to withdraw your membership, either. I think even believers should consider quitting the church; it seems quite obvious to me that if there was a god, this
corporation organization of child-molesting, genocidal, chauvinist virgins is probably the one organization furthest away from representing his views. The structural problems and the political agenda that organization has by far outweigh any possible benefits that being a member could possibly have – Read the bible if you must, follow Jesus if you like, but please maintain enough of a link to reality to understand that the “Holy See” is pretty much the definition of evil, that condoms are a good thing, that stem-cell research saves lives without harming anyone, and that a woman’s interest in determining the course of her own life exceeds the imaginary right of a small, unfeeling, unconscious clot of cells to survive. You are perfectly free to believe in a higher being, and worship it by whatever name, but you should be awake enough to realize that the church is a political organization that represents views that, throughout history, have clearly shown to be extremely damaging to society.
So now that established the reasons to end your membership, how do you go about it? As I’ve said before, there are two ways: Excommunication and formal defection. Let’s take a look at both.
It’s the unlikely option. Excommunication means that you do something so horrible that the church herself will take action to end your membership, or as they put it, “deprive you of the privileges of being a member”.
You may think that in an organization as conservative as the catholic church it should be pretty easy to shock them enough to kick you out, and you’d be wrong. As recent history has shown, being excommunicated turns out to be rather hard. Apparently, things like genocide or the molestation and rape of over 200 deaf boys just don’t seem to be enough. Covering up all those crimes doesn’t do the trick, either. Well, you might always try to do one of those really revolting, unforgivable things, like getting divorced. That worked pretty well back in the 16th century, but recently the church seems to be loosening up on that one.
Formal defection definitely is the more workable solution. Write a letter to your local bishop or parish priest. Here is a beautiful example of what that might look like:
Cardinal Francis George
c/o Archdiocese of Chicago
835 N. Rush St.
Chicago, IL 60611-2030
Declaration of Defection from the Roman Catholic Church
I, ——–, do hereby give formal notice of my defection from the Roman Catholic Church. I do not consider myself part of the church, and I have not attended or donated to any church since 2004. I do not believe in God, the divinity or resurrection of Jesus, the immaculate conception or assumption of Mary, or the Holy Ghost. I am an atheist and have been working to promote skepticism of religion since 2008.
I am especially repulsed by the church’s teachings regarding homosexuality. I reject the notion that homosexual desires or the expression of these desires are in any way sinful, disordered, or an “intrinsic moral evil.” On the contrary, the church’s continual mistreatment of gay people is the true moral evil at work here.
Make sure your defection gets noted in your baptismal register, though that should happen more or less automatically. Bureaucratic stuff like that is one area the church is actually good at. It might be of interest to you that defecting from the church does not actually undo your baptism. According to the laws of their weird twisted fantasy-land, the baptism is a mark that “is an ontological and permanent bond which is not lost by reason of any act or fact of defection”, meaning that although they recognize that you left the “earthly” organization of the RCC, they cannot change your underlying identity as a catholic, which results in your soul still being subject to all canon laws, whatever that means.
However, what the defection does is stopping them to use you as a number in their statistic to justify their political power. And that makes it totally worth it.
PS: In some countries the process might be more complicated, namely when the state is involved in the administration of membership and church tax. I can’t tell you much about that, but I’m sure that in pretty much any country of this world there are secular organizations happy to provide you with all the information and help you might need. If you’re a German planning to leave the church, feel free to contact me. I’ll be glad to help out or put you in touch with organizations that will.