Formal Defection from Roman Catholicism in Canon Law - Social and Legal Implications
As membership in the Roman Catholic Church implies tacit approval for the lies and damage the Church does it is important for people of integrity to consider leaving the Church - defecting. Critics of the Church still tacitly approve in the sense that they don't consider the harm bad enough or the threat great enough to consider going.

Membership of any religion or organisation requires:

1 That you have your name listed as a member.

2 That you believe in what the organisation stands for or are on a journey to believe. This means you must not deliberately repudiate what the organisation believes in. It means you know it is at least possible that the beliefs are true. If Catholicism is false and you know it, you cannot be a real member of the Catholic Church.

3 That you work for the ideals of the organisation.  Ideals are not about who or how many lives up to them.  Being in a religion that has no ideals or bad ones is an absolute no no.  It means you are not even trying to be good properly in the first place.

If your name is listed that does not necessarily make you a real member but merely one that is listed as a member. It's legal membership. Its membership according to the rules. Its nominal membership. But reality may be different. For example, you can be considered married in the eyes of the law but for some reason the marriage might not be valid or real. Number 2 is essential for real membership. If you do not fit requirement number 3 then clearly you may be a member but not a good one.


Defection from a religion is ceasing to be a member of that religion. A religion that believes in religious freedom will recognise your departure.

Baptism and confirmation confer membership in the Roman Catholic Church. If you've been baptised in the Roman Catholic Church the church counts you as a member for life even if you stop attending and giving it money. The only way to cancel the membership is by formal defection or by defecting to another religion. Formal defection involves notifying the bishop of the diocese you were baptised in that you want to leave the Church and to be officially regarded as having left. The end goal is to have it recorded that you are no longer a Roman Catholic. Such a procedure is only valid if the person leaves freely and without coercion.

Some Catholics say that this formal defection is only a recognition by the Church that you refuse to obey the Church. Rather than giving any right to disobey, the Church through Canon Law is just like a parent letting a rebellious child have it his own way. But what would the Church need to engage in a formal recognition for? Why not just let the child go? If your rebel daughter walks out of the house giving her her own way only means you let her go not that you declare that she has defected from the family.

The recognition of formal defection by Canon Law then means that you can leave the Church in principle even if current Church law does not provide for formal defection. It sadly doesn't provide.

Also the Church claimed the abolition of formal defection was retrospective. This is obviously invalid. It is like the law of the land decreeing suddenly that marriages are no longer considered valid and that this applies to marriages that have taken place in the last ten years. This retrospective law would be unjust for the law recognised such marriages until recently.

We conclude that formal defection in principle is still valid.  A law letting you leave and remove your Catholic "citizenship" cannot be retrospectively revoked.  You legally leave or you do not - there is no limbo.

If it is true that if a baptised Catholic becomes say a Hindu and is still in reality a Catholic no matter what he or she does to try and become an ex-Catholic, it follows that the conversion should not be taken seriously by the Church, society, family or state. And the person is to be judged as one who fights his true identity and is to be judged as devoid of integrity. It denies the right of the person to suffer no disadvantage due to religion. Faith should never upset or violate anybody - the case of those using faith as an excuse for getting upset is a separate one. It denies the right of a person to take on a new religious identity.

To refuse to facilitate defection opens the door to forcing a Catholic burial on a defector, It is forcing a person to pay taxes to the Church in countries which send a cut of the Catholic's taxes to the Church.

Catholics say that it is pointless to defect for it is not going to do you any obvious harm in this world. For example, it will not happen that a Catholic who divorces and remarries without annulment will come home one day to find Church police blocking the doorway and forbidding them entry because they are living in sin. Or that a Catholic parent who fails to have their child baptised will come home one day to find that the child has been dragged to the nearest Church by the local priest and forcibly baptised in their absence. Thousands of examples could be created. But the fact remains, that if we claim that baptism binds you to the Church as a member forever these behaviours are to be required and expected. If you believe baptism binds to the Church forever that goes a little bit of the way towards legitimising such behaviour. After all the question arises because of religion and that says something! The doctrine of people necessarily being Catholics forever is insulting.


It is said that the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts enacted retroactive rules that changed what it meant to leave the Catholic Church in 2009.

Is it correct to assume that formal defection is valid but the marriage laws of the Church are still in force for defectors? Does that exemption still imply the defectors are members?

The Motu Proprio clearly says that formal defection no longer exempts you from the marriage rules for Catholics. Formal defection now no longer has any consequences in canon law. But this seems to apply only to marriage law. In other words, defectors will still be kept under Catholic marriage laws. So formal defection is valid but the marriage laws of the Church are still in force for defectors. This does not imply that the defectors are members of the Church. The law of the Church considers the treatment even of pagan marriages.

The reason formal defection was removed from Church law by the pope was because some people were taking advantage of the exemption it gave from the marriage laws of the Church. Thus the Church law previously recognised that formal defection meant freedom from the obligation to obey Canon Law in relation to marriage. Now the Church chooses to bind ex-Catholics to its marriage laws in order to avoid the problems and confusion that abuse of the formal defection rulings caused.

Is it the case that the abolition of formal defection was conducted not because the Church thinks you have no intrinsic right to leave but because the rules were being abused?  The Church is confused on the matter but the answer seems to be yes. The 2009 document says, “The Code of Canon Law nonetheless prescribes that the faithful who have left the Church "by a formal act" are not bound by the ecclesiastical laws regarding the canonical form of marriage (cf. can. 1117), dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult (cf. can. 1086) and the need for permission in the case of mixed marriages (cf. can. 1124). The underlying aim of this exception from the general norm of can. 11 was to ensure that marriages contracted by those members of the faithful would not be invalid due to defect of form or the impediment of disparity of cult.” So even if formal defection is abolished the Church still acknowledges that you can leave. It is not impossible in itself. The abolition is unfair for the laws could have been fixed and the abuse of formal defection does not entitle the Church to abolish it totally. Morally, the right to defect is unchanged and unalterable. It is important to think about the fact that references to formal defection being removed from Canon Law is not enough in itself to prove it is abolished. It is in limbo but not abolished.


Formal defection is only making your departure from the Church official. You do not need a defection to depart from the Catholic faith. The apostle in the First Epistle of John speaks of Christians who left the fold as not having belonged in the first place. They were only outwardly Christian but were not the real thing. Clearly, he accepted the notion of nominal members who were not members at all even though they may have done holy things and acted like members.

Most Catholics do not support the teachings of the Church. Picking what they like out of the faith is not enough for even many atheists do that. Decent persons will not want to be counted among an organization whose beliefs they do not support. This need not be spiteful. For the church to count them as members is dishonest and disrespectful to them. Likewise, for them to be able to represent themselves as Catholics is disingenuous and not fair to real Catholics. The Church teaches you excommunicate yourself when you commit certain offences, such as heresy, so you cease to become Catholic when you become convinced the Church is false. Also, if the Church is false then being Catholic is certainly only a label. It is only a man-made label conferred by a man-made faith. Nobody is really Catholic if the religion is a pure human creation.

Being a member of the Church means you consent to punishment in some form, perhaps stern disapproval, if you break canon law.  Canon Law prescribes penalties for deliberate law-breaking. 

The rules are that the Catholic must keep Canon Law even if she or he knows nothing of it.  The Protestant who is truly baptised despite having a baptism that the Catholic Church recognises as connecting them to Jesus's true Church the Catholic Church does not have to keep Canon Law.

How does a former Catholic then get out of being bound by Canon Law?

Catholics say you can still put yourself out of the Catholic organisation by heresy and schism or whatever.

The claim that you are still Catholic allegedly describes the fact not that the Church owns you or your soul but God does.  God takes ownership of you when you get baptised.

So you are not Catholic as in organisation or community but you are still spiritually Catholic - perhaps the best way to say this is your soul is Catholic.  You have broken with the Church but not with the obligation God gave you to belong properly to the Church.  You are connected through God invisibly.

The Church holds that Protestants are baptised with a Catholic baptism for there is no other kind no matter who thinks there is but they still don't become Catholics for they make a decision to follow the faith they are presented with.

Practically spekaing and socially speaking any invible connection to the Church through God and through God owning you does not matter.  If you drop the Church organisation you are in all essentials an ex-Catholic.

So it is not true that Canon Law fails to admit that there are ex-Catholics. Canon Law does not decree that it is impossible to be an ex-Catholic. It presupposes that it is possible.

You could argue that if you are still owned by God despite leaving the Church that we should be saying you cannot be called Catholic but called God's.  It is not clear why we have to call this ghostly connection Catholic.  Why not Christian or something? 
Anyway non-Catholics are not bound by Canon Law in any way whatsoever.  Non-Catholics could still be bound by Canon Law. They are not. This proves that Canon Law holds that not all who are grafted on to the Church by baptism need obey it. Their baptismal outward membership of the Church has been cancelled.

Some say that Canon Law treats people whether they are Catholics or ex-Catholics as Catholics. If so, they are clearly treated that way for the purpose of law. It does not mean you cannot be an ex-Catholic.

Catholic doctrine says that baptism makes the baptised baby different from the baby who is not baptised. The baptised is a different kind of human - a Catholic one. There is what is called an ontological change. The soul belongs to God. Nothing can change that belonging. But even if you belong to the Church forever, that would mean you should be a member not that you are stuck with membership whether you like it or not!

Catholic baptism confers the obligation to obey Canon Law and the Pope, who stands in the place of Jesus Christ. However this is impossible if you were baptised as a baby for you cannot take all that on.

We conclude that even in Church law, it is absurd to say that you are tied to Catholic membership forever if you are baptised.

The Church teaches that Jesus Christ baptises strictly speaking, when anybody is validly baptised. Baptism outside the Catholic Church is still considered baptism into the Catholic Church.


Because you consider Church teaching untrue.

Because you consider most Catholics dishonest - they do tend to water down and lie about the content of Church teaching and undermine the right of the bishops and popes to make rules for them.

Because you consider Catholicism dangerous.

Because being counted as a member by the Church is not being respectful to yourself or to those who are true believers.

Because you sense you were never really baptised - some priests do not intend to do anything other than go through the motions. Going through the ceremony does not make it necessarily a valid ceremony.

If you joined the Church of Scientology and decided it was ripping people off and lying to them you would not say, "I no longer support this organisation. I will not attend any of its meetings or pay it any money", is sufficient for withdrawing support. You need to get the organisation to recognise you as an ex-Scientologist. Being listed as a member is a passive form of support. It is the most important form. After all, you cannot take the obligation to go to meetings and to pay money unless you become a member. Thus it is the name on the membership roll book has to be dealt with. It has to be expunged.

Departing from the Catholic faith and departing from the Catholic Church are two different and separate things. Departing from the faith is in fact a bigger separation in your heart from the Church than simply failing to practice as a Catholic.


Formal defection is only making your departure from the Church official. You do not need a defection decree to depart from the Catholic faith.  But because the Church is an organisation you need with withdraw from it as in being a part of the organisation.

To allege that baptism makes one irrevocably Catholic makes a mockery of free conscience and also of the faith of those who choose to belong.

It is important that Catholics who have departed the Church cease to be registered as a member of their parish.

Dioceses may still be "accepting" formal defection letters and acting as though canon law still includes such a process. But, it doesn't. Nevertheless, people are still able to send in such a letter. What can the diocese do, other than regretfully accept it? I'm not sure what, internally, the diocese would do after that. Another fact is that dioceses sometimes act a little behind the times as far as the law goes....

Formal defection results in de facto excommunication from the Church. Another way to get this excommunication is to renounce or abjure the faith. Excommunication is based on the concept that even if you are a member of the Church you are now a semi-member and out of communion with the Church. Excommunication puts you out of the visible Church structure.