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Oliver Wellington wrote:

Hi, guys —

I would like to formally renounce my Baptism and membership in the Catholic Church.

  • What is the best way to do this?

I want any and all records destroyed. An official certificate of renunciation signed by a local bishop would be nice.

  • Are those available?

Thanks in advance!


  { What is the best way to formally renounce my Baptism and membership in the Catholic Church? }

Eric replied:

Sorry to hear you feel this way, Oliver.

  • Any particular reason for this course of action?

There is no way to have your sacramental documents destroyed, as they pertain to sacraments that cannot be repeated (except for marriage, which can't be repeated while your spouse is alive). The documents are needed as evidence to keep the sacraments in order.

If you wish, you can write a letter to your local bishop renouncing your membership but, practically speaking, this will do nothing except make you feel better. You'll be subject to the same laws.
(It would have freed you from Catholic law a few months ago but new rules went into effect.)

I'd just make this comment: If you think the Catholic Church has power over you: requiring the release you are asking for, perhaps you believe in it more than you think.


Mike replied:

Hi, Eric —

In this answer you said:
If you wish, you can write a letter to your local bishop renouncing your membership but, practically speaking, this will do nothing except make you feel better. You'll be subject to the same laws. (It would have freed you from Catholic law a few months ago but new rules went into effect.)

  • What rules went into effect?


Eric replied:

Hi, Mike —

When the new Code of Canon Law was put into effect in 1983, it applied Catholic marriage law to those Catholics who had not left the Church by a formal act. That is to say, if you did not get married in the Church but had not left the Church by a formal act, the marriage was invalid;
but if you had, you were treated as a Protestant. The trouble was, formal act was never defined, and there were some abuses or undesirable situations going on. So, a dubium was issued (I think that's the term) a few years ago which changed canon law to say that in order to be considered non-Catholic for purposes of canon law, you had to write a letter to your bishop renouncing the faith.

This clarified what formal act meant, but in practice, it only screwed things up further since no one actually bothered doing this. Throwing up their hands in exasperation, a few months ago they changed the law again, this time saying that there was no way to be excused from the provisions of canon law once you became Catholic.

Thus once you become Catholic, even if you join a Protestant church or become the most bitter atheist spewing hateful invectives and blaspheming Christ, your marriages will still be invalid
if they are conducted outside of the Catholic Church.


Oliver replied:

You said:
Sorry to hear you feel this way, Oliver.

Any particular reason for this course of action?

As a teenager, I was sexually abused by my parish priest. Although I reported it then, nothing was ever done about it, despite the fact that the priest confessed to it. In fact, the bishop and his lawyers threatened me if I went public. The bishop removed the priest from his position only because he was forced to. To this day, he still defends that priest.

That is the Church you believe in.


Eric replied:

Oliver —

What happened to you was terrible and should not have happened by any stretch of the imagination. The priest and bishop will have to answer for it on Judgment Day and they will pay a very harsh penalty indeed. Your feelings are understandable. But let me suggest this:

Sexual abuse occurs in a wide range of occupations, from day care providers to teachers to policemen to relatives and so forth and is usually covered up and ignored, as in your case. Nevertheless, no one ever says:

I don't believe in the public education system anymore because a teacher abused me and the administrators didn't believe me.


I don't believe in families anymore because my uncle abused me. or what have you.

yet, people say this about the Church. Why is that?

It would be one thing if the doctrines of the Church taught that:

  • sexual abuse was good, or
  • priests should not be questioned, or
  • what a priest did was without sin

    but that's not what we believe.

What happened to you was wrong by Catholic standards. No one ever said that there would not be sinners in the Church. The fact that one Church leader sins doesn't disprove the whole Church and its 2,000 year history. It has been so from the beginning. Among the first twelve bishops, two committed grievous sins. One betrayed the Lord. Another denied him. (And he was the first pope!) If you're looking for sinless people you're looking in the wrong place. (Let me know when you find them.)

This is not to minimize your pain or justify what was done. What was done to you was not justifiable. But just as I do not renounce my U.S. citizenship because one or two politicians do something wrong, the fact a bishop and priest grievously erred doesn't mean you should renounce the Church.

It will, I expect, require heroic effort to get over this fact but you should at least give it serious consideration, because your soul is at stake.


Oliver replied:

OK, so you don't believe a higher standard should be expected of the Catholic Church?

That's encouraging! So we should all lower our expectations of priests and of bishops:

  • who claim to be on the side of God himself!
  • who claim moral authority!
  • who claim to advocate for those wronged!

  • We should expect them to behave no better than a common criminal?

I don't hear principals, teachers, day care providers claiming the high ground and lecturing everyone about morality.

  • In that case, why should anyone choose the Church, when they could just as well join NAMBLA and get the same results?
  • Normal people everywhere know that this is wrong, so why should we have to wait until Judgment Day to hold the perpetrators and their protectors accountable?

The very men who are responsible for this are still in office, and you're still kissing their rings. People like you are one of the reasons the abuse has flourished.

You make me sick.


Eric replied:

Oliver —

I'm not saying there shouldn't be a higher standard; you are quite right, there should be.

I'm saying that the fact that some priests fail at that high standard — and I guarantee you they will — doesn't prove that the whole religion is wrong, bogus, or illegitimate. The two are not connected.

No matter how high your standard, no matter how important the person, someone violating it doesn't prove God doesn't exist. It doesn't prove the Catholic Church is not the Church Christ founded and it doesn't prove Catholicism is wrong. All it proves is that priests are sinners, just like us, which the Church will gladly grant you.

While your feeling is certainly understandable, allowing ourselves to be consumed with anger or hate against anyone just turns us into empty shells of men and deprives us of joy. Someone once said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

While I suspect the term grudge doesn't do justice to what you feel, the same principle applies.

I hope you can find a place in your heart for some measure of forgiveness; if not for the perpetrator, then for the Church; if not for someone else's sake, for your own.


Oliver replied:


You insist on using the word sinner, when they are criminals. It's more than a sin when a child is raped. Until Church officials take responsibility and are held accountable, they are not of Christ, and neither is your Church.

As far as I am concerned, until those responsible are forced out, the faithful are also responsible and holding others responsible for such crimes doesn't mean that forgiveness is absent.

I just want to make it fully official that I reject my membership in your organization and that I have good reason to do so.


Mike replied:

Hi, Oliver —

This is from the Vatican web site. You may find it helpful.

Hope this helps,


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