This week one of the founders of a website that provided information and assistance to people who wished to officially leave the Catholic Church has said that the site will close, because formal rules for leaving the church are so hard to navigate.
Countmeout.ie was established in 2009, offering visitors a Declaration of Defection form that could be mailed to a local parish priest. An annotation would then be added to a person’s baptismal certificate, thereby formally leaving the Catholic Church whether for change in religious or spiritual belief or suiting to a more secular perspective in life.
Over 12,000 of the forms were downloaded from the site, but an official change to canon law in 2009 has made it impossible to formally defect from the church. The Archdiocese of Dublin said that it will maintain a register of those who have expressed an interest in defecting.
However, without the baptismal certificate annotation, the group says that the register is irrelevant.
In the formal statement on the website announcing that the site ceasing operations is as follows:
The countmeout.ie campaign which provided a means to formally leave the Catholic Church is to cease operations with immediate effect. The website was established in June 2009, largely as a response to the child abuse scandals, enabling those who no longer felt they were members of the church to formally remove themselves.
The campaign was based on a “Declaration of Defection” which could be downloaded from the website and sent to one’s local parish. The result was an annotation in the baptismal register confirming that the person had defected. In late 2010, countmeout.ie became aware of a change to Canon law which effectively removed this option.
Since this change of Canon law, the campaign has focused on alternative means to formally leave the church. Numerous letters have been written to various church leaders, both in Ireland and in The Vatican, enquiring as to how one can formally leave the church. The church has failed to respond to any of these requests. The Archdiocese of Dublin has proposed to set up a register of those who have expressed a wish to defect but have stipulated that this will have no consequence in Canon law, rendering it effectively meaningless to the Church.
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.
The website will remain live for a number of months as we feel the information available on the site may prove useful to some.
As part of an interview for the Journal.ie Paul Dunbar, one of three people who had founded the CountMeOut website, said that trying to find ways around the 2009 decision by Pope Benedict XVI to abolish formal defection was like “repeatedly hitting our head against a brick wall”.
“We can’t get a meaningful answer from anyone in the Catholic Church, so we’ve decided to cease operations.”
Dunbar says that even since defection was abolished, many people have visited the website, mailed the owners and “reflected on their own relationship with the Catholic Church.”
“The campaign proved very successful in the early stages and generated a lot of debate. The website will remain live for a number of months as we feel the information available on the site may prove useful to some.”
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