How to Leave the Catholic Church

praying in church

If you are here because you are looking for information on how to leave the Catholic Church, you are in good company. Many Catholics and former Catholics are interested in doing so. Those leaving have many good reasons for doing so. And if you are here, the same may be true for you.

Perhaps you disgusted with the Catholic Church over their hypocritical opposition to reproductive rights and contraception. Or maybe your head still reeling over the latest in what seems like a never-ending series of scandals involving priests raping children while Church hierarchy covers it up, and Catholic spokesmen find creative ways to blame the victims and their families? Or maybe you are finding it increasingly difficult to want to be part of an organization that still seems to be stuck in the Dark Ages. It is difficult to comprehend why anyone would want to remain a member of the Catholic Church these days.

It may surprise you to know that if you were ever baptized in the Church, they still count you as a member. It does not matter that you might have stopped going to church years ago. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, you are still one of them. It also does not matter whether you were so young at the time you were baptized that you had no idea what was happening. They'll keep counting you because it makes their numbers look healthy to do so.

How To Remove Yourself From the Catholic Church

Until recently, it was possible to leave the Catholic Church by completing a "declaration of defection" and submitting it to them. The process involved the following steps:

  1. Complete a declaration of defection.
  2. Send it to your local diocese.
  3. Realize that they may request a meeting to discuss your decision. You don't have to comply, but you do need to respond to the request or they may use this as an excuse not to process your request.
They used to honor these declarations; however, it appears that they are no longer willing to do so. Evidently, too many people were leaving, and this began to make their organization look like it had a problem. Instead of heeding numerous calls to implement effective solutions, they opted to deny former Catholics with a way out (see this extremely discouraging report from The Washington Post). This makes it sound like the Catholic Church is determined to count anyone who was ever baptized and deny them a way out. This speaks volumes about the moral character of this organization, doesn't it?

Former Catholics Need a Way Out

Maybe if enough people begin demanding a way out, the Church will eventually listen and be persuaded to make some necessary changes. Then again, maybe they'll just continue to find new victims in Africa and South America. Regardless, having a way to leave the Catholic Church is important for one's own piece-of-mind. If nothing else, it would be one way to make sure that one is not complicit in their crimes.

As long as the Church continues to deny former Catholics a formal exit, here are some things you might consider:

  • Go through the defection process described above anyway - even if they won't accept it, they'll know plenty of people are looking for a way out
  • Write a letter to your bishop requesting excommunication
  • Depending on where you live, you may have access to secular laws that can be used to pressure the Church to let you leave
  • Speak up and actively distance yourself from the Church - just because they might not let you leave does not mean you need to quietly go away
  • Learn more about the valuable work being done by Child Rights International Network (CRIN) and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and consider supporting them

An early version of this post appeared at Atheist Revolution in 2010. It was most recently updated in 2021 to fix broken links, improve clarity, and provide additional information about options to consider now that this corrupt organization is denying people a way out.