Excommunication from the Catholic Church

I suppose one could say that this marks the end of a journey, or the completion of a circle. It’s not quite that dramatic actually, but it does feel as though I’ve accomplished a little something. After just over a month of corresponding with the Catholic Church, I received a response confirming that my excommunication was in fact automatic, and that no Church official need impose it upon me.

If you are indeed an apostate from the faith you were excommunicated “latae sententiae” (i.e., automatically) so there is no need for Bishop Bootkoski or any other Church official to impose or confirm your excommunication.

Please consider this the response you requested. No further response will be forthcoming.

Msgr. Benwell

Rev. Msgr. William Benwell, JCL

Vicar General, Diocese of Metuchen

An impressive title, that of Vicar General, but the substance of the letter wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for. I suppose it will have to do. As a child I was baptized, later took part in First Communion and then ultimately Confirmation before entering public high school in the 9th grade and leaving the Church behind. This was all done in the same church and I hadn’t considered that for all of these years they’ve counted me as a member of the flock. Now that I’ve moved well beyond being just a lapsed Catholic, having finally removed the mind shackles of superstition and fear, I couldn’t allow myself to exist as an entry on a ledger of Catholics somewhere.

The Catholic Church has an elaborate Canon of Laws, built up over the centuries I imagine. There are some very specific violations that will get you excommunicated from the Church, many of them directed specifically at clerics. Attacking the Pope also gets one kicked out of the Church, as does desecrating the Eucharist. Neither of these options seemed right for me, but Canon 751 fit like a tailored suit.

Canon 751: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

I believe I’ve demonstrated that I’ve not only committed all three of these offenses, but that I actually have some skills in the commission of them. The penalty for heresy, apostasy or schism is outlined in Canon 1364:

Canon 1364 §1: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

The phrase “latae sententiae” means a judgment or sentence which is ‘wide’ (latae) or widely applied; it refers to a type of excommunication which is automatic. Such a sentence of excommunication is incurred “by the very commission of the offense,” (CCC 2272) and does not require the future particular judgment of a case by competent authority.

So technically speaking, I was excommunicated as soon as I committed any of the offenses that qualify as heresy, apostasy or schism. But I still wanted some kind of recognition from the Church. I suppose I wanted them to know I was a heretic.

I will share the correspondence I used to accomplish this in case any of you desire to do the same thing. The first letter I wrote laid out the case for my excommunication. Feel free to use it as a template for your own request.

“Dear Sirs:

I was indoctrinated into the Roman Catholic faith as a child by my parents and received my First Communion and Confirmation at the Holy Trinity Church in Perth Amboy, NJ. I wish to formally renounce my Catholicism under the Canon Law 751 and 1364. The short version is, I am atheist and do not believe a word of the supernatural “teachings” of any religion, but more specifically:

  • I am an atheist.
  • I hereby renounce all the trappings of religion.
  • I renounce all blessings, benefits, graces, sanctifications, and advantages supposedly conferred on me by any religion or by any religious act done by me or on my behalf in the past, present or future.
  • I condemn as monstrous the idea of original sin, and renounce any baptism done on my behalf to wash it away.
  • I reject as ridiculous the idea of an atoning sacrifice and spurn its presumed benefits.
  • I do not believe that any god, supernatural realm or afterlife exists, and will not act as if they did.
  • I do not believe that any book, building, place, person, thing or action is holy and will not pretend that they are.
  • I do not think that praying is anything more than talking to yourself and will not make believe that it is.
  • I do not believe that any person is more sanctified than any other, or that any human being should be elevated above another in any way, due to ancestry, race, gender, occupation, belief or for any other reason and will not feign that I do.
  • As a principled and rational person, it pains me that someone, somewhere may be counting me as an adherent of an irrational superstition which has done and is doing irreparable harm to humanity and with which I profoundly disagree.

Please remove my name from the records of the church, and record that I am no longer a Roman Catholic. Please send me confirmation of this action. Please do this as soon as possible.”

  • Disclaimer: My letter is not completely original. I found most of the bullet items on-line.

This letter was sent both to the Parish and the Diocese they are a part of. I also sent one to my local Diocese in case they could do the excommunicating. I sent it via regular mail and email. I got a fairly quick response from the Bishop’s office for my local Diocese indicating that I had to request this from the Church where my records were stored—which I had assumed anyway—and that he’d keep me in his prayers. So I’ve got that going for me.

I didn’t get a response from the NJ Diocese, so I sent a request for one a short time later. In total, I wrote three additional follow-up letters until I got the response I listed above.

Heresy was once punishable by death, including burning at the stake. The last person burned alive for heresy on orders from Rome was Giordano Bruno in 1600. The last execution for heresy was in 1826 when Cayetano Ripoll was executed as part of the Spanish Inquisition. Perhaps the most famous heretic was Galileo Galilei, the father of modern science, who was condemned as a heretic for the outrageous crime of believing that the earth revolved around the sun. He was found guilty of being vehemently suspect of heresy and sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life. It took the Catholic Church until 1992 to apologize to Galileo.

Apostasy, which is the complete repudiation of one’s religion, is still punishable by death in some countries. Fortunately, the United States isn’t one of those, so I’ll wear my apostate title with pride and honor.

Epilogue

The Holy Trinity Church, where I received First Communion and Confirmation, called to let me know that they did not have my baptismal records. My baptism was performed in another church and I’d need to contact them to ensure I was removed from the record books.

I called my mother who provided the name of the church, the date of my baptism and the name of the priest who performed it, all from memory. I was impressed. I thought she would be upset about my apostasy, but she knows I left the church long ago and she supports me. My mother may be a Catholic, but she’s an apostate herself. Her beliefs fall into the pantheistic category, though she isn’t familiar with the term.

I contacted the Church of Notre Dame in New York who responded very quickly. Upon providing them my original letter of apostasy (the one I included above) and the response from the Church, the priest advised he would correct the records and send me an updated Baptismal Certificate. I had a good feeling that the Father would expedite the transaction because he was emailing me from his iPad.

Within a few short days, I received my Baptismal Certificate with the Notation that I Renounced the Faith by formal act.

I thought I’d feel more elated, but I suppose it’s a mere formality. I renounced the faith a very long time ago.

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13 comments

  1. You are the greatest, I am forwarding this to all my atheist friends, perhaps the Catholic religion would like a chain mail heresy letter…

  2. misterfonzie · · Reply

    Congrats. Do you suppose that bish actually did keep you in his prayers? Because I think that’s a load of hooey.

    1. Oh I’m quite sure he didn’t give me a second thought. Maybe he visualized me burning for eternity but that’s about it.

  3. Wow ! That’s certainly Epic . . . If I was going to be buried when I die ( though, in all odds I will be cremated )
    I would totally have that certificate nailed into my chest – or at least stapled in the inside of the casket.
    I certainly commend your effort to let the Catholic Church know that another has left. It was interesting to learn that there is a list of canons for excommunications in which to choose from.
    Definitely happy for you that we live in a day and age where you weren’t killed soon after the excommunication, or that it was voluntary, or that you won’t be blacklisted from getting a potential job or something . . .
    Cheers, mate !

  4. I am astounded to see how much time you waste, if indeed God does not exist. What would be the difference if I spent all my energy trying to convince the world that unicorns do not exist? That would be pointless, right? And why? Because unicorns do not exist, of course.
    Have you asked yourself why you are so antagonistic to our Blessed Lord? It is not unbelief of God that makes an atheist, since you still must have a God to “atheate”. But it is tention. I believe you either did one big thing, or a series of lesser things, to distance yourself from God to such a degree that you cannot even stand to look at Him. I’ve been there, and am thankful that I found a way out.
    I know you probably don’t like me, seeing as I am a devout Catholic, and you likely see me as your enemy, because to you, I am. Nevertheless, I am going to pray for you because there is a lot of hatred on this site, and I don’t believe any person wants to live a life of hatred, but instead is likely trapped in a misunderstanding or is uncertain as to what to do about a some matter or existence.

    I believe you were never catechized or guided in your faith correctly. You act as though 2,000 years of Church tradition, scripture, and history can be thown out by one who is “more enlightened”. How many of you have there been in history? More than can be counted, I am afraid. I believe you have a deep desire to be loved by God, and you attack His Church not out of some type of vengeance or justice, but out of the same reason a child will disobey a parent. A young person who wasn’t raised right might divorce his parents, mock them, and do all kinds of evil toward them. The child does this maybe because he doesn’t feel loved, or he hasn’t yet found himself or his role in the grand scheme of things, or feels his parents wronged him somehow.

    I pray one day you will use this same energy to show the world the redemptive power of God, and letting misunderstandings, sinful people (because yes, they do exist in the Church), or the lies of the world go by the wayside.

    I hope you allow this comment on your site, because I want to speak with you on topics in the future. There ar

  5. * There is much misinformation on this website, slander, and lies. I can’t imagine wishing to live my life in the shadows of lies, and believe truth must always be followed, no matter where we find it, or whether or not we like it.

    Maybe you hold the truth, and I need to be elightened? Perhaps the Catholic Church is as wicked as you make it out to be. If that is the case, you need to talk to me and make sure I understand the “truth”. But if you’re not right, I hope you will recognize truth wherever it might guide you.

    God bless!

    –Travis, KofC, Catholic1.net

  6. James Peter · · Reply

    You can never leave the Catholic Church. Even if an excommunicated heretic, you are still part of the Body of Christ. I will pray for you, lest you suffer eternal damnation.

  7. Stevos · · Reply

    Good for you, Brix.

    Personally. I left the RC church decades ago, beginning at the age of 6. That happened when the nun in my school said in my religion class that only Catholics can go to heaven. Since my father and best friend were not Catholic, I was very hurt. My mother told me this lesson was crap and not to believe it. I didn’t believe it, and realized that the church could and did say anything it wanted to suit its interests. I realized as well that I had to make my own decisions, based on my own convictions. I am repelled by imposed dogma and refuse to accept any religious (or political) institution’s teaching as authoritative.

    I don’t feel a need to get a formal acknowledgement of my withdrawal from the church. It happened long ago and I am comfortable the way things are.

    I don’t call myself an atheist. I suppose I’m an agnostic. As I understand it though, an agnostic is actually one who thinks it impossible to know whether there is a God. I don’t know if it’s impossible, I just know that I don’t know if there is one. If there is, which I doubt but cannot prove, I’m quite convinced it is not the God of the Catholic church.

  8. […] It would seem to me that Christians, and particularly those of the Catholic persuasion, have a decision to make regarding following God’s Commands or hanging on to their images, paintings, statuettes, sculptures, necklaces and more. As I’ve said before, I find the Catholic Church to be a morally, ethically and criminally corrupt organization and while Catholics the world over have likely been excommunicated without their knowledge, they’d be well suited to distance themselves from this self-aggrandizing outfit. If you’d like to see what actions could have gotten you excommunicated or perhaps would like to renounce your Catholicism altogether, here’s how I did it. […]

  9. […] It would seem to me that Christians, and particularly those of the Catholic persuasion, have a decision to make regarding following God’s Commands or hanging on to their images, paintings, statuettes, sculptures, necklaces and more. As I’ve said before, I find the Catholic Church to be a morally, ethically and criminally corrupt organization and while Catholics the world over have likely been excommunicated without their knowledge, they’d be well suited to distance themselves from this self-aggrandizing outfit. If you’d like to see what actions could have gotten you excommunicated or perhaps would like to renounce your Catholicism altogether, here’s how I did it. […]

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