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.
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.
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.
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.