Sunday, February 19, 2012

Vatican queried over laws on leaving church

CLARIFICATION ON whether disaffected Catholics can formally leave the church is being sought from the Vatican’s canon law authority.

Countmeout.ie, which assists Irish Catholics to officially leave the church, temporarily suspended its service in 2010 when a change to canon law meant the church was no longer accepting formal defections.

Count Me Out co-founder Paul Dunbar yesterday wrote to Archbishop Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts at the Vatican.

Mr Dunbar is seeking an explanation of the alterations to canon law brought about by the Apostolic letter Omnium in Mentem, which came into effect in 2010.

The group was advised by a canon lawyer that the change did not remove formal acts of defection, Mr Dunbar wrote. 

Instead the change meant that a formal act of defection did not invalidate marriage, he added. 

The group was also advised by the canon lawyer that Catholics should still be able to formally leave the church either by a declaration of defection, a letter to the local bishop or an act of apostasy (a rejection of a belief).

Three questions are posed to Archbishop Coccopalmerio in the letter: Is it possible for members of the church to formally cease their membership and if so how? Does Omnium in Mentem completely remove the possibility of defecting from the church? Is it possible for people to be excommunicated by signing an act of apostasy and how would this be recorded in law?

The group wants to clarify the matter so it can reopen the countmeout.iewebsite. There are “a significant number of people in Ireland who are interested in ceasing their membership”, Mr Dunbar wrote. However the group could not do so until the current status is explained, the letter said.

The website was set up in June 2009 after the publication of the Ryan report into child abuse at residential institutions.

It offered a formal declaration form for people who wanted to leave the Catholic Church to download and send to their local diocese. 

The diocese would then make an annotation to the baptismal register.

More than 12,000 copies of the online form were downloaded during the 1½ years of the service.

Between 2009 and 2010, more than 500 people formally defected through the Dublin archdiocese.

When the Dublin archdiocese stopped accepting defections in 2010 due to the canon law change, it said this would not alter the fact that many people could continue to do so informally.

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