There are two main ways of formally disassociating yourself from the Catholic Church, which will be explained below.
- Obtaining a formal defection by using the Curia’s procedure.
- Obtaining recognition that you left the Church by using you rights as a citizen under Maltese Data Protection law.
Obtaining a formal defection
The possibility of obtaining a formal defection from the Catholic Church first appeared in a 1983 amendment to Canon Law. This amendment introduced the concept of an Actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia Catholica. While this amendment did not specify an exact procedure to follow, a 2006 Notification from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts explains the exact procedure for a formal act of defection. In order for your defection to count, the following prerequisites would have to be met.
a) An internal decision to leave the Catholic Church;
b) the realization and external manifestation of that decision; and
c) the reception of that decision by the competent ecclesiastical authority.
In addition to this, there has to be an act of an act of apostasy, heresy or schism. An act of apostasy involves renouncing your faith, while an act of heresy requires you to challenge some particular Church dogma. Schism, on the other hand implies that you do not recognise the authority of the Pope.
In practical terms, in Malta you would have to phone the Curia’s Chancellor, who is presently Mgr. Lawrence Gatt (tel: 25906208). You can then express your wish to leave the Church, which satisfies the first three points above. The Chancellor will then ask you to make an appointment for an interview, in which presumably1, he assesses whether there has been an act of apostasy, heresy or schism.
When attending this interview, it is important that you take with you your ID card (to prove your identity) and your baptism certificate (to prove that you were in fact, baptised). If you do not have a copy of your baptism certificate in your possession you can obtain it by visiting the parish at which you were baptised. Each parish has a number of office hours during which you can obtain a copy of this certificate by talking to the priest or any assistant he might have. You can use the following site for more information about your parish of baptism:
Upon completing this procedure, the baptismal register will be annotated to show that you have defected from the Roman Catholic Church. However, one has to keep in mind the following considerations.
Additional Considerations on formal defection
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI issued a document called Omnium in Mentem. This document modifies the 1983 canon law by removing all reference to a formal act of defection. The status of the 2006 document with respect to Omnium in Mentem, is however, unclear. The Maltese archdiocese has continued to process formal defections after 2009, but may stop doing so at any moment. In this case, the status of defections processed after 2009 would risk being void2.
Leaving the Church by using Maltese Law
Having to attend an interview with the Chancellor in order to formally leave the Church is not only an inconvenience for many people who have already renounced their faith, but a humiliation. The Church, like any other organisation, is subject to the law of the Maltese State, and there is no other scenario in which one would require the permission of an official from that organisation in order to exercise one’s free will to leave it.
Maltese Data Protection law allows citizens to give a notification that they are no longer the members of an organisation and to revoke their permission from allowing that organisation to process their personal data. Thus, this provides another way of disassociating oneself from the Catholic Church without having to attend the Chancellor’s interview.
Moreover, this process has become increasingly important due to the additional uncertainty introduced by Omnium in Mentem.
NION is committed to helping citizens who wish to avail themselves of this approach. In fact, we provide template forms which allow NION to handle the case on your behalf with a minimum of hassle. We encourage interested citizens to contact us by sending an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 We say presumably, because NION has reports that the Chancellor in fact uses this interview to attempt to convince persons not to leave the Catholic Church.
2 In fact, since the Pope is the supreme legislative authority of the Catholic Church, it is possible for the Church to change the rules at any time, and without redress.