Rise in number of people symbolically defecting from the Catholic Church

Notme.ie sees an increase in the number of people symbolically defecting from the Catholic Church.

Atheist Ireland runs a website called notme.ie. The purpose of this website is to allow people to register that they would choose to leave the Catholic Church if they were allowed to do so. Over the past couple of weeks we have seen a marked increase in number of people who have used the website to symbolically register their defection from the Catholic Church. This is no doubt in reaction to the terrible revelations about the Tuam babies and the news that the religious orders have yet to fulfil their commitments under the redress scheme.

In Ireland, due to Canon Law, there is no way to formally defect from the Catholic Church. It is only possible to ask the church to register the fact that you would, if the church acknowledged your freedom of conscience, defect from it. This can be done by writing to the Bishop of the diocese in which you were baptised. If known give the parish and date of your baptism and if possible provide a copy of your baptismal certificate. You will need to outline why you are defecting. The response to this letter can vary from diocese to diocese. Some will accept your wish to register your defection, others will ask for a meeting or will not respond and you will have to write a few times. The best outcome from this is that you will receive a letter acknowledging that you wish to register that, if given the option you would choose to defect. The church will record this as a de facto defection.

Some background on defection

Notme.ie was set up to fill a void that the now defunct countmeout.ie site fulfilled. Count me out was set up by Cormac Flynn, Paul Dunbar and Grainne O’Sullivan to allow Irish adults, who were baptised as children but no longer identified themselves as Catholic to formally defect from the church.

This involved filling in a defection form and sending it to the parish priest from the area where the baptism occurred. The priest would then make a note on the baptism register formally recognizing that the individual named was no longer a member of the Catholic Church. This process was set up to facilitate tax systems in Germany and Count Me Out adapted the process for an Irish diaspora.

When Count Me Out was operational over 12,000 people downloaded the declaration of defection. Many posted their defection letters. However in April 2011 Church law was changed and the option to formally defect removed.

In essence, the Catholic Church is breaching the human rights of people who were baptised into the church as children and without their consent. By refusing to allow defection the Catholic Church is breaching Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 9 ‘Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion’ states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

(of course, the Vatican State have not signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights).

NotMe.ie lets you informally and symbolically leave the Catholic Church. It has no impact on the Catholic Church’s view of your religious standing but is a way to identify as not Catholic. This symbolic gesture supports the separation of church and state. It does not signify or support atheism or humanism as many religious people also support church and state separation.

However, this is not the solution. It is unacceptable that the Catholic Church refuses to allow people who no longer identify as Catholic to formally leave the church. Atheist Ireland calls on the Catholic Church to recognise and respect the human rights of those who wish to no longer remain part of their religion.


Ashling O'Brien


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    Chrystal Ann March 20, 2017

    Who can blame them! The Magdalene Laundries (Mother & Baby Homes) was slavery and human trafficking. The Industrial Schools were abusive to children. All this was done not only with Church authorities knowing, condoning and hiding them from accountability. That was just Ireland too! When you realize these people doing this around the world and “found” untold millions of dollars in the Vatican Bank recently… uh, you realize we need a form set up around the world.

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    Tony Egan April 01, 2017

    This makes me smile. Years ago I had recently moved to Sheffield with my then wife when there was a knock on the door. I opened and to my astonishment there was a Catholic priest outside. I can’t remember whether he was Irish or English. He asked me if I was a Catholic, and I said I had been brought up as one, but no longer practiced any religion. “Oh, did you just sort of drift away?” said he. I told him that in fact, after reflecting on the matter for many months I’d become an atheist at the age of fifteen (which, as any Irish person can imagine, I had to conceal from my parents for years, because it was 1962). “So what decided you to become an atheist?” he asked. I then gave him twenty minutes on grounds of logic, twenty minutes on grounds of history, and twenty minutes on grounds of politics. To give him his due he listened to the whole lot, and at the end of the hour, looking slightly bemused, said “Well, if you change your mind you can find me at St Catherine’s”. And left, never to return.