If you ask a gay person to identify the moment they first realized that they were gay, they will often say something like: “On some level I’ve always known.” I feel the same way about my lack of religious belief. I have known that I did not believe in God since I was very young. I just had no idea that there was such a thing as people who don’t believe in God.
I was baptized at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Catholic church in Lomita, California in January of 1978. I was dragged reluctantly to church every Sunday with my mother until I left for college. I am guilty of starting more than a few arguments over the years with her when I would question the existence of God. But since it’s hard to make an atheist argument credible when you’re in the 4th grade, I never really got anywhere with her. I think she assumed that atheism was some phase that I was going through and that I would eventually come out on the other side as a believer. No such luck.
Ironically, I attended a Jesuit college where I received an excellent education and never seemed to be bothered by the fact that I was surrounded by Catholics. I even sang in the church choir, not because I liked church, but because it was the only place where they would let anyone sing. I was studying classical singing at the time and needed to practice performing before an audience. After college, I explored paganism a bit until I realized that adopting another religion was just exchanging one set of fairy tales and parables for another. So I let it all go and admitted to myself that I did not believe in God. However, it took me until I was about 27 before I started admitting it to anyone else.
I am now 32 years old and after the latest round of news about the Catholic sex abuse scandals I decided that I am done with this church. I am so ashamed that my name still appears in their baptism records; that they can officially count me as a member. In order to avoid being in any way associated with them, I decided to take action. I discovered a section of the Catholic Canon Law that allows for formal defection from the Catholic church. All you have to do is write a letter listing your reasons for leaving, state that you are of sound mind and have not been coerced into defection, have a witness sign it and submit it to the bishop of the archdiocese where you were baptized. You then receive a response telling you that they have put a notation in the records that you have defected and you will no longer be officially considered a Catholic. Simple, right?
Enter his haughtiness, Pope Benedict XVI–or “Ratzass”, as my husband calls him. In December of 2009 the Pope issued a decree that revised the Code of Canon Law and eliminated the provision that allowed for defection. This was explained in a letter sent to me in response to my defection letter dated June 1, 2010 and signed by Rev. Thomas C. Anslow, Vicar for Canonical Services for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
So what do I do now? How do I fight back? Is it now impossible to officially and completely disassociate myself with an institution that has “conspired to commit countless felonies, engaged in astonishing displays of bigotry, and disregarded the dignity and welfare of its parishioners more times then can be counted”? (This is the language I used in my letter of defection).
These are precisely the questions that I will try to answer. I will not quit until I have officially “escaped” from the Catholic church. Welcome to what I am sure will be an interesting and possibly wild ride. If you are a baptized Catholic who shares my feelings about the church, I hope you will join me in my great escape. But I welcome anyone and everyone who wants to be a witness to this journey: Atheists, Agnostics, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Buddhists…
Memo to Vatican City: It’s on.