Once a Catholic, Always a Catholic?

Dear Catholic Exchange:

I was answering one of your quiz questions that you have on your web site. I was surprised about the one about who is not catholic. So you’re telling me that if you are baptized a catholic, made your first Holy Communion, confirmation, as a child, then when you grow up and turn 18, and you decide to leave the Catholic Church and join another religion, that you are not Catholic anymore? I was always under the impression that born a Catholic, die a catholic and be judged as one. I have 2 children that have left the faith, and have joined a Pentecostal church, so are they going to be judged that way or what. I'm confused. Please try to answer my question.

Mrs. Ross

Dear Mrs. Ross,

Peace in Christ!

I do not have the quiz item before me, but I suspect that the answer is based on a concept called “formal act of defection.”

The 1983 Code of Canon Law allowed an exemption from the requirement of observing the canonical form of marriage for Catholics who had left the Church by a formal act of defection. Unfortunately the Code doesn’t explain what is required for such an act. In general, it means that one makes an explicit act which signifies a “notorious” rejection of the Catholic faith.

The act should involve a true defection, that is, a person must decide that she is no longer a member of the Catholic Church. So, joining another church under the belief that one could be a member of two churches at once would not count. The act should be formal whereby the individual performs some kind of external act, such as being baptized in another church or sending a bishop a letter of resignation from the Church. Simply attending another church or falling out of the habit of attending the Catholic Church would not constitute a formal act of defection.

United in the Faith,

Eric Stoutz

Information Specialist

Catholics United for the Faith

827 North Fourth Street

Steubenville, OH 43952

800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

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