I Write Letters

This was originally posted on April 16, 2010. I finally received a response and have posted it at the bottom.

I have completed my letter of Actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia catholica and will be sending it to the Bishop of my former Diocese tomorrow. I was unaware that one could even formally defect from the church until I came across this post from Emptv.com a few weeks ago.

This letter won’t make me any less Catholic than I was yesterday, however it annoyed me that the church still considers me one of theirs and uses baptism records as statistics to claim how many adherents they still have. I’ll keep you posted if I get a response.

April 14, 2010

Bishop George W. Coleman
c/o The Diocese of Fall River
47 Underwood St., PO Box 2577
Fall River, MA 02722

Dear Bishop Coleman,

I am writing to inform you of my defection from the Roman Catholic Church. I was born an atheist and then baptized into the Catholic Church as an infant which of course made it impossible for me to give my consent. My mother was a Catholic and mistakenly believed that it was her duty to raise me with her religion.

Soon after receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, my faith in Catholicism and religion in general began to fade. My childhood belief in God and the supernatural was replaced by a love of science which piqued and satisfied my curiosity about the world in a way that religion had never done for me. My love of literature led me to explore the writings of atheist and humanist authors such as Mark Twain, Robert G. Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell and Kurt Vonnegut. Their thoughtful words on the human experience taught me to think whereas priests had only taught me to believe.

I have been an atheist now since the early 1990s and my convictions of a world devoid of superstition, demons, and deities grows stronger with each passing day. I have, however, neglected to officially sever my ties from the Church. The Church’s position against women’s reproductive rights, its political opposition to allowing homosexuals to find happiness in marriage even outside of the Church, and the aiding and harboring of predatory priests who sexually abuse children has made me realize that I cannot in good conscience remain silent while still being counted as a participant of an organization whose ideals I find reprehensible and morally wrong. Therefore, I consciously and freely state that I am defecting from the Roman Catholic Church and wish that my name be removed from church records. I was born in 1974 and baptized at:

St. Andrew the Apostle (formerly Saint Joseph’s)
19 Kilmer Ave
Taunton, MA 02780

I would greatly appreciate it if you could send me written notification that you have complied with this request. I am fully aware of the consequences of my separation from the Church and accept them. I have found more love and comfort amongst family and friends than I ever could find kneeling in abject servitude to an ancient delusion. As an atheist, I have been able to find this love and happiness without the fear that myself or any of my loved ones could possibly spend an afterlife in eternal torment because they didn’t follow certain rules designed to keep people fearful and ignorant. Letting go of the belief of a deity has helped me keep an open mind and treat people of all different races, religions, genders and sexual orientations with the respect that is deserved and required for us to live harmoniously together. I no longer live for the good of a god, but only for the good of mankind.


Christopher D. Cole

P.S. I do wish to thank the Diocese and St. Joseph’s Church in Taunton, MA for the lovely bible that they gave to me after my confirmation. I read it from beginning to end as was suggested. The monstrosities contained in that book by a “loving” God upon his followers helped hasten my departure from the Church more expediently than any atheistic book ever could.

Updated May 26, 2011

A year later, I received a response. (Click letter enlargenify it)

After a few months of not getting a reply, I thought they may have just thrown the letter out. I didn’t really care if I received a response or not because you don’t need permission from any organization or individual to stop believing in a religion. The letter was just a form of protest against a group that I had been indoctrinated into before I was mature enough to give my consent. Also, the Catholic Church is a powerful organization that lobbies its archaic positions politically and I wanted to do everything within my power to make sure I am not supporting them in any way. Formally defecting was the least I could do to have a note of protest put in my baptismal records.

The paragraph in the letter about the indelible seal was completely expected and is illustrative of how childish the Catholic Church was and remains. That some adults feel that pouring water over an infant’s head while muttering incantations makes a person a part of an organization for life no matter what this person is taught or ends up believing just reinforces my opinion of the church’s deceitful and bullying nature. A person’s faith should be what they believe, not about that time they bathed in front of a congregation.


  1. Fair play to ye Chris, my dad done this a few months ago when he found about having to formally defect. Nice letter btw. Doubt a lot of people know about formal defection

  2. Well done.

    The main reason priests cannot marry is so the church can retain their property at death. The whole wife/kid thing really throws a wrench in their plans do domineer and profit from real estate and private holdings.

  3. Chris, and other defectors, do you mind if I ask: do you feel like some part of your culture is being surrendered here?
    I was raised among devout protestants, and though I am an atheist now, I often still feel a romanticism about parts of scripture I was taught to love, and I still occasionally pine after the culture of the church. Maybe my church community was better than most. But I still sort of ache at the loss of faith, and feel like I have surrendered by culture and therefore a significant part of my identity. I wonder if the letter gives better closure? Or if you felt attached to the culture at all? Do other new-ish atheists miss the beauty of certain scriptures that now seem so meaningless, like I do?

    1. Lucy,

      The letter is not about closure to me. I haven’t believed in church doctrine or any religion in the past twenty years. I just found out about being able to defect recently and the current round of sexual abuse coverups along with the rest of church’s nonsense made me desire to make it official.

      I can understand where you’re coming from about the romanticism of tradition. I personally have never missed it but many of my friends still go to church while disagreeing with church policies because of just that. Maybe I just never was attached to it.

    2. Certain amount of culture is being surrendered in such an act, sure, but this is only good. Some ties should be severed, and some parts cut away. The baggage, no matter how gilded and pretty the surface is, remains a collection of old, clumsy, and outright depraved thinking and structures of authority.
      Good riddance, say I, and congratulate our gracious host for making the transition an external and official one, in addition to the internal state already in place. As above, thus below, and all that tired old noise.
      Oh well, time to retreat back into… hiding.

  4. Is there an Actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia catholica for Anglicans?
    Congrats, Chris. Hopefully your letter will settle it and you won’t have to meet anyone in person.

  5. I applaud you Chris. Your command of the English language has allowed you to voice your beliefs, which reflect my own, in a way that I have never been able to. Very well said, and I hope that you gain what you seek from this letter.

  6. Considering your lack of knowledge about this I propose everyone do it in as public a way as possible. I posted my letter all over youtube on groups and to my +800 friends (it’s in dutch so none of you would understand)
    I’m seeing more and more of these, it is really heartwarming to see.
    My letter was more elaborate than yours Chris I even added links to articles and wikipedia 😉 the response I got was a standard “We got your letter, you cannot undo the actual act but your defection has been noted in the books next to the baptism, you’re free to verify this data if you wish” perhaps here in Belgium they’re used to it 😉

  7. You are on top of your papework, Chris.

    My husband’s uncle left the priesthood to marry the woman he loved (an epic tale of fleeing in borrowed cars across three states in the middle of the night). He told us the last set of papers were never signed at the Vatican.

    Which meant…..still a Catholic priest!

    This fascinated my kids when they were small. He’d be over for dinner and they’d excitedly ask, “Did you ever get to perform an exorcism?” (No).

    He was a priest in the 1960s. I had a question for him, about the sexual abuse. Did he know about it? See any of it?

    He said, In those days, there were two kinds of priests. Those who did such things and then those of us who were so innocent that we wondered, Why is Father so and so being sent to that center for priests with sexual issues? What kind of sexual issues would one of us have? Very naive.

    He left. We all did as we grew up. Except our moms. I think of Catholic church as something for our parents. And I grit my teeth every time my mother calls and worries about missing mass or screwing up Lent by eating meat by accident on a Friday when the damned rules sure as hell never applied to priests who molested children.

    I think of sweet people who were good and kind and went to church every single Sunday- my husband’s grandmother. My great aunt who was a nun- a sweet round woman who taught the kindergarten kids with cheerfulness and patience. I’ve come to the conclusion that faith does not make people good, but rather, good people bring their goodness into religion.

    1. I’ve come to the conclusion that faith does not make people good, but rather, good people bring their goodness into religion.

      That’s a wonderful sentiment.

  8. I was raised Unitarian. I would try this same type of letter, but the minister there would just say, “Hey, that sounds great! Come back in a couple of weeks and tell us what it’s like.”

    Seriously though, the Unitarian Church taught me a lot about how to think and the wonderful ways of science. But then, they don’t bother with that BS bible.

  9. i wish you could do this with judaism – according to them if your mom is kosher then you are, forever and ever. Doesn’t matter (in their opinion) if you defect.

  10. WHOO HOO!!! You can officially have meat again on Fridays!!! 😉 I never thought about sending something like that out to my former diocese… but I just may have to use that as a template. Well done.

  11. Thought I’d share mine – sent it off earlier this week:

    April 9, 2010

    Most Reverend John C Nienstedt, S.T.D.

    Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis

    226 Summit Avenue

    Saint Paul, MN 55102

    Dear Most Reverend John C Nienstedt, S.T.D.,

    I was born into a Catholic family, though I would never have considered ours a family of practicing Catholics. I attended Catholic grade school, though I was not baptized until Second Grade, just prior to receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion for the first time. I received the sacrament of Confirmation in Seventh Grade; far too young an age, I now think, given the adult decision The Church considers this to be.
    I attended a Catholic high school, and am still a big supporter of the school, its educational mission and the advantages I believe the school offers in relation to the local, public school alternatives.

    In spite of all this, my 13-plus years of indoctrination to the Catholic faith, I consider myself an atheist. I have always had my doubts, asked questions of my instructors, and challenged the orthodoxy. I did this not out of desire to rebel, or sheer obstinacy, but rather a desire to know and understand why, exactly, we are to believe as we were taught to believe. Obviously, the answers I received did not satisfactorily allay my doubts. I stopped taking Communion years ago, in high school actually, out of respect for the Church and those with a genuine faith. I believed it was disrespectful to simply go through the motions, participating in something others considered sacred, that I did not believe in.

    I have, however, because of my upbringing within the Catholic faith and the positive experiences I associate with my childhood, always had an affinity for Catholicism. In college I tangled with the fundamentalist preachers who visited the campus every spring, taking on their egotistical and vengeful God with the notion of a peaceful and all-loving deity concerned with the well-being of his flock both on Earth and in Heaven; a God who told us to love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek, forgive our enemies, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and comfort the afflicted; A god more concerned with the return of the prodigal son, than punishing the wicked. While I never bought into the miraculous aspects of the faith, these were tenets I could take to heart and put into practice.
    As I saw it, if anyone had the monopoly on interpreting the “Inspired Word of God,” it was the folks who compiled and edited it in the first place, the Catholic Church; not some non-denominational, born-again, televangelist who’s preaching of The Word to his fervent flock served only to finance a lavish lifestyle.

    I mention all of this so that you will understand that it is not, therefore, without great thought and consideration that I have decided to tender to you a formal declaration of defection from the Roman Catholic Church. In light of the current and ongoing sexual scandals among members of the Catholic clergy; Rome’s persistent and systematic protection of the shepherds and persecution of the sheep in these matters; the Church’s refusal to accept responsibility for its complicity in these scandals by blaming the media and others who would shine a light on these misdeeds claiming, rather, that the entire scandal is the product of a smear campaign; the Church’s subjugation of women; and the seeming obsessive preoccupation with the sexual politics of consenting adults, be they man, woman, transgendered, hetero or homosexual; for these and myriad other reasons having to do with the doctrine and hierarchy of the Church, as opposed to the words and teachings of Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church is an institution with which I no longer wish to be formally associated in any way.
    With all of this in mind, please accept the attached document as my formal declaration of defection from the Roman Catholic Church.


    Adam Hildreth

    I, Adam Hildreth, do hereby give formal notice of my defection from the Roman Catholic Church. I want it to be known that I no longer wish to be regarded as a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

    I further declare that I am aware of the consequences of this act regarding the reception of the sacraments of the Church, including the sacraments of the Eucharist, marriage and the sick and also with regard to burial.
    I undertake to make this decision known to my next of kin and to ensure that they are aware of these circumstances in the case of my being incapacitated.
    I acknowledge that I make this declaration under solemn oath, being of sound mind and body, and in the presence of a witness who can testify as to the validity of this document.

    Signed: _______________________________________

    Date: ________________________________________

    1. Seeing this letter was a little weird. It was well written and all. It’s just that apparently we are practically neighbors. I live on Grand. I biked past the Archdiocese building a couple days ago. I never knew what that building was so I took a closer look. Some days the internet gets really small.

  12. I cannot in good conscience remain silent while still being counted as a participant of an organization whose ideals I find reprehensible and morally wrong.

    I like that part.

    But while we’re talking about morally reprehensible things, can I write a letter of defection to McDonalds, tobacco industries and network executives (regarding reality television)?

  13. Bravo!

    I had to write a completely opposite letter. One to my parents for a big “thanks.” For whatever reason my sister was baptized into a faith and I was not. I was never forced to go to church or believe in a god. Instead they let me experiment on my own.

    I toyed with the notion of organized religion and spent time frequenting my friends church in my youth. Once I became more educated and rejected any faith. I sat down and wrote a letter to my parents thanking them for not indoctrinating me into any spooky religion. And allowing me to think freely and determine things once I was capable of making such decisions. For too many this choice has already been made FOR them, and its a difficult thing to reverse.

    This is my first comment but I have been reading for quite awhile now. I thoroughly enjoy your blog keep it up!


  14. you write a great letter chris!!!

    i want to do one too!! just have to try to remember or find out where the heck i was baptised!! i think a call to mom is in my near future….

  15. Nicely done Chris!

    I wrote two of these to my childhood southern baptist church about 3 years ago. The first one just very simply expressed my wish to be purged from the roles, but they DENIED IT! I got a letter back saying “the pastor has denied your request to be taken off the membership roles, etc etc”. So I sent another several-page version describing exactly why I wanted to leave and exactly what I thought of them for denying me the first time. I got a second letter back saying “the pastor has accepted your request to be taken off the membership roles.”

    My major regret in life is not holding on to those letters to share. Nice job!

  16. Hmm, I didn’t know you could ‘defect’ from the catholic church. I did know they still considered you a member, so I did the only thing I knew about…
    I got excommunicated, which is a lot harder than you might think. It involved pointing out I was repeatedly and intentionally involved in ‘actions against the faith’ while fully aware of the rules against that sort of thing. I also included ‘publicly’ condemning and renouncing the church, which, while being a fun thing to do, must have struck the visitor of said church as a very event.

  17. Good letter. Just this week I made my mind up about severing all possible ties with the Catholic church. Now I’ll just have to find some time to look up all necessary information and start typing.

  18. Chris,
    You have inspired me to do the same. It will bring great closure to my haunting alterboy service I was guilt-tripped into. I absolutely despised the mind control so prevalent in our community but it was taboo to utter any criticism.

  19. Beautifully written! I’m saving this. I only hope others who feel it’s taboo to utter any criticism find the courage to break away and become the free-thinkers they know themselves to be.

  20. As someone who, just last Friday, had a meeting with Bishop Hegarty of the Derry Diocese in Ireland, regarding my own defection from the church, I think that your letter is perfect! It is a much better representation of my feelings on the matter, than the standard letter which I printed from the countme out.ie website.
    It was an incredibly refreshing and cathartic experience, in the face of age old theological and pseudo-scientific arguments, to say, ‘I’m sorry Bishop, but that is plainly nonsense,’ and to be able to proceed to back up this position with reasoned and rational evidence.

    I highly recommend it, should such an opportunity present itself.

    Best Wishes,
    Damian Connolly (Born again Atheist!)

  21. I’ve started and stopped a couple of times to respond to this post. I was raised a Catholic, but left as soon as I got out of high school. To get kicked out of catechism (tuesdays after school) before then, I used to read Mao’s little red book during the class (this was 1965).

    I spent a lot of years getting over the small-minded bureaucracy that made my life a misery. I know I left the church behind when I had a dream one night in my 30’s. It was a fabulous space opera, ending with me freeing all the people to live as they wanted by shooting an old man in a white and red crusader’s outfit.;-D

    I just cannot give them the satisfaction of feeling pity or beleaguered (something that will make them feel “secure” in their faith. I can’t be bothered to give them the time of day.

    Does this make me sound like I’m still angry? I think I just need an excuse for my inherent sloth (and lovin’ it), while the rest of you opt out so officially. Congrats to us all.

    PS My spouse and I were married by one of those skeezy molesters (a little known Monseigneur from San Diego; the seminary there was a nest of those sleezebags) I’ve often wondered if my marriage is legal.

  22. I’m jealous. I resigned from my church (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland) online when I was 18. No letter on reasons why I left. Just a few clicks and a I was free.

  23. When I was young my grandmother’s dream was for me to be an altar boy, then eventually become a priest. Thank God neither ever happened.

    Good deal you’re passing this on for others to know about. It’s probably just like writing to a politician: a few letters and they don’t really give a shit. But when it the numbers get high enough that it makes them realize it’s hurting their image and could start costing them money, suddenly they care and want to change things. Maybe your letter will be the one that keeps some kid from getting molested.

  24. It’s a nice gesture, but doesn’t writing the letter itself give too much validity to the presumption that you can be made part of a religion by the choices of others?

    By this, I mean–as you state in your letter, you were baptized before you could rationally give free will assent. The idea that there is even an issue, even a skeleton of membership and therefore a basis for “breaking” with the church, validates the preposterous idea that you may be initiated into a religion because your parent and a priest say so.

    You link to the “Actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia catholica,” to give a historical basis for your formal defection, but really, there’s no sense in following the formalities, which are inherently as senseless and dogmatic as the religion itself.

    It’s as if someone randomly walked up to you on the street and said, “AHA, you’re now part of my religion. I worship a zombie magician, and so you do too. Actually, you were since birth, all of us believers got together and decided back then. But I’m reasonable; if you want to leave, you can. Just write me a letter formally saying so, at this address, and our council will decide if you’ve committed heresy and will allow you to defect. Until then, though, you are officially a member of the Zombie Church of Magic.”

    Certainly, the most sensible action is to ignore the man, right? Certainly to write a letter responding to the madness of the stranger is itself to accept, validate, and take on some of that madness?

    1. Just consider the fact that at one particular diocese in which you were, through your family, brought into this cult and that they consider you one of their faithful members and have locked away in a vault your name, date and time of your unwilling initiation. This letter request is an act to communicate your will not to be counted as a member, which is how they are allocated money in some instances. It is articulating to the diocese that you refuse to be one of their statistics using your name in their record books.

    2. Besides the personal catharsis, I would argue that having atheist numbers (by census, by church roster, etc) is very important for the simple fact that the church derives its power from claims about its membership and political sway is made by claiming how many believers of a certain faith there are. In the States, somehow the claim that “85% of the population is Christian” is a massive political power play. The right uses that to justify their actions – we need to take that away from them. Additionally, as the church sees more and more letters like this, and sees their membership drop, I think they will start to become more desperate and show their true colors more and more. In bids to increase membership, they will in fact push more people away. I believe that a large percentage of church members are only their because it is easier to conform. When that becomes harder, by the church acting crazy, or putting more rules in place, etc they will be more likely to leave. Plus, there will be associated bad PR which will continue to elevate our status and decrease theirs in the public eye. I am all for doing this sort of thing – we have to beat them, and it has to be by their rules (at least at first).

  25. I’ve started the severing process today. First however I guess I need my actual baptism date and the place where the evil deed took place. Since the only one who can help me with that date is in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s I have to ask; what if I can’t find this information, what then?

  26. — Post update —

    Nice – I’m tired and read ‘defecting’ as ‘defecating’ throughout… and didn’t bat an eyelid.

    Glad they’ve recorded your defecation, Chris; and wasn’t it a civil letter for such a subject?

  27. At least they responded, but they’re keeping you in their records. Kind of like opting out of a Spam mailing list. You may already be a winner!!!

  28. What I find interesting is that the church won’t remove you from the membership list even though you’re such a bad representative of what they believe in so seriously. This is how the catholic church maintains such a huge number of followers, by never allowing people out who either despise or forgot about them.

    1. To the catholic church’s credit (and you won’t see me giving them much credit otherwise) – at least they aren’t like the mormons who add the dead to their rolls without any sort of authorization.

      Well, maybe Xenu gave them authorization, but I’ve never seen it in writing. 😉

  29. Thank you for sharing the letter and the information on defecting. I was baptized under similar circumstances in Buffalo, NY many years ago. Last year I requested removal from the Buffalo Diocese records via an online form (a general form, not a defection form), but never received as much as a “we received your inquiry and will get back to you” note.

    I will try a version of this defection letter. I am not sure if the catholic church will even acknowledge it as I was never confirmed. I did take first communion, but fortunately never sold my mythological soul to their mythological god-being-x-3…

  30. I also applaud the prose, almost wishing that I had been brought up RC so I could do it. I would only like to point out that none of these observations are new—-Martin Luther himself–the mad little monk of Wittenberg—-noticed the rot and failings within the Roman church a half millennium ago.

  31. The second paragraph sounded sort of like, “hey, if you wanna come back, your welcome to.” (In a business sense, it’s better to never ban a customer, even if they ask.)

  32. Sorry, no offence, I love your blog: but you don’t send letters to santa when you realize it’s all fairy tales. That way, you give credit, you keep the fantasy alive. Were you expecting an official excommunication? a certification of apostasy? would such a useless scrap of paper issued by a religious institution hold any value or meaning to you?

  33. Long time lurker etc. This is great to see you finally got a repsonse.The indelible seal is pretty hilarious and pythonesque. “Nobody expects the indelible seal!’ Made my day. Keep up the good work.

  34. Well written, succinct and to the point. however you need to progress your thinking beyond mere Atheism as that in itself can become a replacement for religion! Since a 20 year old ive progressed into the materialism of John Locke combined with the dialectic thought of Hegel and his student Marx. These two supreme methods of thinking have solved most problems and inquiries that ive encountered. Put simply its the way you look at the world and then how you analyse what it is that you see.

  35. Chris,

    I went through the same exercise about five years ago, mainly as a protest, but also to annoy my parents who would insist that I was Catholic no matter what I belived. If I recal correctly, I had to write to The Vicar General in the Diocese I was christened (in the UK), and he warned me that if I did choose to get myelf taken off the list, I could never return. I am no scholar of the Bible, but I am pretty sure some of the tennents of christianity are forgiveness and redemption.

    I’m not sure where the letter is, but if I come across it I’ll scan it in for you, it was a little threatening in tone.

    I suppose there is a special part of Hell for us defectors, so I’ll see you there at some point.

    All the best,


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