Since June 2009, the CountMeOut campaign has provided a web-based facility for those who wish formally to leave the Roman Catholic Church, which it states was initiated “largely as a response to the child abuse scandals, enabling those who no longer felt they were members of the church to formally remove themselves”. However, on 8 August 2013 it announced that it would cease operations with immediate effect. In a Press Release it explains
“[t]he campaign was based on a ‘Declaration of Defection’ which could be downloaded from the website and sent to one’s local parish. The result was an annotation in the baptismal register confirming that the person had defected. In late 2010, countmeout.ie became aware of a change to Canon law which effectively removed this option. “
The 2010 changes to the 1983 Code of Canon law referred to by CountMeOut relate to the point at which Pope Benedict’s Motu Proprio, Omnium in mentum, became effective. This addressed two issues: one concerning the sacrament of holy orders in relation to deacons and the other defection from the faith. As a result of the latter, after 9 April 2010 defection as formerly provided for in Canons 1086, 1117, and 1124 no longer had any canonical effect.
Until then, these Canons provided specific exemptions in relation to marriage which had proved problematic since the introduction of the 1983 Code. The notification actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia catholica (2006), described these exemptions as distinct from the more conventional “virtual” forms of “notoriously” or “publicly” abandoning the faith . This document also identified the “three-step process” on which the campaign’s “Declaration of Defection” was based. Now that this exemption has been removed, all who have been baptized or received into the Catholic Church continue to be bound by merely  ecclesiastical laws under Canon 11 (CIC), i.e. semel baptizatus semper baptizatus.
Subsequently CountMeOut focused on alternative formal means to leave the church, such as the declaration of an “act of apostasy” and subsequent latae senteniae excommunication, relying upon Canons 751 and 1364 §1 (CIC). However, renunciation of the Christian faith is a direction few wished to follow, but a total of 16 acts of apostasy were formulated and sent to the Archdiocese of Dublin in June 2011. In addition to rejecting these 16 acts of apostasy, the group was informed a fundamental error in this approach – excommunication does not mean that a person is no longer a member of the church. Furthermore, as we discuss below, in common with ordination to holy orders, baptism once performed cannot be undone, or as it is sometimes described in the Roman Catholic Church, it makes ‘an indelible mark on the soul’.
The Archdiocese of Dublin has proposed to set up a register of those who have expressed a wish to defect but stipulates that this will have no consequence in Canon law, to which the campaign notes “[renders] it effectively meaningless to the Church”, [emphasis added].
In an earlier Press Release, the campaign stated that “many who defect via CountMeOut.ie do so as a means of protest and will be less concerned with its canonical significance”. Aside from such people, it identified three groups are potentially affected by the change in the law: those who defect in order to join another Church; those who defect, marry and then subsequently re-join; and those for whom the canonical significance of the act is important, whether or not they believe in it themselves. It also noted the parallel issue in Germany concerning payment of the Church tax – Kirchensteuer – which we have covered in an earlier post. In this case an annotated baptismal certificate was sometimes requested, and this provided a financial incentive formally to register defection. However, in other cases such a need is more questionable.
The traditional view of Trinitarian baptism, certainly in the West, is that it is a once-for-all and irreversible sacramental act: once it’s done, it’s done and there’s no going back. And not even Roman Catholics rebaptise converts who have already been baptised by the pouring-on of water accompanied by the Trinitarian formula: still less do Anglicans or the Free Churches.
The Quaker partner in this blog was baptised as an Anglican and is now a member of a Society that simply does not include baptism in its portfolio. But so what? If you don’t believe in the efficacy of baptism in the first place, why would the fact of having been baptised present a problem? And the point about wishing to have one’s departure recorded in order “to join another faith/religion” simply won’t wash: no-one would suggest even in England – let alone in Ireland where there is constitutional separation of Church and State – that one needs the formal permission of the denomination of one’s baptism in order to leave it for another.
The suspicion must be that the people who signed up to CountMeOut were somehow niggled or upset at being in some parish baptism register; but why couldn’t they just shrug it off and walk away? Since all a register does is to record what happened in a particular place at a particular time, it seems slightly strange to want to undo history. It also seems an odd way to “[t]ake a stand for church-state separation” as advocated on the masthead of CountMeOut communications.
David Pocklington and Frank Cranmer
 Canons 171, § 1.4°; 194, § 1.2°; 316, § 1; 694, § 1.1; 1071, § 1, 4° and § 2
 i.e. “laws that impose obligations, command or forbid, and those which subjects of the law are bound; not laws that confer rights or divine laws that bind everyone”.