Excommunication from the Catholic Church by email: A simple and fun guide for atheists

by Simon Henry @simlington

Exactly one year ago, I was formally excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

The process involved no torture, no incense and no Latin recitations.

I just had to send an email outlining my contention that the central teachings of Catholicism were bollocks – and within a few days I was out.

There was no Inquisition-style hanging by the wrists with weights suspended from the ankles, no rack, no foot roasting and no water torture.

Nor did I face the upsetting prospect of being burned at the stake – as may have been my fate in Reformation England, depending on which despot was on the throne at the time.

What a relief, then, to live at a time when – and in a place where – I can say religion is garbage …

… and the worst that happens to me is I get a rather gentle email telling me I’m a heretic and apostate – with kind regards attached at the bottom from someone called Bryan.

Why I wanted to get excommunicated

I was baptised by a drunk Catholic priest in 1970.

At that point – aged zero years – I wasn’t really in a position to argue (not being able to speak) or escape from the font (as I hadn’t yet learned to use my legs).

Luckily the pie-eyed priest didn’t drop me.

Being told you're Catholic is like being told your a Cliff Richard fan. Unworkable in the long run.

Being told you’re Catholic is like being told you’re a Cliff Richard fan. Unworkable in the long run.

By the time I learned to think for myself, being told I was a Catholic was like being told I was a Manchester United supporter, or a fan of Cliff Richard’s songs.

Not really my cup of tea.

But I let my nominal membership lie until I read an article in which the church bragged about its ‘billion-plus’ membership.

I then thought to myself: ‘You’re including me in that number, aincha?’

(I’m not a Cockney, but often do Mockney accents for fun – especially when speaking to myself about numbers of Catholics.)

And so was born my resolve to withstand whatever hardships and dangers the journey to excommunication held for me…

The journey

Email to the then Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols.

13 April 2013
Dear Vincent
I am writing to ask you to excommunicate me from the Catholic Church …
I was baptised at the church of … in … in the autumn of 1970.
I utterly renounce the teachings of the church including the the virgin birth, trans-substantiation and the resurrection.
I have been atheist since the age of 16 and have been evangelical in my views, attempting to convince members of my family and others to renounce their views and join
the ranks of atheists.
I view the role of religions as a negative force in this world, holding power over people’s minds, discouraging rational thought and encouraging sectarianism.
This is not a flippant request. I simply do not want to be counted among the number of Catholics on this planet. I am fundamentally opposed to your teachings and find
my own moral code without need of a religious underpinning.
Please take the necessary steps to take me off your registers and to confirm my excommunication.
If you need any more information please let me know.
Regards.
Simon Henry

I received a very nice but firm letter from someone called the ‘Vice-Chancellor’, telling me if I wanted to be excommunicated, I had to go local.
(This came as a bit of a shock as I thought my request would have been sent to the Pope in Rome and, through the Pope, on to God in Heaven before coming back down to
the temporal realm, to Rome and finally to Yorkshire again.)

17 April 2013
Dear Mr. Henry,
Thank you for your email of 13th April, which has been forwarded to this department by the Archbishop’s Personal Assistant.
Although there is no Diocesan Bishop in Leeds at present, as you are resident within that Diocese you do come within their jurisdiction and it is a matter which should be dealt with by the Leeds Diocesan authorities.
Can I suggest that you contact the Leeds Diocesan Chancellor, who I am sure will be able to help you:
The Very Rev. Mgr. Canon J. B. Sharp,
Chancellor,
Hinsley Hall,
62 Headingley Lane,
Leeds,
LS6 2BX.
He does not appear to have a direct email in the Catholic Directory. However, if you would prefer to email, I am sure the Diocesan Administrator’s secretary will pass
your request on to him: bishop@dioceseofleeds.org.uk
I am sorry we are unable to deal with your request here in Westminster, but hope this information will be of help to you.
With every good wish,
Yours sincerely,
Brenda E. Roberts MA
Vice-Chancellor
CHANCERY OFFICE
ARCHBISHOP’S HOUSE
AMBROSDEN AVENUE
WESTMINSTER
LONDON SW1P 1QJ

I wrote to Bryan (not Brian, the ‘very naughty boy’) and included my original excommunication request I’d sent to the Archbishop.

17 April 2013
Dear sir
I wonder if you would be kind enough to read the following email chain in which I am asking to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
I understand from the Archbishop that this has to be implemented at diocesan level.
Please would you get back to me if you need any further information in order for my excommunication to take place.
Ideally I would like written confirmation once I have been excommunicated.
Best wishes and thank you in advance.
Simon Henry

And on 18 April 2013 at 9:44am, the following email arrived:

Dear Mr Henry,
I have received a copy of your email to the Archbishop of Westminster and the reply you received.
By virtue of Canon 1364 of the Code of Canon Law an apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs an automatic excommunication .
This would apply to yourself in view of the statements made in your email to the Archbishop of Westminster.
Yours sincerely
Mgr Bryan Sharp
Chancellor Diocese of Leeds

So that’s it.

Excommunication by email in under a week.

And – apart from being struck by lightning, having a plague of frogs falling on my head and losing a bit of hair and getting a bit thicker around the waist – this year has been pretty much the same as any other.

Except I’m not a Catholic any more. Hurrah!

If you enjoyed this you may also enjoy a recent post –  12 reasons why being an atheist is heaven on earth

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Copyright Simon Henry @simlington 2014

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9 thoughts on “Excommunication from the Catholic Church by email: A simple and fun guide for atheists

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  3. Reality

    As an Atheist there would be no need to ask to be “excommunicated” even if you were “baptised” when young. Excommunication is ipso facto once your atheism is affirmed.

    As for not being counted as a Catholic, the 10 yearly census would be the opportunity to declare your non-membership of catholics.

    Like

    Reply
      1. Jason Roberts

        I’m actually looking into this too. Not so much atheist (perhaps) as decidedly non-Catholic. One reason to do it formally is that it is noted with your baptismal records, etc. that you rejected the Church. I do think there is something to jumping through the hoops of canon law:
        ACTUS FORMALIS DEFECTIONIS AB ECCLESIA CATHOLICA (for the enlatinated). Maybe it isn’t mystically binding, but like renouncing citizenship, it has clerical consequences (pun intended) and some legal ones (canon law).
        Jason
        http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/intrptxt/documents/rc_pc_intrptxt_doc_20060313_actus-formalis_en.html

        Like

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