How do you quit the Catholic Church?

Catholic Church

Despite being baptised I’ve never considered myself to be a Catholic. I completed both Communion and Confirmation ceremonies which let’s face it are no more than a glorified, money-driven days out. I’ve attended funerals and weddings in churches with equal levels of discomfort squirming at the endless prayers, blessings and a sense of false hope.

I attended mass (like many others, against my will) as a child with my family. I did feel some level of retribution however when I was allowed to attend mass alone, only to instead walk to the shopping centre or take in a local football match in the nearby pitch. I would arrive back home in sync with the mass length and a short walk from the church. It was a fine-tuned process.

The reasons for my self-imposed exile from the Catholic Church are numerous. The simple nonsensical beliefs that it holds, the ridiculous, discriminatory laws but mainly it’s the thousands of innocent children being abused for decades, largely without any criminal prosecution.

According to “In Ireland, there was a way to formally record that you were no longer a Catholic and require the church to record that fact. Over 12,000 people started this “Declaration of Defection” process. But in April 2011 the Catholic Church changed church law and removed the option to record formal defections.”

Undeterred and with the introduction of new GDPR laws I decided that I would try to quit the Catholic Church.

I began by contacting the Dublin Diocese requesting that the likely data held by the Catholic Church on me be destroyed under the ‘Right to be forgotten’ GDPR protocol.

Two days later I received a reply from the office stating;

“I will certainly begin a search to see what we hold and will make arrangements for the information to be deleted/shredded whichever is appropriate. Please be aware that some information may be exempt from destruction but if this is the case I will contact you and let you know what that information is and why it can’t be destroyed. If you could provide any information that would facilitate this search I would be most grateful.”

My reply explained that I would like every single piece of data held on me including if I am personally listed as a Catholic and/or member of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

“I am following up on your request to find out what is held on you by the diocesan offices.  The search of the paper and electronic files in all departments here in the diocesan offices has now finished and nothing relating to you was found.”

Turns out I’m clean, “they got nothing on me”, surely not.

I was then referred on to my local parish in which I would have been baptised. A man named Michael confirmed the details held in that parish including my name, date of birth, date of baptism and date of confirmation. No mention of my communion, however. Perhaps they don’t record the less important occasions.

Following on from receiving this information I kindly asked Michael to have it erased to which he sought help from the Archdiocese. Better to check these things out I guess.

26 days passed until an update from ‘Fintan’ pinged its way into my inbox, in a lovely light blue font I may add. Bear with me, the following is quite wordy.

“Further to your email of the 28th of May 2018, I write to you in relation specifically in relation to your request to have your details destroyed from the Baptism Register under Article 17 of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

With regard to Article 2(1) GDPR, the Baptism Registers held in the parishes of the Archdiocese are not processed either wholly or partly by automated means, nor are they part of a filing system or intended to form part of a filing system. The Baptism Registers are not a register of Catholic members, nor are they drawn up in any ordered way (such as alphabetically or by date of birth) and for this reason can prove difficult to consult for any specific person’s baptism. The Archdiocese does not make use of the baptismal registers for calculating the Catholic population of the Archdiocese of Dublin. It relies solely on the data of the Central Statistics Office, obtained through the census, by which citizens themselves choose to record, or not, their religious affiliation. Accordingly, the Baptism Registers are not subject to the GDPR.

Without prejudice to that view, the GDPR would permit your Erasure Request to be denied in any event, as the processing of your personal data continues to be necessary for the purposes for which it was collected. It is essential for the administration of the affairs of the Catholic Church to maintain a register of all people who have been baptised in the Church. It is a factual record of an event that happened. This position was recognised by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner in 2003.

Further, under Article 89(1) GDPR, provision is made for processing for archiving purposes in the public interest, scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes, subject to appropriate safeguards.  The Baptism Registers record the historical fact of baptisms having taken place.  Over time, these registers assume a different importance becoming a unique archival record of enduring value.  Therefore, it is the view of the Archdiocese that the registers are not subject to Article 17 of the GDPR for these reasons. 

An explanation with regard to how we store and use information in relation to the GDPR can be found in the privacy statement

People leave the Church for their own reasons, some wish to have this acknowledged and recorded.  To facilitate this the Archdiocese of Dublin now maintains a register for those who wish their de facto defection from the Church to be recorded. If you wish to have your de facto defection recorded in this register, you can put your request in writing and post it to:

The Chancellery, Archbishop’s House, Drumcondra, Dublin 9

The main point from the reply is that I am unable to have my baptism details erased due to it being “essential for the administration of the affairs of the Catholic Church to maintain a register of all people who have been baptised in the Church.”

Fintan also was quite confident that the “GDPR would permit your Erasure Request to be denied” for the reason above but advised I can contact them anyway if I wished, which I will be doing.

All is not lost though as I was informed that I can still have my leaving of the Catholic Church acknowledged and recorded. The Archdiocese of Dublin now maintains a register for those who wish their de facto defection from the Church to be recorded. If I wish to have my de facto defection recorded in this register, I can do so in writing.

The Catholic Church need my details so as to maintain a register of those who have been baptised but I’ll be chasing that up further with the Data Protection overlords. I can, however, drop a letter to let them know I’m out which is precisely what I’ll be doing.

Mic Drop…..