These links represent what was available on count me out. They are no longer relevant if you want to formally defect but are still useful if you wish to symbolically defect. Many thanks to the count me out people and the way back machine people for allowing this information to remain on the internet.
Count Me Out is a website providing information and advocacy for those who wish to “defect” from the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) in Ireland. We offer information and guidance on how and why one might leave the Church. We also provide a simple, 3-step online process that simplifies the creation of a “Declaration of Defection” (or “Actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia Catholica“), a Church document that declares your intent to defect from the Roman Catholic Church.
Who are you?
Count Me Out is run by three, young Irish people and defected former-Catholics – Cormac Flynn, Paul Dunbar and Gráinne O’Sullivan. We each had our own personal reasons for defecting, but together discovered that it was remarkably difficult to find information on the process; hence the creation of the website.
Count Me Out is operated on a voluntary basis, does not accept donations and is not affiliated with any organisation.
Why are you doing this
We each had our own personal reasons for contemplating a defection and it was something that we’d been considering for some time. However the publication of the Ryan Report into institutionalised child abuse was the catalysing effect that prompted us to start the process and to create this website. We felt that now was the time to send an unambiguous message that we no longer wished to be counted as members of an organisation such as the Catholic Church, considering our own beliefs but also what had been revealed in the report. In this context, we decided to make the process of defection more widely known and to provide information and advocacy.
Additionally, we were inspired by similar actions in other countries – namely France and Argentina. Since we made this site public, we have discovered a similar initiative in Finland, where almost 3% of the population have defected from the mostly Lutheran church. The owner of the site contacted us, and sent us this interesting description of the origins of the site.
Where will my protest be registered?
Count Me Out keeps a count of all those who have downloaded a “Declaration of Defection” – however, we have no way of knowing if these forms have been submitted and rely on users to send us copies of responses they might have received. Send them to the address here.
We also offer a facility for those who might not wish to defect but instead want to register a protest with their diocese of residence or birth via email – perhaps because of the Ryan or Murphy Reports, Church/State relations, or other reasons.
Count Me Out will not store any of your personal data.
Are you associated with Atheist Ireland?
An Irish Times article of July 13th 2009 incorrectly reported that this site was setup by Atheist Ireland; the article has now been corrected.
Count Me Out is an independent, volunteer effort. Some of us support the broad aims of Atheist Ireland, but Count Me Out is not an atheist initiative. The site is aimed at all people who no longer identify as Catholic – be they atheist, agnostic, lapsed Catholic or simply Christian.
On the 23rd July 2009, the URL Catholic.ie started redirecting to Count Me Out (with our permission). Catholic.ie is not owned by Count Me Out; it is our understanding that Atheist Ireland, or someone who is also a member, is the registered owner of this URL. Considering that our site offers information on the Catholic Church in Ireland and describes a process created by the Church, we believe that the redirection is a legitimate use of the domain.
What is a “Declaration of Defection”?
A formal act of Defection (or “Actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia Catholica” in the original Latin) is a church document that registers a person’s wish to defect from the Roman Catholic Church. This instrument of defection was referenced in Canons 1086 §1, 1117 and 1124 of the Code of Canon Law 1983 but what the act constitutes was only defined in a papal edict of March 13th 2006.
For a defection to be valid, it must fulfill three conditions. The Church states that it is “necessary that there concretely be“:
a) the internal decision to leave the Catholic Church;
b) the realization and external manifestation of that decision; and
c) the reception of that decision by the competent ecclesiastical authority.
For the act to be valid under conditions a) and b), it is our understanding that it would be enough for the individual to decide to visit our website, to familiarise themselves with the information in this FAQ, and in the how? and why? sections and, having decided to commit an act of defection, to complete the generated documentation as fully as possible and have them signed and witnessed.
By committing a defection, you are renouncing your baptism and leaving the Roman Catholic Church. The baptismal register will be amended to reflect this decision.
A “defection” is not the same as being “debaptised”. The Church believes that a baptism cannot be reversed so, in their eyes, a renounced former-Catholic has abandoned the Church but remains a Christian (according to the 2006 edict).
How does defection work?
Full details of the process can be found on the “How?” page.
What age do I have to be?
We asked the Diocese of Cork and Ross this question. The Diocesan Secretary, Fr. Tom Deenihan, responded as follows:
“I would think that, because of the implications of such a decision, a person should be 18 before making such a decision”
However, it’s important to note that this is not an official position and, moreover, that the Church considers the age of 12 old enough to decide whether to be confirmed or not.
There is no minimum age to be baptised into the Church.
Is there a cost to this process?
Defecting costs only the price of a stamp.
I want to defect from another church. How do I do it?
Unfortunately, we only have the resources to research and manage the process for the Roman Catholic Church.
I was not baptised in Ireland, live abroad or am from another country. How can I defect?
The “Declaration of Defection” is a standard form so, without the cover letter, the rest of the document is just as valid anywhere in the world as it is in Ireland. Print it out, fill in the details and then find the address of the parochial house or bishop’s office of the diocese in which you are resident. You can download a completely blank form at this link, if you wish.
For users in the UK, here are a few links that might help you find your diocese:
Pour les utilisateurs francophones, ce site explique le processus de la débaptisation.
Users in the USA may be interested in this site that explains about the act of defection. Moreover, you may find this online directory of parishes useful.
For users in Italy, this site explains the process and provides a sample document.
This site in Iceland offers information on how to defect.
A site in Finland provides a similar service to Count Me Out and has seen huge success in that country, with up to 160,000 people defecting (doubtless to avoid the 1,2% tax on their salary). The owner of the site contacted us, and sent us this interesting description of the origins of the site.
Finally, for detailed information on defection procedures in a range of countries, take a look at the Concordatwatch.eu website.
Can I rejoin the Church if I change my mind?
Yes. The decision to defect is reversible.
Although you cannot be rebaptised – as the Church considers a baptism to be an immutable act – a person who has defected can rejoin the Roman Catholic Church by making a formal “Profession of Faith” in front of their parish priest. The parish then notify the diocese who would amend the baptismal register.
We have requested further information on this process and will add it here once received.
Can I join a different church?
Defecting does not change the fact of your baptism, from the perspective of the Church. Baptisms are recognised between most Christian churches and hence there should be no impediment to your joining a different church of this kind. For churches of other faiths, joining would depend on their specific entry requirements.
Does defecting make me an Atheist?
Defecting means you are no longer a member of the Catholic Church. You are still free to hold your own personal faith/beliefs.
Am I still considered a Christian?
The following excerpt is taken from the Vatican website.
“It remains clear, in any event, that the sacramental bond of belonging to the Body of Christ that is the Church, conferred by the baptismal character, is an ontological and permanent bond which is not lost by reason of any act or fact of defection.”
Thus the RCC believes that baptism is an immutable act that creates a permanent bond between the Church and the person. Defecting unsubscribes the individual from the Catholic Church and prevents them from receiving the sacraments but, in the eyes of the Church, the bond of baptism is unbreakable.
We asked the Diocese of Cork and Ross about this and received the following response:
“In relation to one’s status as a Christian, it would depend on how you would define the term ‘Christian’. Is it somebody who believes that Jesus Christ is Lord? or is it someone who is a member of the Christian church? The renunciation of one’s baptism is a formal act of leaving a Christian church. Most Christian churches recognise each other’s baptism. The deciding factor being whether the baptism is in the name of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit”
This is only the Church’s point of view. It is up to the individual to decide their own identity and, for many, committing an act of defection is an important step on the road to establishing this. Moreover there are many who may hold to the beliefs or moral teaching of Christianity but have no wish to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church. For such people, a defection might be appropriate
We have asked the Church to further clarify the distinction they draw between a Catholic, a defected Catholic, an excommunicated Catholic and a non-Catholic. We’ll post the response once we receive it.
Why not just stop going to mass?
This may be enough for some people. However, the Church will continue to count you as a member. If you wish to formally leave the Church you must make the declaration of defection.
Is defecting the same as excommunication?
No, defecting reflects your personal decision to leave the Church. Excommunication is when a person is censured by the Church such that they are barred from receiving the sacrements.
The Church recently stated that all Catholic participants in an abortion will be automatically excommunicated.
What rights do I have under the Data Communication Act?
A 2007 case study by the Data Protection Commissioner reached the conclusion that, with regard to the RCC’s baptismal record, you do not have the right to demand that your name be deleted since it is a record of an historical event and the information is essential to the running of the Church.
However, if an organisation holds information about you that is out of date or that you believe to be incorrect, you have the right to request for it to be amended.
Moreover, the Church is required to keep your defection private. Under the same act, they are classed as a “data controller”, since they hold personal information on you. A data controller must
- get and use your information fairly;
- keep it for only one or more clearly stated and lawful purposes;
- use and make known this information only in ways that are in keeping with these purposes;
- keep the information safe;
- make sure that the information is factually correct, complete and up-to-date;
- make sure that there is enough information – but not too much – and that it is relevant;
- keep the information for no longer than is needed for the reason stated; and
- give you a copy of your personal information when you ask for it.
Additionally, although a data controller may intend to use your details for official purposes, in the public interest or for their own interests
“If you feel that doing so could cause you unnecessary damage or distress, you may ask the data controller not to use your personal details.”
Can I download a blank form without going thru the 3-step process?
Yes you can. Click here to download the form in PDF format. Alternatively, you can HTML download the form as a simple webpage.
Can I find the email of my diocese without using the email popup?
We decided not to directly include the diocese emails, to avoid them being harvested by spambots. However you can find the website of your diocese in the Diocese Directory and the email should be available there.
I don’t want to defect. Can I help in some other way?
Yes, you can send a message to your local bishop outlining your concerns. Click the button on the right to generate an email, or find the contact details of your diocese or parish here.
My diocese have requested a meeting, what do I do?
It is standard practice, particularly in the Dublin archdiocese, to respond to defection requests with an offer to meet with a member of the clergy (usually the Bishop’s secretary). The meeting is always described as an ‘offer’ and it usually states that the purpose is not to change the person’s mind.
You are free to accept to decline the offer, by letter, telephone or email, but you must respond in some fashion, otherwise your defection will likely be halted until a response is received.
I have received a response stating that my defection should be sent to my diocese of residence rather than baptism. Is this correct?
The Catholic Church in Ireland has recently clarified its protocol for handling defections. Rather than sending the documentation to your diocese of baptism, it is now recommended that you contact the diocese in which you are currently resident. We have been informed that defections sent under the previous arrangement will still be processed, so there is no need to resend your documentation.
In most cases, the forwarding of the defection details will be handled internally by the Church. However, if you experience any delays, contact your diocese by telephone, email or fax or contact us.
On the 22nd December 2009 we updated the 3-step process to reflect this new protocol. Details of the update can be found here.
I have received a response stating that my baptismal date and parish are required. Is this correct?
It is our understanding that your baptismal date and parish are not necessary in order to successfully complete your defection. However, we have received feedback from some people who have been asked by their diocese for it. You should be able to find your baptismal date from your baptismal certificate. If you do not know what parish you were baptised in there is a complete directory of parishes by county listed here. If you cannot locate this information we suggest you call your diocese to tell them this and ask that they process the defection without this information.
How can I be sure that the defection was processed?
You should receive a letter from your diocese or parish stating that the defection has been noted in the baptismal register. However, if you are not satisfied with this then you have the right under the Data Protection Act to make an ‘access request’. Any body that holds personal information on an individual is known as a ‘data collector’. You are entitled to request a copy of any information an organisation may have on you free of charge. For more on access requests please visit this section of the Data Protection Commissioner’s website.
Alternatively, you may request to see the baptismal register in person. We are not aware of anyone that has done this as yet. Our understanding is that it would be at the discretion of the parish/diocese in question as to whether they would grant you access.
Are the Church’s internal statistics really that important?
It depends on why you wish to defect.
There is a growing number who no longer identify or feel part of the Roman Catholic Church. They may consider themselves to be atheist or agnostic, they might be content to hold their own private beliefs without being a member of an organised religion, or they may have joined a different faith. Many lapsed Catholics have been pushed ever further from the institution of the Catholic Church due to the horrifying revelations of abuse laid out in the Ryan Report or the history of coverup documented in the Murphy Report into the Dublin Archdiocese. They may have been saddened or angered by the obfuscation and lies of the RCC, by its defensive and legalistic response and by the meek deference of the state towards an organisation that many believed no longer held that kind of sway on the institutions of the state.
Such people wish to send a clear, unambiguous message to the Catholic Church and its hierarchy that they do not wish to remain counted among a congregation into which they were baptised before they could choose for themselves. Moreover, many do not wish to remain as a member of an organisation which has protected those who committed the crimes outlined in the report into child abuse; as they would see it, this would be to give tacit support to the Church hierarchy. Thus for such people, defection is largely a personal, symbolic act but has no less weight for that. It is a matter of principle.
Others wish to defect as a way of affecting political change. They are angered by the Church’s continuing role in the state’s Education and Health service and at the soft cultural influence that is revealed in the government’s deferent attitude – from the exemptions granted in Section 7 of the Equal Status Act (2000 – 2004) to the introduction of a Blasphemy Law in July 2009 to the compensation deal struck with the religious orders. The goal of such people – a goal that we personally share – is to create a climate in which a more secular Ireland can emerge. They aim to lessen the political and cultural influence of the Roman Catholic Church such that the services of the state cater fairly for people of all faiths and none, and to change the context in which the government operates such that it views the nation as a plurality of people and faiths and not a presumptive Catholic majority.
Defecting is one small way of advancing this aim. The act itself remains symbolic and, viewed in isolation, cannot affect issues external to the Church since the religious makeup of the state is officially estimated using the census statistics. Thus changing the way in which people declare their religious outlook is one way of influencing government policy. We would argue that completing the defection process, telling friends and family about it, sharing the link, reading the information on this site and interacting with others online, perhaps through Facebook or Twitter, can provoke (and has provoked) a debate on these issues.
The Irish people are reconsidering their relationship with the Church as never before; the number of people selecting “No religion” on the 2006 census form was around 168 times larger than the 1961 figure (or an almost 17000% increase, from 1,107 people to 186,318; view the data here). We believe that the constituency of lapsed Catholics and unbelievers is even greater than this and that, were people to reflect a little on their own identity, beliefs and relationship with the RCC, they might reconsider how they declare themselves the next time the census comes around. We hope this site makes a small contribution to that debate.
Does defecting mean I can’t get married in a church?
Yes, technically speaking, defecting from the Church excludes you from all Catholic ceremonies that require baptism. This includes marriage, funerals and Last Rites. Note that this does not exclude you from attending such events.
We received a response from the Diocese of Cork and Ross regarding this question:
“The Act of Defection is a basic renunciation of one’s baptism. Therefore…this excludes the person from Catholic marriages, funerals and reception of other sacraments. Of course, it would not preclude the person from attending such ceremonies such as the marriage and funerals of others. It would, however, mean that the person would not be able to receive Holy Communion”
However anecdotal evidence suggests that the application of this rule can differ depending on the parish or priest in question. For example, many priests consider the marriage between a defected former-Catholic and a practising Catholic to be the same as a standard mixed-marriage, for which established rules would apply.
We suggest you consult with your parish priest or the priest of your partner if you have any concerns in this regard.
What if I’ve been married in the Catholic Church and then defect; will this change my marital status?
Marriages that are conducted in a Catholic Church also count as legally binding civil contracts. That is to say, you are married both in the eyes of the Church and the state. We have been told by the General Register Office, the state body which registers all marriages, that the civil marriage contract remains in place regardless of your subsequent religious affiliation. As such, leaving the Church will not affect the status of your marriage.
Can I still have my future children baptised?
We asked the Diocese of Cork and Ross this question and received the following response:
“In relation to the issue of baptism, a child is baptised on the basis of the promise that the parents and godparents make to have the child brought up in the practice of the [Catholic] faith. If the parent is not a Catholic or has defected from the Catholic faith, it would be difficult to comprehend a situation where they would want their child baptised or whereby they would be able, or wish, to make the promise to have the child brought up in the practice of the faith”
Parents who have defected or who consider themselves to be lapsed Catholics should thus reflect on their motives for baptising their children and should decide themselves if they can make in good conscience a promise to raise their children in the Catholic faith. We note from feedback and queries received since Count Me Out went live that many lapsed Catholics or non-believers feel obliged to have their children baptised in order to secure a place in their local Catholic-run school.
Will my child have problems enrolling in a Catholic school if I defect?
If your child has already been baptised then your own religious beliefs should have no bearing on your child’s right to enrol in a Catholic school. However, if your child is unbaptised then you may encounter some difficulties.
Catholic schools in Ireland have the right to refuse the enrolment of children who are not Catholic i.e. not baptised. The Equal Status Act (2000 – 2004) states that:
“where the establishment is a school providing primary or post-primary education to students and the objective of the school is to provide education in an environment which promotes certain religious values, it admits persons of a particular religious denomination in preference to others or it refuses to admit as a student a person who is not of that denomination and, in the case of a refusal, it is proved that the refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school.”
A similar provision is outlined in the guidelines for the board of management of national schools i.e.
“Care must be taken to ensure that the criteria do not lead to discrimination on grounds set out in Section 6(2) of the Employment Equality Acts, 1998 – 2004, i.e., gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race & member of the Travelling Community, with the exception of Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act regarding the protection of a school’s ethos.”
Article 42, Section 2 of the constitution states that the Irish state is obliged to provide for free primary education. Article 44, Section 2.3 of the constitution also states that:
“The State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status.”
Thus the state has an obligation both to provide free education for children and to avoid discriminating on the basis of religious belief. However in instances where a school is discriminating against non-Catholics and where there is no choice for such parents, the constitutional guarantee of free education is in conflict with the exemption on the basis of school ethos. It is in such cases that parents might feel obliged to baptise their children – regardless of their own beliefs – in order to secure placement.
We asked the Equality Authority about this contradition and received the following response:
Section 7 of the ESA provides for the principle of non-discrimination on each of the nine grounds in relation to admission of, acces to or expulsion of a student from an educational institute or in relation to the terms or conditions of participation in that institute by a student. Positive discrimination is permitted in favour of the members of a certain religion, as well as more active conduct in actually refusing access to the school. In the latter case where a person is refused simply because there are no places left, a high standard of proof would be required that it is essential to act in that manner in order to maintain the ethos of the school.
In addition we received a position paper that outlined the opinion of the Equality Authority on this issue and describes the contradictions that the current law has produced. You can read it here (Word)
We would recommend that if you have any concerns in this regard that you should consult with the school(s) in question.
Count Me Out has also written to the Department of Education in order to clarify this issue and will post the response once received.
Can my child still take part in Communion / Confirmation?
Presuming your child has been baptised, your religious beliefs or status should have no bearing on their taking part in Communion or Confirmation. However, we have requested more information on this.
Can I still act as Godparent if requested to do so?
Canon Law outlines the 5 criteria that qualify one to act as Godparent. To sponsor a child, the person must be older than 16 and be a baptised, practising Catholic. However, someone who has defected and then joined another Christian church would be allowed to act as Godparent, as long as an additional sponsor was found who satisified the 5 criteria.
Again, like many of the rules in Canon Law, the application of this guideline likely depends on the individual parish priest. Count Me Out has written to the Catholic Communications Office for clarification on this question.
Will defecting restrict where I can be buried when I die?
Graveyards in the grounds of Catholic Churchs are likely under the ownership and management of the Church, who can run the grounds are they see fit. It would be down to the individual parish priest to decide on who can be buried there.
However, most areas of country would have one or more municipal cemeteries, which are under the management of Local Authorities (ie. city and county councils). We spoke to Cork City Council in relation to non-denominational burial plots and were assured that all cemeteries in Ireland accept people of any faith or none into their burial grounds. As such, your defection from the Church will not affect your burial providing that there is a municipal cemetery in your area.
Note that if there are no municipal graveyards in your area, your family could theoretically have problems as shown in this sad and shocking incident from 2008. If this is in the case in your local area, we advise you to lobby your local authority to establish a municipal burial plot.
Is there an alternative to a Catholic funeral?
The British Humanist association has some good information on how to arrange for a “humanist” funeral.
Moreover, a user of the site sent us the following email, which we reproduce with her permission.
My family organised a non religious funeral service for my father, an agnostic. We contacted a local funeral home who provided us with a facilitator to organise the content of a funeral home service and a service including the burial. We organised speeches by family and friends describing his life, profession, hobbies, funny stories and played his favorite pieces of music.
The parlour was cleared of all religious references and artifacts for the services and all Catholic symbolism was removed from the coffin by the funeral parlour staff. We arranged his professional tools and his darts and trophies on tables by the coffin and mounted enlarged photos of him enjoying a night dancing with his daughters on the walls of the parlour.
Everything was arranged easily and without interference and all the people who attended were surprised that the services were so personal and celebratory of him. There were no problems or obstacles in arranging a non-Catholic funeral, no specific organisation needed to be contacted, no permission needed from anybody. Anyone can approach a funeral parlour and request the help of a facilitator for this. My experience is that they could not have been more helpful or respectful in complying with my family’s wishes.
What if my parents/family find out?
You must state your parents’ names on your declaration of defection. However, there is no requirement for the Church to inform your parents. In fact, the Church, as a ‘data controller’, must abide by the Data Protection Act.
A data controller who holds information about you must:
- get and use the information fairly;
- keep it for only one or more clearly stated and lawful purposes;
- use and make known this information only in ways that are in keeping with these purposes;
- keep the information safe;
- make sure that the information is factually correct, complete and up-to-date;
- make sure that there is enough information – but not too much – and that it is relevant;
- keep the information for no longer than is needed for the reason stated; and
- give you a copy of your personal information when you ask for it.
If you are worried about a priest/member of the clergy making your defection known to your family then we suggest that you clearly state in the cover letter that you do not, under any circumstances, want details of your defection made known to your family or anyone else. State that this is your right under the Data Protection Act. You are perfectly entitled to request this and it is stated on the Data Protection Commissioner’s website:
“A data controller may intend to use your details for official purposes, in the public interest or for their own interests. If you feel that doing so could cause you unnecessary damage or distress, you may ask the data controller not to use your personal details.”
Choosing to tell your parents/family of your decision to defect should be a matter of your own personal choice.
Church and State
Does the Irish state recognise a ‘special relationship’ with the Catholic Church?
This was previously the case. Article 44, Section 2 of the 1937 constitution stated
“The State recognises the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens.”
This reference was removed in 1973 by means of a referendum. Article 44, 2.2 states that “The State guarantees not to endow any religion.” However, the influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland seems to run counter to this article. For example, the preamble to the Irish Constitution is as follows:
“In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial…”
Further to this, the President of Ireland must make the following declaration before entering office:
“In the presence of Almighty God I ,do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will maintain the Constitution of Ireland and uphold its laws, that I will fulfil my duties faithfully and conscientiously in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and that I will dedicate my abilities to the service and welfare of the people of Ireland. May God direct and sustain me.”
Judges and members of the Council of State must take a similar oath. The oaths appear in Articles 12, 31 and 34 of the constitution.
Aside from the constitution, the Church’s influence manifests itself in a number of other ways. For example, the ‘Angelus’ is observed every day on RTE radio and television, the state’s broadcasting service. The sale of alcohol is also prohibited on Good Friday.
How is the Church involved in state education?
The Church continues to exert a huge influence on the Irish Education system.
Any sufficiently large group of people in the state can apply to open a school in their local area; the Department of Education chooses amongst such applications based on need. Up until 2006, groups wishing to setup a school needed to contribute 15% of the cost of the building.
So for both financial and historical reasons, the majority of Irish primary and secondary schools have been managed by the Catholic Church. This situation continues today, such that Catholic bishops or their designated representative act as the patron of 93% of all primary schools. Traditionally, many teachers in these schools would have been priests, nuns and brothers. However, declining vocations has led to a situation where most staff in Catholic schools are in fact professional teachers.
Despite this, the Church still wields significant power in the management of schools. A school is typically run by a Board of Management, setup at the discretion of the patron. The Board of a large school is usually composed of 8 members; 2 direct nominees of the patron, 2 elected by the parents of the pupils, 1 member elected by the teaching staff, the principal of the school and two additional members agreed by representatives of the patron, teachers and parents. The two community members must make a committment to uphold the ethos of the school. The patron then appoints the chairperson of the board, which is typically the local parish priest in the case of a Catholic school.
The two main powers of the Church in education are in enrolment and recruitment. The Equal Status Act (2000 – 2004) outlines 10 grounds on which discrimination is outlawed, but gives church-controlled schools the right to discriminate in two of these areas: gender (so a boy cannot enrol in a girl’s school) and religion. It is perfectly legal for a church-run school to refuse the enrolment of an unbaptised child in favour of a Catholic one. Often the Church-run school is the only one available for parents and anecdotal evidence suggests that some parents have had their child baptised in order to secure enrolment (referenced, for example, in this Equality Authority position paper).
A church-run school also has the power to fire a member of staff if they decide that they are not upholding the ethos of the school. Technically a teacher could be fired for having a child out of wedlock, being gay, etc. Although it would be unlikely to happen today, there is a recent historical precedent in the case of Eileen Flynn. A report by Marguerite Bolger suggests that firing someone on these grounds remains legal. Moreover, we’ve been sent messages by users and found many posts on the “Education Posts” forum in which teachers express concern about revealing aspects of their personal life – pregnancy outside of wedlock, for example – to the school authorities or board of management. Regardless of the reality of these fears, the fact that the question is being posed is in itself interesting.
We spoke to the principal of a primary school who told us that, although it is illegal in Ireland to ask someone in an interview what their religion is, that the issue is often raised in an indirect fashion. Referring to interviews he had participated in earlier in his career, he told us that candidates are often asked if they have gone through an exam in the Catholic Catechisms and that
“The only appropriate responses to this question are “Yes” or “No, I haven’t yet, but I am a practicing Catholic so I wouldn’t have any trouble anyway…”.
Moreover, he told us that, in his experience, teachers increasingly include a reference from their Parish priest in their job application and that of 200 applications for a position he advertised, 75% of applicants included such a reference.
Aside from these two areas, the Church’s influence extends, unsurprisingly, into the domain of religious education. All schools in Ireland must devote at least 30 minutes a day to the teaching of religion. Pupils who are not Catholic must either sit out these minutes separate from the rest of the students, or listen without participating. One could argue that this situation has a relatively modest effect on the teaching of non-Catholic pupils since, if they listen in, basic religious instruction would likely focus on issues of right and wrong that are applicable across the board. However this changes in the run-up to Communion and Confirmation, when a large amount of time is set aside for preparation and the relatively “ethics based” coursework of the Alive O curriculum is replaced with preparation for receiving the sacrements. During this period, non-Catholic children are obliged to miss large amounts of class time. Moreover they are separated from their classmates and marked out as different from a very early age.
Finally, it is worth noting that all taxpayers, regardless of their religion or beliefs, pay taxes that fund our schools. Although church-run schools receive no more money than any other, the fact is that non-religious tax-payers are indirectly paying to fund a system where a large proportion of school time is spent preparing for religious rituals that they may not believe in or that they do no wish their child to take part in. Were there a choice between a state secular school and a Catholic school this would not be a problem. But with 93% of primary schools church-run, there is no choice.
Note that Educate Together multidemominational schools are now the fastest growing schools in the state.
How many schools are under the control of the Catholic Church?
Count Me Out have written to the Department of Education and Science requesting these figures and are awaiting a response.
What powers does the school patron have?
Catholic bishops are patrons of 93% of primary schools in Ireland. In general, the patron of a school is a representative of the owners and can be an individual or a group.
The Education Act 1998 gives a statutory basis to the role of the patron and sets out the rules for determining who the patron is. The patron may manage the school personally or may appoint a board of management to act as manager. Under the Act the patron has the power to remove the board and take over managing the school or appoint another board. A register of patrons is kept by the Department of Education and Science so it is possible for anyone to check exactly who the patron of any national school is.
What are the Church’s obligations under the Equality Act?
They must obey the act, but only in so far as it does not conflict with their religious ethos.
Where can I find more information on the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, known as the Ryan Report?
The Ryan Report was published in May 2009, and there is a good history of its origins and operation on Wikipedia.
You can download a copy of the report from the Child Abuse Commission website.
Moreover, there are a number of good articles in The Irish Times. Namely:
- “The 18 Religious Orders – What they do now”;
- “Lessons in the Power of the Church”;
- “Moved to outrage by apathy over child abuse”.
Where can I find more information on the Murphy Report into the Dublin Archdiocese?
The report on the Dublin Archdiocese was published in November 2009, and you can read more about its history on Wikipedia.
You can download a copy of the Report from the website of Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Where can I find more information about multi-denominational primary and secondary schools in my region?
The largest number of multi-denominational primary schools in Ireland are run by Educate Together. There is a full list of their schools here. Count Me Out have written to the Department of Education and Science in order to get a list of all the multi-denominational primary and secondary schools in the state.
How is the Church involved in healthcare?
Religious orders still own and operate many of the hospitals in Ireland.
For example, in Dublin, the Sisters of Mercy operate the Temple St. and The Mater hospitals, while the Sisters of Charity operate St Vincents and St Michaels. All of these hospitals must uphold the ‘Catholic ethos’. There are a number of instances where modern medicine can come into conflict with this ethos, such that the operation of the hospital has been disrupted. For example, in 2005, The Mater hospital’s clinical advisory group refused to allow the trial of a lung cancer drug to proceed because part of the treatment would have required patients to use contraception. You can read more about that incident here and here.
There are older examples of the Church’s ethos clashing with medical practice. For example, between the 1940s and 1980s symphysiotomies were performed on pregnant women in preference to caesarean sections because they were deemed to be more in keeping with the Catholic ethos. More information on this can be found here and here.
How has the Church used its influence?
In schools, the patron wields a significant amount of power. For example, a school’s board of management requires the approval of the patron for the appointment of teachers. As stated above, 93% of primary schools are under the patronage of the Catholic bishops. Patrons are entitled to veto decisions which they feel are not in accordance with the Catholic faith.
Some high profile examples of the Church’s use of power in the provision of state services are:
- In May 2009, a Christian Brother in a Dublin secondary school requested that government-issued anti-homophobic bullying posters be removed from the school premises (ref: Senator David Norris senate speech, May 27th 2009). The group involved in creating the posters – BeLonGTo – have confirmed to us that the incident did occur as recounted by Senator Norris;
- In 2005, the ethics committee of the Mater hospital, which is run by the Sisters of Mercy, refused to approve clinical trials of Tarceva (a lung cancer drug) because the trial required women to avail of contraception (text of the article can currently be found here). This is against the hospital’s ethos;
- A principal in Meath, Tomás Ó Dulaing, was sacked in 2002 by the board of management for seeking to have religious education outside of class time;
- A teacher in Wexford, Eileen Flynn, was sacked by the board of management from her post in 1982 for having a child out of wedlock.
I agree that the Church has too much influence, but how will defecting change this?
The most effective way to reduce the Catholic Church’s power and influence in Ireland is to firstly decrease their membership. Defecting is primarily a symbolic act which will allow you to leave the Church for your own personal reasons. Obviously, reducing the membership will not automatically reduce the Church’s power. The most important indicator of religious affiliation in Ireland is the census, which is conducted every 5 years.
The interest that the Count Me Out campaign has generated has resulted in a debate on the whole relationship between church and state. This debate has allowed a lot of people an opportunity to reflect on their relationship with the Church. As such, more people may be willing to be open about the fact that they wish to see a diminished role for the Church (or religion in general) in state affairs. One of the best ways of realising this is for the state to see that the number of Catholics in the country is decreasing. Marking ‘No Religion’ on the census will achieve this. Incidentally, according to the census figures, ‘No Religion’ is the fastest growing category under ‘religious affiliation’ in Ireland since 1961.
REFERENCES AND LINKS
Below, references and links from the FAQ, in the order they appear in the text.
- Official website of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland
- Wikipedia article on the “Actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia Catholica” or Declaration of Defection;
- Website of “Les Panthères Roses” [fr], a French Gay and Lesbian pressure group that advocated defections as a way of protesting against the Church’s policy on Homosexuality;
- “No en mi nombre” (Not in my name) [es], an Argentinian campaign to encourage people to defect;
- “Eroa Kirkostaw” (Leave the church), a Finnish website that allows people to defect from the church via the site (online update of official documentation is possible in Finland);
- “Blasphemy Law a Return to Middle Ages – Dawkins”, an Irish Times article of July 13th 2009 that referenced Count Me Out;
- Atheist Ireland, an association of Atheists that aims “to build a rational, ethical and secular society free from superstition and supernaturalism”.
- Catholic.ie, an external URL, not owned by Count Me Out, that is now redirecting to our site (with our permission);
- Wikipedia entry on “The Code of Canon Law 1983”;
- Papl edict of March 2006 that describes how to perform an act of defection;
- Wikipedia list of Roman Catholic Dioceses in the United Kingdom;
- A list of parishes for the U.K.;
- A French site explaining how and why you might want to perform a “débaptisation” (they mean a defection, or “apostasie” in French);
- An atheist activist website that describes the process of Defection for a US audience;
- A directory of parishes in the United States;
- An Italian website that describes and provides sample forms for defection;
- An Icelandic website that advocates defection. We would welcome a translation of some of the text, if anyone can provide us with that;
- A section of the Catholic Catechism, that states that it is not possible to be debaptised;
- Wikipedia page describing the recognition of baptisms between the Christian churchs;
- An article about the church’s handling of the case of an abortion performed on a 9yr old rape victim. The church excommunicated all those involved in the procedure;
- A 2007 case study by the Data Protection Commissioner on whether an individual has the right to have their name removed from the Church’s baptismal register;
- Your rights under the Data Protection Acts 1998 and 2003;
- Wikipedia explains what a spambot is;
- A searchable list of all the parishes in Ireland;
- The Data Protection Commissioner explains how to access any of your personal information that an organisation might hold;
- Text of the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2004 (PDF)
- “Blasphemy law is silly, dangerous and unjust”, Michael Nugent, Irish Times article of July 10th 2009;
- “Religious orders say they will not renegotiate compensation terms”, The Post article, May 25th 2009;
- The population of Ireland classified by religion, using census data from 1881 to 2006;
Consequences of Defection
- The General Register Office, the body that registers all marriages in the state;
- Guidelines for the Board of Management of schools in Ireland;
- Equality Authority position paper from September 12th of last year;
- Canon Law rules for the selection of a Godparent;
- “Atheists forced to travel out of Donegal for final resting place”, Patsy McGarry, Irish Times article of August 29th 2008;
- The British Humanist Association describes how to organise a humanist funeral;
Church & State
- Bunreacht na hÉireann (The Constitution of Ireland);
- “Church may reduce Education role – Bishops”, RTE report that references the “93%” figure;
- Citizen’s Information describes the makeup and operation of a Board of Management;
- “Eileen Flynn, teacher sacked in 1982, dies”, Genevieve Carberry, Irish Times article of September 11th 2008;
- “DISCRIMINATION ON GROUNDS OF RELIGION: THEORY AND PRACTICE”, report by Marguerite Bolger prepared for the “European Network against Racism” conference. It discusses the Eileen Flynn case from page 18 onward;
- The forum of Educationposts.ie, a site providing information on employment and job vacancies for Irish teachers;
- Educate Together, a group that operates a number of multi-denominational schools across the country;
- The homepage of The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, known colloquially as “The Ryan Report”;
- “The 18 orders: what they do now”, Alison Healy, Irish Times article of May 30th 2009;
- “Lessons in the Power of the Church”, Fintan o’Toole, Irish Times article of June 6th 2009;
- “Moved to outrage by apathy over child abuse”, Vincent Browne, Irish Times article of June 17th 2009;
- A full list of Educate Together schools in the state;
- “Mater advisory group deferred cancer drug trial”, Irish Times article of 10th October 2005 (subscription required);
- “Mater responds to drug trial controversy”, RTE report of 3rd October 2005;
- Dáil Éireann debate of May 2001 on the use of symphysiotomy procedures in Church-run hospitals;
- “Review sought on childbirth procedure”, Irish Examiner article of June 23rd 2009, on the possibility of a review into the symphysiotomy procedures;
- Seanad debate of May 27th 2009 in which Senator David Norris refers to the incident involving the homophobic bullying posters, and also speaks eloquently on the implications of the Ryan Report;
- BeLonGTo, an organisation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) young people, aged between 14 and 23;
- “‘Breakdown of trust’ led to sacking of school head”, The Independent article from August 2002 on the sacking of Tomás Ó Dulaing;
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