Do I Have Any Recourse Under Canon Law?

I was taken in to the Catholic Church without my consent. I was twelve years old at the time, and my mother had just married a Catholic man. She converted for him, and told me I had to convert as well. Going through RCIA with her, I was never told that I had a choice in the matter. The one time that the priest asked me why I wanted to convert, I told him that mom said I had to, and he just sort of laughed it off.

I haven’t practiced Catholicism since I was about eighteen. I was baptised as an infant, by a Methodist minister, and lately I’ve been going to a Methodist church with my girlfriend and her son. A man there told me that the Catholic Church still considers me Catholic, and a google search led me to this forum. Here, I have learned that I was suposed to have had a choice back then.

I hope to marry my girlfriend soon, but it would certainly not be a Catholic wedding and I’m not comfortable with the idea that a billion people (including my mom and stepfather) would consider the marriage invalid. I’m not too keen on the idea that I’d need a Catholic bishop’s permission, either.

What I’d really like is some kind of declaration of nullity of my confirmation, since my consent was seriously impaired. I’d settle for being released from my obligations (from a Catholic perspective), especially with regard to marriage. Does Canon law provide for this sort of situation?

I asked this question in the “Ask an Apologist” section, and just copied it here, I hope that’s okay.

At least one of your custodial parents are able to provide consent for you when under age 13. Your understanding or consent is not necessary for the sacraments to be valid or licit at that age. That means that we assume the sacraments you received were effective and they were also following the church law.

You are already de facto defected from the church and what you’re asking is how to get the church to officially recognize this. Canon law used to allow for three categories of defection: de facto, formal, and notorious. You’ll find online references about how to formally defect by writing a letter stating the intent to do so. Since 2009, that is no longer an option. The Church believed it harmful to allow people to believe they were unsubscribing from the Church when that wasn’t ever what a defection entailed. The Church says that you can’t undo sacraments and it is by virtue of the sacraments that you are a member of the church. If your sacraments were valid, they’re valid and so are the records that you had them.

Notorious, or publicly known, defection is still in the canons. A notorious defection could be argued in many cases including yours, but would be clear if the following were all achieved:

  1. Decide to leave the Church (which supposes an act of heresy, apostasy, or schism),
  2. Put this decision into effect (“realize” it),
  3. Manifest this decision externally by submitting it in writing to the Ordinary (normally the bishop) or one’s pastor, and
  4. Get the Ordinary or pastor to agree that you really have performed the act of will to leave the Church described above and thus committed heresy, apostasy, or schism.

In being a heretic, apostate, or schismatic who is unrepentant and who has left the church, the person is automatically excommunicated. That doesn’t mean kicked out of the church. It means barred from the sacraments outside of Confession until the situation is resolved. An excommunicated Catholic who has publicly defected is still Catholic and held to the same marriage laws. He’s also welcome and encouraged to return to Confession at any time in his life so he can resume his sacramental life.

Some dioceses keep a list of people who wish to have their defection recognized. This might be sufficient for you, with the particulars of how it is viewed in the church being irrelevant. Or you might find going through all that trouble when we’ll still believe you held to the marriage laws to be pointless. That’s up to you.

I will pray for your peace, for your marriage, for your discernment and guidance as you figure out how to balance your family upbringing with your current life, and for your salvation. I hope this information is helpful on your journey.

Certain sacraments make an “indelible spiritual mark”: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders. You received Christian initiation as a Methodist and Confirmation as a Catholic, and these two marks remain forever. Also there are no canonical effects of a formal defection from the Catholic Church.

If you had a valid baptism, then you validly received the Sacrament of Confirmation at reception from the Catholic bishop or priest with faculties.

Here is what the canon law states about the person to be confirmed (CIC):Can. 889 §1 Every baptised person who is not confirmed, and only such a person, is capable of receiving confirmation.

§2 Apart from the danger of death, to receive confirmation lawfully a person who has the use of reason must be suitably instructed, properly disposed and able to renew the baptismal promises.

Can. 890 The faithful are bound to receive this sacrament at the proper time. Parents and pastors of souls, especially parish priests, are to see that the faithful are properly instructed to receive the sacrament and come to it at the opportune time.

Can. 891 The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion, unless the Episcopal Conference has decided on a different age, or there is a danger of death or, in the judgement of the minister, a grave reason suggests otherwise.

listen to your conscience - if you are comfortable with the Methodist Church stay there–

the whole concept of the age of reason as viewed by the RC Church (and certainly some others) is perplexing-one has to be a certain age to receive your first Holy Communion (7 or 8 I beleive) and to be confirmed (12 or 13?) yet at 12 you can not decide on whether you wanted to enter the Rc Church?

I do believe the RC Church keeps you on their rolls unless you write the Bishop asking to be removed

I thought I read you could ask a priest to put a notation on your records that you are formally defecting. However he can refuse. On the other the people you are worried about will not accept this anyway. You can’t be worried about the billion you don’t know. If your consent was required, which it was if you were twelve, then you were converted under duress and it should not be valid. However, nobody would believe this. I lot of teenagers in all religions are forced into sacraments by their parents under the guise of their free will.
If it’s important to you that your mom recognizes your marriage, your stepfather doesn’t count, you can request a dispensation to have the wedding in your wife’s church. The problem is you would have to promise that you will keep your Catholic faith, which you can’t. I guess you have to convince your mom that you aren’t Catholic. She should be more understanding since she wasn’t born Catholic either.

Infant Baptism
Receiving sacraments of initiation after the age of reason isn’t a requirement but a tradition that developed and varies over time. The church says that a baptized child is in a state of grace so doesn’t need the other sacraments until the age of reason, when the child begins to sin and needs recourse to the sacraments. It doesn’t reject them being given sooner and even demands that infants be Confirmed and given the Eucharist if they’re in danger of death.

Grace is a gift, not something we earn. As parents, we can choose to give this gift to our children to nourish them spiritually through the sacraments and church life as they grow. If they become adults and reject that gift, it’s their free will. It doesn’t undo that it was freely given to them when they were younger, which is all our records show. We believe those gifts make permanent changes in the soul that obligate him for the rest of his life to walk in God’s ways while providing the avenues of grace needed to do that.

The man here was baptized as an infant in the Methodist church and his Baptism was sealed and perfected in his Catholic Confirmation. He was then able to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord in the Eucharist, just as Jesus commanded in John 6. He now rejects his recognition as a Catholic, but as he’s practicing in the Methodist church, there’s no indication that he rejects his parents choosing to enroll him into the Christian Church and Body of Christ through his Baptism as an infant so it isn’t very logical to complain that they gifted him with access to other sacraments when he was a child, too.

His main beef is that he doesn’t want his marriage to have to follow suit. The Church has a process where his marriage could be recognized, but he wants to defect or sever ties as an adult and he wants the church to recognize this and say he isn’t bound by the church rules and doesn’t have access to the church’s resources. But the church won’t say that. It will recognize his de facto defection with sadness, always praying for and welcoming him home like the Prodigal Son should he wish to return to living the full sacramental life.

There is a Canon that may apply:

Can. 748 ß2 "It is never lawful for anyone to force others to embrace the Catholic faith against their conscience."

(However it’s to be remembered that part 1 of that particular Canon does state

Can. 748 §1. All persons are bound to seek the truth in those things which regard God and his Church and by virtue of divine law are bound by the obligation and possess the right of embracing and observing the truth which they have come to know.")

'm not comfortable that at the age of twelve, you were not given the opportunity to freely choose your faith. The priest possibly thought you were being a slightly rebellious blunt almost-teen and didn’t take your response seriously.

It was necessary for your mother to make all effort to raise you as Catholic, but only you and God know your intentions of the period.Consent is required for the Sacraments, even in the case of infant Baptism the parents give consent on behalf of the infant, but you were past the ‘age of reason’ and your free consent should have been assured.

Regardless of your position, your family will doubtless grieve, but they are already aware that you are not living the Catholic faith. You and your girlfriend may be the recipient of many prayers, which isn’t a bad thing!

Consent in Canon Law:

You don’t need Canon Law or a Canon Lawyer. Jesus Christ doesn’t force Himself on anyone, neither does His Church. You are free to go anytime you want. But you may need that Canon Lawyer or some sound advise when and if you ever decide to come back.

I hope the gal is the right one. Make sure before you say “I do.”


this isn’t correct. To formally defect requires writing to, and being accepted by, the Bishop. The parish priest has no authority in the matter.

Moreover, formal defection does not release one from the Faith nor from obligations under Church Law.

This is also incorrect. Formal defection is not an option since 2009. Please see my post above.

Formal defection has no canonical effect since 2009.

Formal defection has no canonical recognition since 2009. As of right now, it doesn’t exist.

That is interesting AussieTrish. I looked up the CIC canons on persons and found out that there are three age bands (infant @ birth, minor @ 8, puberty @ 14 (female) or 16 (male), major @ 18):Can. 97 §1. A person who has completed the eighteenth year of age has reached majority; below this age, a person is a minor.
§2. A minor before the completion of the seventh year is called an infant and is considered not responsible for oneself (non sui compos). With the completion of the seventh year, however, a minor is presumed to have the use of reason.

Can. 98 §1. A person who has reached majority has the full exercise of his or her rights.
§2. A minor, in the exercise of his or her rights, remains subject to the authority of parents or guardians except in those matters in which minors are exempted from their authority by divine law or canon law. In what pertains to the appointment of guardians and their authority, the prescripts of civil law are to be observed unless canon law provides otherwise or unless in certain cases the diocesan bishop, for a just cause, has decided to provide for the matter through the appointment of another guardian.

Can. 99 Whoever habitually lacks the use of reason is considered not responsible for oneself (non sui compos) and is equated with infants.

Can. 863 The baptism of adults, at least of those who have completed their fourteenth year, is to be deferred to the diocesan bishop so that he himself administers it if he has judged it Expedient.

Can. 1083 §1 A man cannot validly enter marriage before the completion of his sixteenth year of age, nor a woman before the completion of her fourteenth year.
§2 The Episcopal Conference may establish a higher age for the lawful celebration of marriage.

Vico, God bless you, and thanks for that clarification
even though it is a very natural expectation that the age twelve and thereabout would constitute sufficient understanding to make a considered choice, especially after going through RCIA. I think there is a different perception of young people in the modern world than might have existed generations ago before anyone ever spoke of teens or pre-teens. This is at variance with the Church’s stratification. The OP may have difficulty with the Church’s (arbitrary) classifications. Many parents would find puzzling, for instance, that 7 is counted as the age of reason when parents’ experience of children is frequently that reason is in full flight long before age 7 and that each child has his or her own rate of development, with girls attaining it before boys, quite often.

Whatever the OP decides, and however he views the Canons, there simply isn’t a way that his family will feel entirely at peace for him, and he can’t control that. His primary concern is that his parents and family will regard his marriage as invalid.
Regardless, they will continue to love him, and he will continue to love them.

It is seldom that any of us have others’ full approval.
We have to accept the consequences of our decisions, and we can’t control how they affect others, or what others feel about aspects of our choices.
May God give JobinFan70 and each of us the grace and kindness we need to live in charity and truth.

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