Guidelines on Defections Published in English

Vatican Document Describes Elements of Formal Acts

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 15, 2007 ( The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts has published in English the clarified guidelines for baptized Catholics who formally separate from the Church.

Cardinal Julián Herranz, the then president of the pontifical council, issued a statement on formal acts of defection from the Church last March. The English text now appears at

The document was drawn up after many requests for clarifications of the so-called formal act of defection from the Church, mentioned in the Code of Canon Law.

Vatican dicasteries examined the issue to identify the theological and doctrinal components and then “the juridical formalities necessary so that such an action would constitute a true ‘formal act’ of defection,” Cardinal Herranz explained.

“[T]he formal act of defection,” the document states, “must have more than a juridical-administrative character (the removal of one’s name from a Church membership registry maintained by the government in order to produce certain civil consequences), but be configured as a true separation from the constitutive elements of the life of the Church: It supposes, therefore, an act of apostasy, heresy or schism.”

The formal act of defection “ruptures the bonds of communion, including faith, sacraments, and pastoral governance that permit the faithful to receive the life of grace within the Church,” clarified Cardinal Herranz.

For the formal act of defection to be valid, three steps are necessary. The document lists them:

“1) the internal decision to leave the Catholic Church;

“2) the realization and external manifestation of that decision; and

“3) the reception of that decision by the competent ecclesiastical authority.”

The document clarifies that the third step is not fulfilled by a juridical-administrative action, such as removal of one’s name from Church membership records, but must be carried out “by a person who is canonically capable and in conformity with the canonical norms.”

Despite all this, “the fulfillment of the formal act of defection from the Catholic Church does not remove the permanent, sacramental bond, conferred at baptism, linking the individual to the Body of Christ,” Cardinal Herranz concluded.

The document has been transmitted by Benedict XVI to the presidents of all episcopal conferences.

Cardinal Herranz, 76, retired today as president of the pontifical council.

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