Count him in: opting out of the Catholic church isn't half as easy as you'd think

I've been trying really hard to get out of the Catholic church. At one point recently, I thought I had. I filled out the forms on, signed the declaration of defection along with a letter about my reasons for leaving the church, and posted it off to the HQ of the archdiocese of Dublin, which is in a hollowed-out volcano somewhere, protected by flying machete-armed monkeys and a layer of death ray lasers. Or Drumcondra. Wherever.

Myself and Reverend Fintan Gavin, the assistant chancellor (not that I know what that means) emailed back and forth, and eventually worked through our busy schedules and arranged to meet to discuss my reasons for leaving the church. I met him. He offered me a purple Snack bar, which in fairness is the nicest of the Snack dynasty. He asked me if I was there in a journalistic capacity, or a personal one. I said personal, of course.

We talked about why I wanted to be counted out and my reasons were many. Gavin threw a few conundrums my way, like did I realise how much my defection might hurt those close to me, my family, because say if I died, I wouldn't be able to have a church funeral.

Me: "But I don't want a church funeral." Him: "Well, you'd better tell them that then." Me: "Well, I will." Him: "They might be really upset." Me: "But it's not their decision to make." Him: "Well, you won't be there to make that decision if you die." Me: "Well, I would hope they would respect my wishes." Him: "Well, you won't know that because you're dead."

And so on and so forth.

But the really interesting thing about the conversation was how Gavin prefaced it with a very muddled series of statements about a change in canon law and how this may or may not impact on defections. Omnium in mentem is a code Pope Benedict published on 15 December last year that amends five parts of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

It's difficult to dissect the contents of Omnium in mentem, even though it's quite short. Some of it clarifies that two people can't marry each other if either have "not by a formal act defected" from the church, but if one isn't baptised. The definition of "by a formal act defected" goes back to a notification in March 2006 published by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, which refers to the process of defection as a three-pronged process involving the internal decision to leave the church, the realisation and external manifestation of that decision, and the reception of that decision by the competent ecclesiastical authority.

Now it seems as though there is confusion with the third part, whether or not the Catholic church in Ireland is actually accepting defections, or whether they are just pretending to.

In recent months, according to, at least one person has had their formal defection refused, based on the dilly-dallying around what Omnium in mentem actually means, and whether in a roundabout way, it in fact removes all references to formal defections from canon law. Nearly a year on, the church is still dragging its heels on clarifying it. And why wouldn't it be? The Dublin Archdiocese is in a unique position globally. A few years ago, Gavin was seeing maybe under 10 formal defections a year. Now it's more like five-, six-, 700.

The process of defection was originally established so that in countries that enforced a state tax where a percentage of one's pay had to go to a church (namely in Germany), those who did not wish to be part of the church and did not wish to pay that tax could obtain a document proving they no longer had to cough up. But that process is now being utilised by people who are defecting for other reasons. The trickle became a stream, and now a waterfall. The church is haemorrhaging members, and it's trying to plug that hole.

Gavin didn't offer any real explanation as to what the impact of Omnium in mentem actually was, and the archbishop himself is yet to sit down with a cup of tea (and possibly a purple Snack bar) and really consider it. Gavin talked of the creation of an internal register in the church that sounded like it would note the defections but you wouldn't "really" be out in the clear, a sort of defection limbo, if you will. But I'm still not sure.

And maybe that's the point, to keep us in the dark. I didn't know whether Gavin was trying to avoid my questions, trying to confuse me, or was slightly confused himself. There must be something in the water in Drumcondra when it comes to the clear articulation of truths. Either way, just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.

Hold me...

I went to see Pyjama Girls, the documentary by Still Films focusing on two teenagers from Ballyfermot, last week. It's a given to predict sentimental humour from Irish films these days, but what transpires is a darker depiction of social disadvantage. It's also probably the first piece of work to unveil the real lost Irish generation who succumbed to heroin, leaving a sector of Dublin teenagers parentless. Heartbreaking, but a must see.

Thrill me...

Arbutus Yarns is Myles O'Reilly, a filmmaker I came across through the online music magazine State is currently holding sporadic 'intervention' gigs, taking acts out of venues and into eclectic surroundings, but it's O'Reilly's depiction of the Villagers concert at the Workman's Club on Dublin's quays that really shines. It's almost impossible to make a film of a gig that makes you feel you were there when you weren't, but O'Reilly manages it with some aplomb.

Kiss me...

French Vogue has released 50 magazine covers from past issues and published them on its website for all to drool over. It makes a change to look at the more, shall we say 'classy' covers from issues past, before the heroin chic of the '90s and the mindless celebrity of the noughties took over.

Kill me

I wish the Sunday Independent would stop bestowing celebrity status on people most of us have never heard of. Last week's issue featured a piece on Maurice Boland, who apparently is the self-styled 'Mr Marbella'. Shutting its monotonous F-list celebrity factory of irrelevance would be one closure that no one would complain about, even in this 'economic climate'.