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Byron Shire
May 14, 2021

Losing my religion

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My dog died. I haven’t been able to write about it until now. It was a month ago, and he was old, but it was still unexpected, and it leaves you feeling a bit raw.

I recently lost my religion. Gosh, that does sound odd. Like it slipped behind the cushions on the couch or slipped away from me while I wasn’t paying attention and now won’t return my calls or my lengthy drunken late-night text messages.

No, I didn’t lose it really, it lost me a long time ago but it’s hard to go past the reference to the 1990s REM hit. I just love those mandolins.

On a recent trip to the north coast my mother brought a folder of papers from my childhood: drawings, school reports, awards… that kind of stuff. Inside the folder wedged between some awkward teenage poetry and a lacklustre maths appraisal was a small black and white piece of A5 paper that served as my official catholic baptism certificate. I guess it’s cheaper to print off two kids per A4 page that way.

I found my religion! Mum had it all along. And now that she’d brought it back to me after all these years of apostasy I could return to the Catholic Church – to ask them for an excommunication.

I contacted Lismore Dioceses and sent Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett with a short letter asking to be excommunicated. Jarrett contacted me by phone, which turned into an hour-long conversation. He explained that his bosses can’t excommunicate me unless I do something wrong.

I didn’t really want to do anything harmful to the church, and my day-to-day blasphemy, crude though it is, isn’t enough for a Catholic expulsion it turns out. We agreed that the best way forward would be an official annotation to my baptism. That is, they would update my baptism records with my request to essentially have it voided.

After some time, a good six months or more, I received an email with the news. I guess it was cheaper than printing off another A5 certificate. The subject read ‘No longer a member of the Catholic Church’ and the specific wording of the baptismal update read:

‘I received your correspondence and accordingly I entered in the Baptismal Register (No: 2782).

The Annotation in the Register is ‘Dylan Thomas O’Donnell no longer regards himself as a member of the Catholic Church from 7 June 2013. He notified to Lismore Bishop. Lismore Bishop notified to the parish of East Victoria Park, WA. Please see correspondence in the confidential file in the parish’.

My Catholic childhood and education were great, and I’ve never been done wrong by the church. I bear it no ill will as many other – justifiably aggrieved – people do. Bishop Jarrett, in his grace, reminded me I’d be welcome back.

There is some personal satisfaction however in being officially a documented non-Catholic. Somewhere in a little filing cabinet (or Excel spreadsheet) in a rectory in Western Australia is my briefly worded goodbye.

I updated my Facebook relationship status : ‘Ended relationship with the Catholic Church.’

It’s not you – it’s me. Sure we can friends. No, I’m not seeing other religions. Yes, you can have your records back. No, please don’t text me after 9pm.

Dylan O’Donnell, Byron Bay


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1 COMMENT

  1. I too was christened (as an Anglican) without my permission and for all my adult life I’ve wanted to be “de-christened”. It was low on my priority list so I’ve not found out how to go about it. Thanks Mate for the clue, you’ve saved me hours of giggling on my computer.

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