Lapsed Catholic

A lapsed Catholic is a Catholic who is non-practicing.[1][2] Such a person may still identify as a Catholic,[3] and remains one according to canon law, unless they commit an act of notorious defection from the faith.[4]


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of "lapsed" in relation to "lapsed Catholic" is "no longer believing or following the teachings of a religion".[5] The Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus associates the term "lapsed Catholic" as one who is backsliding.[6] Lapsing is thus not necessarily connected with a lack of belief.[7] However, author Daniel Ford links being a lapsed Catholic with rejection of Catholic teaching, either totally or by being an "à la carte Catholic".[8] Other sources associate the term with abandonment of practice of the Catholic religion rather than with rejection of its doctrine. Thus the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary defines "lapsed", again in relation to "lapsed Catholic", as "no longer involved in an activity or organization",[9] and the Oxford Dictionary speaks only of "no longer following the rules and practices of a religion or doctrine".[10] Richard John Neuhaus distinguished between Catholic and Protestant ideas of what it means to be "lapsed" by quoting G.K. Chesterton, who remarked that a Protestant typically says he is a good Protestant, while a Catholic typically says he is a bad Catholic. For many, being a lapsed Catholic is just another way of being a Catholic.[11]

Catholic teaching on membership in the ChurchEdit

According to Catholic belief, baptism "seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark of belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation."[12]

Even the form of censure known as excommunication does not erase the sacramental character of their baptism; but excommunicated persons are "cut off from the Church", barred from receiving the Eucharist and all other Sacraments, and from taking an active part in the liturgy (reading, serving at the altar, etc.).[13] They are urged to retain a relationship with the Church nonetheless, as its goal is to encourage them to repent and return to active participation in its life.


In the time of the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, many Christians, including clergy and even some bishops, were referred to as the lapsi (those who had slipped and fell) as opposed to the stantes (those who stood firm).[14][15] Different attitudes developed within the Church towards the lapsed: some held they should never be readmitted to the Church before death, others were for demanding serious penance of them before readmitting them, while others again were still more lenient.[16] The First Council of Nicaea insisted that any clergy who had lapsed were not to be readmitted to clerical rank.[17]

From 1983 a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church was recognised in the Code of Canon Law, making defectors ineligible for the privileges of membership of the Church, such as marrying in church. This form of defection was removed from the Code in 2009, and it was no longer possible to defect formally from the Catholic Church.[18]

In the religion question on the Republic of Ireland census, "lapsed (Roman) Catholic" (a write-in option rather than a pre-printed checkbox option) was collated separately for the first time in 2011, when 1,268 were recorded (0.033% of the "Roman Catholic" total); the 2016 census recorded 8,094 (0.21%).[19]

Present canon lawEdit

Today, a Catholic who lapses to the extent of becoming an apostate, a heretic or a schismatic is automatically excommunicated,[20] and, until the excommunication is lifted, is forbidden to have any ministerial part in the celebration of Mass or other worship ceremonies, to celebrate or receive the sacraments or to exercise any Church functions.[20] This is an obligation that binds the excommunicated person. Unless the excommunication has been publicly declared by the Church and not merely incurred automatically, the excommunicated person cannot on that ground alone be publicly refused the sacraments, even by a priest who knows of it. However, to assist at the marriage of someone who has "notoriously" (i.e. widely known to have done so) rejected the Catholic faith, a priest needs the permission of the ordinary and the same promises required by spouses in mixed marriages are also required.[21] The Code of Canon Law lays down no particular penalty for lapsing that consists only in the failure to fulfill the obligations to attend Sunday Mass [20] and to receive Communion during Eastertide other than a recommendation toward penance and reconciliation.[22]

Colloquial namesEdit

Some lapsed Catholics attend Mass on special occasions like Christmas and Easter. Such lapsed Catholics are colloquially and sometimes derogatorily called Cultural Catholics, Convenient Catholics, Submarine Catholics, Two-Timers (for attending Mass twice a year), Chreasters (a blend word combining Christmas and Easter),[23][24] C&E Catholics, Poinsettia & Lily Catholics,[24] CEOs ("Christmas and Easter Only"), APEC, CAPE or PACE Catholics (Palm [Sunday], Ash [Wednesday], Christmas, Easter), CASE Catholics ("Christmas and Sometimes Easter"), CMEs (Christmas, Mother's Day and Easter), or A&P Catholics (for Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday).[25] In Portugal and Brazil, the common term for a Lapsed Catholic is "Católico Não-Praticante" (non-practicing Catholic). A common self-designation of lapsed Catholics in Poland is "wierzący, nie praktykujący" (believing, non-practitioning).

"Cultural Catholic" is also used to refer to a non-religious member of a historically Catholic ethnic group, such as Austrian,[26] Belgian, Bavarian, French, French Canadian, Filipino, Hungarian,[27] Irish, Italian, Latin American, Lithuanian, Macanese, Maltese, Polish,[28] Portuguese, Spanish,[29] Slovene and Slovak.[30]


"He was of the faith chiefly in the sense that the church he currently did not attend was Catholic".

Kingsley Amis, One Fat Englishman

"I've usually found every Catholic family has one lapsed member, and it's often the nicest."

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

"I wouldn't be a very spiritual man, right? I don't believe in God, right? Still Catholic. Because there's nothing you can do when you're Catholic. Once you've started Catholic, frankly, there's no real way to stop being Catholic. Even not believing in God isn't regarded as sufficient reason to get out of the Catholic Church. You'd think it'd be fairly fundamental to the whole thing, but no. Catholicism: the stickiest, most adhesive religion in the world."

Dara Ó Briain, "Live at the Apollo", 2005.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Simoneau, Alan G. (5 January 1998). Metaphorically Speaking: Ethnic Analogies And The Construction of Gay Identify. Carleton University. p. 80. Roman Catholicism provides another illustration: many Catholics who no longer actively express their religious affiliation will not hesitate to identify themselves as Catholic—some do feel the need to add qualifiers such as "lapsed Catholic".
  2. ^ R. John Kinkel (29 September 2008). The Story of Early Christianity. ISBN 9780595624027. Retrieved 14 June 2012. In the old days (1950s) these people would be called backsliders, apostates, lapsed Christians, and now this label has emerged: FARC, ie fallen away Roman Catholic.
  3. ^ Patricia Barbernitz (1993). Parish Ministry for Returning Catholics. Paulist Press. p. 3. ISBN 9780809134410. Retrieved 14 June 2012. 'I'm Catholic' is also the statement frequently used by some other people — those whom others might have named 'inactive' Catholics, 'fallen-away' or 'lapsed' Catholics. For many of them, the statement remains, 'I'm Catholic'.
  4. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church - Section Two: The Seven Sacraments of the Church, THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM Section 1272 "Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation. Given once for all, baptism cannot be repeated." - Archived April 21, 2011, accessed online February 19, 2016
  5. ^ "Definition of LAPSED". Merriam-Webster.
  6. ^ Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus. Oxford University Press. 2012. p. 513. ISBN 9780199829927.
  7. ^ Leslie John Francis, William K. Kay, William S. Campbell (editors), Research in Religious Education (Gracewing Publishing 1996 ISBN 978-0-85244342-2), p. 378
  8. ^ Quotes from Daniel F. Ford, The Lapsed Catholic Catechism: "Lapsees are à la carte Catholics who pick and choose what suits them, if anything does, from the long menu of past teachings from Rome and/or other religious traditions. Some even continue to participate in orthodox Catholic rituals – e.g., getting married in church and attending the church funeral rites intended to honor the departed and comfort the family and friends left behind. Some Lapsed Catholics are out and out atheists or agnostics. They look at arguments about God's existence as W.H. Auden did: 'All proofs or disproofs that we tender are returned Unopened to the sender.' The actor Martin Sheen has described himself as 'one of those cliff-hanging Catholics. I don't believe in God, but I do believe that Mary was his mother.'"
  9. ^ "LAPSED | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary".
  10. ^ "LAPSED | Meaning & Definition for UK English |". Lexico Dictionaries | English.
  11. ^ Neuhaus, Richard John. Catholic Matters (Basic Books 2007 ISBN 9780465049363), p. 10
  12. ^ "The Sacrament of Baptism (§1272)". Catechism of the Catholic Church. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ....Given once for all, baptism cannot be repeated.
  13. ^ "Even those who have joined another religion, have become atheists or agnostics, or have been excommunicated remain Catholics. Excommunicates lose rights, such as the right to the sacraments, but they are still bound to the obligations of the law; their rights are restored when they are reconciled through the remission of the penalty." New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, ed. by John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, Thomas J. Green, Paulist Press, 2000, p. 63 (commentary on canon 11).
  14. ^ Carl Sommer, We Look for a Kingdom (Ignatius Press 2007 ISBN 978-1-58617079-0), p. 248
  15. ^ Cambridge History of Christianity: Volume 1, Origins to Constantine Frances Margaret Young, Margaret Mary Mitchell, K. Scott Bowie (editors), The Cambridge History of Christianity] (Cambridge University Press 2006 ISBN 978-0-52181239-9), p. 389
  16. ^ James B. North, Don Umphrey, A History of the Church (College Press 1991 ISBN 978-0-89900371-9), pp. 62-63
  17. ^ NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils. CCEL. ISBN 9781610250757 – via Google Books.
  18. ^ "Statement on Formal Defections". Archived from the original on February 21, 2012.
  19. ^ "EY038: Population Usually Resident and Present in the State 2011 to 2016 by Nationality, Sex, Religion and Census Year". StatBank. Central Statistics Office. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  20. ^ a b c "Code of Canon Law: Table of Contents".
  21. ^ John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, Thomas Joseph Green, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Paulist Press 2002 ISBN 978-0-80914066-4), p. 1269
  22. ^ "Code of Canon Law - IntraText".
  23. ^ "Definition of Chreaster". Nanovox Productions. Archived from the original on 2013-02-05.
  24. ^ a b "Why I hate Easter". Heart Songs. 2002-03-31. Archived from the original on 2008-09-05.
  25. ^ Beck, Edward L. C. (22 September 2010). "Will A&P Catholics Still Flock to Church?". ABC News.
  26. ^ "Religion in Austria on CIA World Factbook". Retrieved December 13, 2006.
  27. ^ "Magyarország Alaptörvénye" (PDF). Hungarian Parliament. Retrieved 2 August 2014.
  28. ^ GUS, Narodowy Spis Powszechny Ludnosci 2011: 4.4. Przynależność wyznaniowa (National Survey 2011: 4.4 Membership in faith communities) p. 99/337 (PDF file, direct download 3.3 MB). ISBN 978-83-7027-521-1 Retrieved 27 December 2014.
  29. ^ Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (April 2013). "Barómetro abril 2013" (PDF). p. 33. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
  30. ^ "Christians". Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. 18 December 2012. Retrieved 22 September 2015.

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