Lapsed Catholic

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A lapsed Catholic is a baptised Catholic who is non-practising.[1][2] Such a person may still identify as a Catholic[1] and remains a Catholic according to canon law.[3]


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of "lapsed" in relation to "lapsed Catholic" is "no longer believing or following the teachings of a religion".[4] Lapsing is thus not necessarily connected with a lack of belief.[5] However, Daniel Ford links being a lapsed Catholic with rejection of Catholic teaching, either totally or by being an "à la carte Catholic".[6] 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",[7] and the Oxford Dictionary speaks only of "no longer following the rules and practices of a religion or doctrine".[8] Richard John Neuhaus, quoting G.K. Chesterton's remark that a Protestant typically says he is a good Protestant, while a Catholic typically says he is a bad Catholic, says that, for many, being a lapsed Catholic is just another way of being a Catholic.[9]

Catholic teaching on membership in the Church

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."[3]

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.[10]

Even the form of censure known as excommunication does not in itself make a person an ex-Catholic: excommunicated persons are "cut off from the Church", barred from receiving the Eucharist and from taking an active part in the liturgy (reading, serving at the altar, etc.), but they remain Catholics.[11] They are urged to retain a relationship with the Church, as the 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, failed to hold firm. They were referred to as the lapsi (those who had slipped and fell) as opposed to the stantes (those who stood firm).[12][13] 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.[14] The First Council of Nicaea insisted that any clergy who had lapsed were not to be readmitted to clerical rank.[15]

Present canon law

Today, a Catholic who lapses to the extent of becoming an apostate, a heretic or a schismatic is automatically excommunicated,[16] 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.[17] 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. consciously and publicly) 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.[18] The Code of Canon Law lays down no particular penalty for a lapsing that consists of failure to fulfill the obligations to attend Sunday Mass[19] and to receive Communion during Eastertide.[20]

Colloquial names

Some lapsed Catholics attend Mass on special occasions like Christmas and Easter. Such lapsed Catholics are colloquially referred to by such terms as Cultural Catholics, Two-Timers, Chreasters,[21][22] C&E Catholics,[23] Poinsettia & Lily Catholics,[22] APEC (Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Easter, and Christmas), CEOs (Christmas and Easter Only), CAPE Catholics (Christmas, Ash [Wednesday], Palm [Sunday], Easter), 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).[24]

"Cultural Catholic" is also used to refer to a non-religious member of a historically Catholic ethnic group, such as Austrian,[25] Belgian, Bavarians,[26] Croat, Czech, French, French Canadian, Filipino, Hungarian,[27] Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Poles,[28] Portuguese, Spaniards,[29] Slovene, Slovak and Latin Americans.[30]

Examples in literature and entertainment

"He was of the faith chiefly in the sense that the church he currently did not attend was Catholic" (Kingsley Amis, One Fat Englishman (1963), chapter 8).

"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 O'Briain, "Live at the Apollo", July 6, 2005).

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Patricia Barbernitz (1993). Parish Ministry for Returning Catholics. Paulist Press. 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." It is spoken with ease, almost without thought.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. R. John Kinkel (29 September 2008). The Story of Early Christianity. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 "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. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Merriam-Webster: "lapsed"
  5. Leslie John Francis, William K. Kay, William S. Campbell (editors), Research in Religious Education (Gracewing Publishing 1996 ISBN 978-0-85244342-2), p. 378
  6. 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.' Some, who do not believe in any top-tier gods like Jupiter or the God of the Old Testament, are still devotees of second-tier gods like Bacchus, the god of wine, or Venus, the goddess of carnal love. 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.'"
  7. Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, "lapsed"
  8. Oxford Dictionaries: "lapsed"
  9. Richard John Neuhaus, Catholic Matters (Basic Books 2007 ISBN 9780465049363), p. 10
  10. Statement on Formal Defections
  11. "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).
  12. Carl Sommer, We Look for a Kingdom (Ignatius Press 2007 ISBN 978-1-58617079-0), p. 248
  13. 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
  14. James B. North, Don Umphrey, A History of the Church (College Press 1991 ISBN 978-0-89900371-9), pp. 62-63
  15. Canon X of the Council of Nicaea
  16. Code of Canon Law, canon 1364 §1
  17. Code of Canon Law, canon 1331 §1
  18. 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
  19. Code of Canon Law, canon 1247
  20. Code of Canon Law, canon 920
  21. "Definition of Chreaster". Nanovox Productions.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. 22.0 22.1 "Why I hate Easter". Heart Songs:. 2002-03-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Don't be too quick to dismiss the "C&E Catholics" this Easter". Bearing Blog. 2007-03-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. ABC News: "Will A&P Catholics Still Flock to Church on Palm Sunday?"
  25. "Religion in Austria on CIA World Factbook". Retrieved December 13, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "Kirchenmitgliederzahlen am 31. Dezember 2010" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. "Magyarország Alaptörvénye" (PDF). Hungarian Parliament. Retrieved 2 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "Christians". Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. 18 December 2012. Retrieved 22 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>