Returning to the Hindu Fold
A Primer

What can a person do who finds himself a Catholic and wants to rejoin the Hindu faith of his ancestors? He need not wait until another incarnation, for his situation admits of a fairly simple solution-formal apostacy ("abandonment" from Catholicism, and readmission to the Hindu fold). Hindu religious leaders have always taken a liberal view of the return of converts to other faiths.

For example, Swami Vivekananda in 1899 gave his opinion: "Certainly [converts to other faiths] can and ought to be taken [back]. Ceremonies of expiation are no doubt suitable in the case of willing converts; but on those who were alienated by conquest or strangers wishing to join us, no penance should be imposed." And Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, former president of India, stated: "Devala's smriti lays down rules for the simple purification of people forcibly converted to other faiths and even of people who, for worldly advantage, embrace other faiths."

Saiva Siddhanta Church, with international headquarters in Hawaii, U.S.A., and missions in many countries of the world, has considerable experience with apostacy from Catholicism (and other western religions). This has come about in the course of its work with persons desiring to convert to the Hindu religion. It is their experience that the Catholic spiritual leaders consider the Namakarana Samskara (the name-giving ceremony) and the public declaration of affiliation to Hinduism as the specific act. Of particular relevance in Canon 2314 of the Code of Canon Laws of the Catholic Church: "All apostates from the Christian Faith and each and every heretic or schismatic are ipso facto excommunicated." Also relevant is the similar Canon 1364: "An apostate from the Faith, a heretic, or schismatic incurs a latae sententiae ['automatic'] excommunication." In simple language this means excommunication is automatic if apostacy is made.

Here are two of the official letters received by Saiva Siddhanta Church members in response to requests for determination of apostacy: In a letter Rev. Edwin F. O'Brien, Vice Chancellor, Archdiocese of New York, states. "…according to the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, Canon 2314, paragraph 1, as soon as the bearer [of this letter] ...makes an act of public adherence to a religious faith other than Catholic, he is officially and automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Faith." (Dec. 29, 1978).

The Bishop John J. Ward, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles states, "No declaration can be given that you are an apostate. You may become an apostate if that is your desire. You would have to perform some action which would constitute apostacy according to the Code of Canon Law. If and when you perform such an action, it is possible that by that act you would become an apostate. The officials in the non-Christian religion which you propose to enter may possibly be the witnesses to your affiliation. If they are witnesses, they would need no further documentation of the apostacy which you intended and accomplished by that act of affiliation... [Your apostacy] will not occur until you go through the Hindu name-giving ceremony." (January 29, 1982).

Any competent Hindu priest may administer the name-giving ceremony, either with or without a ceremony of purification (depending on the circumstances). The new Hindu name and date of the event are then published in a local newspaper. As a result of this action, the person becomes once again fully entitled to all rites and benefits of the Hindu religion and, at the same time, deprived of the sacraments of the Catholic Church, including the right to be married or buried by a priest or to receive communion.

If it becomes necessary, a person may demand an official determination of his status within the Catholic Church through Canon Law Title I, Canon 16, Section 6, which reads in part: "When a person desires a judgment as to his status in the Church…it shall be the duty of the Bishop…to institute an inquiry and insure an impartial decision." A particular Catholic parish or diocese cannot ignore these Canon laws and claim, for example, that a person making such public allegiance to another faith remains a Catholic in spite of his actions. But Canon Law 2314 states that excommunication is automatic and requires no action on the part of the Catholic Church. Though local Bishops or priests may say otherwise, it is, in fact, quite easy to leave Catholicism and re-enter the Hindu fold. The laws are automatic-no authority is given to override them on the local level.

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