News / Europe

Voluntary 'De-Baptism' Rising in Europe

Pope Benedict XVI baptizes one of 21 newborns during in the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican, Jan. 9, 2011 (file photo).
Pope Benedict XVI baptizes one of 21 newborns during in the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican, Jan. 9, 2011 (file photo).
Lisa Bryant

Sunday evening youth mass in Saint-Germain-des-Pres is overflowing with parishioners. People stand in aisles or sit cross-legged in corners of the cavernous, sixth century Paris church.

Father Benoist de Sinety, parish priest at Saint Germain for the past three years, says he has always had the good fortune of seeing crowds of young people seeking their bearings or rediscovering faith. But he knows it is not the same everywhere.

Churches in France and elsewhere in Europe have been battling falling numbers, a trend evident not only in the empty pews, but in the sharp fall in baptisms. But "de-baptisms", a church's deletion of one's name from the official baptismal registry at a parishioner's request,  are a recent phenomenon, and they are taking place in both Protestant and Catholic communities.

There are no official statistics, but experts and activists count the numbers of those seeking de-baptism in the tens of thousands, and websites offering informal "de-baptism" certificates have mushroomed.

Anne Morelli, who heads a center for religion and secularity studies at the Free University of Brussels, says de-baptisms, both official and unofficial, increased in 2011, particularly in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Austria. The numbers, she said, reflect public anger at the church pedophilia scandals.

Terry Sanderson, head of the National Secular Society in Britain, agrees. "I think what sparked the real desire of people to leave the church, particularly the Catholic church, were the huge child-abuse scandals that revolted so many people [that] they no longer wanted to be associated with it," he said. "That's when people started to leave in large numbers."

A decade ago, Sanderson's society posted an unofficial "de-baptism certificate" on its website, which has been downloaded more than 100,000 times to date.

"It was a joke to begin with, but now it has taken on a new significance because there are so many people who are anxious to leave the church that they are actually taking it seriously now, and they want some way to make their break with the church formal," he says. "Often the church won't acknowledge their desire to leave."

But Christian Weisner, a spokesman for the international grassroots We Are Church movement, points not only to a range of issues that have resulted in de-baptism, but a range methods by which people choose to sever ties to the church.

In Germany, where a record 181,000 Catholics formally split from the church in 2011, some terminated their relations by legally opting out of paying state church taxes. For the first time, he says, more German Catholics cut ties to their church last year than Protestants.

"They are thinking about leaving the church and there might be one special event, like the pedophilia crisis, like a [conservative] announcement by the pope, and then they decide now is the time to go," says Weisner, referring to the fact that some Catholics oppose Pope Benedict's stances on issues like abortion, homosexuality and married priests.

In France, 71-year-old Rene Lebouvier decided it was time to go a decade ago. After requesting to have his name crossed off his church's baptismal registry, he ultimately filed a lawsuit to have it legally deleted. In October, a lower court in Normandy ruled in his favor, but a local bishop is appealing the verdict.

According to religion professor Philippe Portier of the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, Lebouvier's case could set a legal precedent in a country where few seek to be de-baptized.

"It will be the first time in Europe, and especially in France, that the church will be obliged to delete from its registers the name of churchgoers who do not want to be considered as church goers," he says.

While Portier doubts the appeals court will rule in Lebouvier's favor, France's Catholic Church will not comment on the court case.

Bernard Podvin, spokesman for the French Bishops Confederation, says the church views de-baptisms with vigilance and willingness for dialogue, but that the phenomenon should not be exaggerated.

Church figures indicate that numbers of baptisms are plummeting, with only about one in three French children baptized compared to 90 percent half a century ago.

Portier says the church has been proactive in addressing the issue, putting in place a new evangelizing strategy to encourage families to baptize their children.

At Saint-Germain-des-Pres, the effort appears to be working. The church offers many activities, from ski outings to professional support networks, in order to draw in young Catholics.

Aware of dwindling baptisms, Father Benoist says there may be fewer Christians today, but those who remain also understand their mission more strongly -- to be of service to man and God and to love.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid