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

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month 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.
Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countriesi
X
December 16, 2014 2:14 PM
Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.
Video

Video Indonesian Province to Expand Sharia Law

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population and a legal system based on Dutch civil law and Indonesian government regulations. But in a 2001 compromise with separatists, Aceh province in Sumatra island’s north was allowed to implement Sharia law. Since then, religious justice has become increasingly strict. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh.
Video

Video Some Russian Businesses Thrive in Poor Economy

Capital flight, the fall in oil prices and Western sanctions are pushing Russia's staggering economy into recession. But not companies are suffering. The ruble’s drop in value has benefited exporters as well as businesses targeting increasingly frugal customers. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

All About America

AppleAndroid