The child abuse scandals rocking Belgium’s powerful Catholic Church are also shaking the faith of followers, with more and more people asking to be struck off baptism registers — a global movement known as “de-baptism“.
“When you don’t agree with an organisation that you never chose to join in the first place, the healthiest thing to do is to leave,” Damien Spleeters told AFP.
In this mainly Catholic country of 10 million people, the 24-year-old is among a growing crowd exasperated by church policy on issues such as AIDS, and angered by revelations last year of massive child abuse by priests and lay workers.
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After reports in April that the Bishop of Bruges had sexually abused his own nephew for 13 years, starting when the boy was five, a church-backed commission in September issued graphic testimony of nearly 500 cases of child abuse by priests and lay workers, including 13 victims who committed suicide.
In practise, de-baptism consists in writing to the church where the christening took place. The name is not actually struck off but noted on the baptismal registry, meaning that those who decide to leave cannot be married in the church or expect a Catholic funeral.
The trend has gained a substantial following worldwide with atheist groups and secular societies backing online de-baptism for people who see churches as being increasingly out of tune with modern life.