De-baptism' on the rise in Belgium

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Last month, the Catholic Church in Belgium was rocked by a report on sexual abuse of children by priests. The report by an independent commission determined that the abuse was widespread, and that it took place over a number of decades. The Church vowed to help the victims, and hold those responsible to account. But for many Catholics in Belgium, such promises are too little, too late. For them, as for those disillusioned Catholics in other parts of the globe, there's an option of getting �de-baptized.� The World's Clark Boyd reports from Brussels.

CLARK BOYD: Eric Lorio was born in a small town not far from Brussels. For Lorio, the Catholic Church was central to his community, and his life as a youngster. He attended Mass regularly, and served as an altar boy. But as he got older, he began to change his mind about his faith.

ERIC LORIO: When I became to think, as an adult, I took distance from religion and God. And I found more and more that the Catholic Church more and more aggressive and more conservative, about abortion, about same-sex marriage, about modern life.

BOYD: Lorio says he became an atheist. And then last year, he decided to make his break with the Church more formal.

LORIO: I wanted to express, officially, to the church that I wanted to go away

BOYD: He did some research, and discovered a process for doing just that. It's called, colloquially, �de-baptism.� The process is simple. You send a letter to the diocese where you were baptized formally stating your desire to leave the Church. Church authorities then put an X next to your name in the baptism register, and send you a letter confirming that it's been done. Lorio's not the only Belgian Catholic going through with de-baptism these days.

BJORN SIFFER: It's a very popular act right now here in Belgium, and I don't think the Catholic Church can do anything about that.

BOYD: Bjorn Siffer is the spokesman for the Antwerp-based Humanist Association of Belgium.

SIFFER: Since the continuing atmosphere of scandals about child abuse in the Catholic Church here in Belgium, we've received hundreds and hundreds of emails, questions by telephone, by people who were really angry at the church.

BOYD: Siffer says the Humanist Association is actively campaigning for de-baptism. They not only help people with their paperwork, but also take to the streets to ask Catholics if they might consider leaving the Church. For Catholics, baptism is the first sacrament, the initiation into the Church and the faith. Siffer says there are serious consequences should one choose to get de-baptized, so the process shouldn't be done on a lark.

SIFFER: One of the consequences is that you can't have any more sacraments, from the moment you are de-baptized. So, when you want to marry it's impossible, a funeral in the Catholic Church is impossible. So, it's very important that people know that these are the consequences.

JURGEN METTEPENNINGEN: I want to emphasize that you cannot de-baptize yourself

BOYD: That's Jurgen Mettepenningen, spokesman for the Catholic Church here in Belgium. Mettepenningen says he understands why people are upset with the Church these days. And, he says, he also understands why people want to formally leave the Church. But a mark in the baptism register, he says, doesn't change the symbolism of the sacrament.

METTEPENNINGEN: A sacrament is given, once upon a time, you are baptized and you cannot say at a certain moment, I am not baptized. It's not like your clothes. You put your clothes on, and then you take your clothes off. That's not possible. A sacrament is on another level. So, you cannot ignore that you were once baptized.

BOYD: To some Catholics, though, the formal act doesn't matter all that much.

DANIEL LECLERQ: I don't care. They have no influence on me one way or another. They never have.

BOYD: That's Daniel Leclerq. He heads a secularist group in Brussels that's been helping people get de-baptized since 1986. He was baptized as a child, but says he feels no need to go through the formal process of leaving the Church. But for Eric Lorio, the process has helped him to be more comfortable with his own beliefs. And he's set up a website to help others who wish to go through de-baptizing. He's had 6,000 visitors to the site so far this year. He says the point is not just to give people practical information, but to explain to other Catholics his reasons for leaving the Church. For the World, this is Clark Boyd in Brussels.