by Nicole Martinelli posted: Thu Dec. 5 8:24 am
Disgruntled Catholics have come a step closer to washing off holy water they were baptized in as tiny children. Upon request, priests in Italy must note alongside baptism information the will of adults to leave the Roman Catholic Church. Bowing to pressure from lobby groups who call the act ‘unchristening,’ the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI) recently outlined the procedure.
Both sides disagree on the scope of the phenomenon — one activist group claims 10,000 people have presented unchristening requests; the Church says it is trying to do right by a ‘few dozen’ people who wish not to be counted as Catholics.
Statistics, however, show a large number of slumbering or disinterested members of the country’s predominant religion — although 98% of Italians are baptized, only 36% attend mass regularly and over 14% never attend at all, according to 1999 data from Italian National Statistical Institute (ISTAT). Baptism records are used for Church statistics and influence whether last rites and religious funerals are administered.
Cardinal Camillo Ruini, CEI president, made it clear that the Church considers the issue an entirely bureaucratic one. “You can’t cancel a sacrament any more than you can cancel the act of being born,” he told newspapers.
For Catholic writer Vittorio Messori, the matter is just an adjustment by the Church to avoid legal woes. “In the same way a priest can leave the church but never de-priest himself, people can decide not to live as Catholics, but if baptized they will always be Catholics,” he told zoomata. “These pressure groups have made a big issue out of nothing and the Church is simply trying to avoid additional problems.”
Bureaucratic or not, the policy change is a David-versus-Goliath type victory for small but persistent groups like the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics (UAAR) that has been campaigning for unchristening since 1995. At first, they made little headway with parish priests who refused requests to modify or cancel baptism records.
Lobby groups took the Church to court finding an ally in Italy’s strict privacy law. Judges ruled that the Church must adhere to the law forbidding organizations from keeping sensitive personal data on an individual without consent or the possibility to modify that information.
Giorgio Villella, secretary general of UAAR, 66, admits he hasn’t had time to have himself de-christened yet. He’s too busy with the next item on the group’s agenda — ‘de-cruxifixing Italy,’ removing the ubiquitous symbol of the Church from post offices, courtrooms, schools and hospitals. “For too long the presence of the Catholic Church was taken for granted in Italy, but not anymore.”