The Italian Rational Response Squad June 8, 2007

The Italian Rational Response Squad

I think this is the funniest serious article I’ve read in a long time…

I didn’t know this. But I guess I’m not surprised. If you’re Catholic, you need to send the Church a formal letter (the “actus defectionis”) in order to officially leave the faith.

One such letter, downloaded 30,000 times, is the main attraction at the Italian Union of Rationalists and Agnostics, or UAAR, website.

The actus defectionis must be snail-mailed to the parish where baptism took place. Priests note in the register that the flock member has permanently strayed — and that’s one less believer to bulk up statistics.

The UAAR site gets a lot of hits… periodically:

“We see a traffic spike every time the Pope says something unpopular,” said UAAR site manager Raffaele Carcano…

What is the Church doing as a result of these debaptisms?

… the Vatican [has published] a legislative text reminding the former faithful that they are committing an act of “apostasy, heresy or schism.”

The pool is a potentially large one: 90 percent of Italians are baptized but only a third are churchgoers.

Sending the letter alone may not do it, though:

Luca, a 28-year-old who works in sales, downloaded the letter from UAAR’s site and mailed it. His parish priest in Verona, who had never debaptized anyone before, demanded a face-to-face meeting.

Describing himself as “kind of a coward and pretty lazy,” but unwilling to belong to a Church that didn’t represent him, Luca made an appointment. He told the priest he had never been a believer, so why belong to the flock? “A flock that included me as soon as I was born without my consent,” he said.

The priest noted Luca had formally left the religion in the baptism register, then Luca signed his name and left.

UAAR recently uploaded a new letter with reinforced legal jargon to dissuade priests from requiring in-person visits or notifying relatives of the debaptism.

Since only about a third of Italians regularly use the Internet, UAAR (which has no central office) has to be creative:

Though UAAR works mostly remotely, members meet offline to organize protests and other initiatives, including an upcoming group debaptism for the non-internet savvy.

I’ve never been baptized, but the group debaptism sounds like fun!

The whole letter idea reminds me of last summer, when I visited Iceland. I found out there was a form you could fill out to indicate your religious beliefs. Most people didn’t fill it out because of the hassle. As a result, the country automatically considered those people Lutheran– which was the “state church.” An atheist group there had a mission to get non-religious people (there were many of them in the country) to fill out the form indicating their atheism– that way the National Church of Iceland wouldn’t get all the money reserved for “religious” purposes.

(Thanks to UAAR for the link! If you’d like to read the site in English, try this.)

[tags]atheist, atheism, Catholic, Church, actus defectionis, Italian Union of Rationalists and Agnostics, UAAR, Pope, Raffaele Carcano, Vatican, Verona, Iceland, Lutheran, National Church of Iceland[/tags]

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  • Vincent

    This is the first I’ve ever heard of this, and I was a pretty well educated Catholic.
    I know enough of Canon Law to know that I have done things that automatically excommunicate me, but didn’t know I still needed to send the church a letter of resignation.
    Is this only the case in Italy? Since I don’t read Italian the web site link is pretty useless to me.

  • Vincent

    I haven’t found much lately, but I did find a letter from the President of the Papal Council on Legal Texts (if my latin is right), approved by the current Pope that says in the end:
    “…the sacramental bond of belonging to the Body of Christ, that is the Church, conferred by the baptismal character, is an ontological and permanent bond which is not lost by reason of any act or fact of defection”

    In other words, there’s no way out!

  • Steelman

    It’s my understanding that there’s a similar process involved in leaving the Mormon church. I’m still on their roles because of the momentous decision I made at the “age of accountability” (8yrs old) to be baptized into the LDS church. My parents switched religions a couple of years later, but I’m still in the church’s records contributing to their growth figures. I wonder if those figures would go negative if everyone who no longer considers themselves part of that faith submitted an exit letter?

  • jtwurth

    I found out about this when my wife and I were getting married. She is a Catholic and I am a ‘Non-Practicing Catholic’ according to the priest. He did tell me about this policy and that to officially leave some official paperwork must be sent to the parish announcing my defection from the church. He didn’t go into details about how this could be accomplished. Personally I’d love to see an English version of something like this. When I got married I was unsure of my beliefs but am now certainly an atheist and feel up for an old fashion debaptism.

  • I wonder, can I get an equivalent for Eastern Orthodox denomination?

  • Maria

    I’ve left the church in all but name pretty much. I’m fast on my way to becoming a deist. I have to laugh at the letter. I’m not going to bother, b/c I really don’t care, and I suppose I could always change my mind again. So if they want to count me for their little number game, I really don’t care. But you gotta wonder how many other people there are like me who are “counted”, but aren’t really “there”, if you know what I mean. I don’t hate the church (although there is much I dislike), I just don’t want to be bothered with it. There is much about organized religion I’m finding increasingly distasteful.

    btw, if there’s any other “deist types” on here, give me a holler.

  • You don’t need a permission to be a disbeliever even if you were baptised, but the record of your baptism on the parish register will legally qualify you as a catholic until you get the ‘debaptism’, which adds a note on the register stating that you don’t want to be part of the Catholic church anymore (beacuse you are atheist, or because you don’t agree with the church in opposing gay rights, unmarried partners, contraception…).

    This is a procedure made up by UAAR and the Italian authority for privacy protection and something similar exists in other European countries.
    It would be very interesting to know if debaptism can be accomplished in the US! I think you only need some privacy law that entitle you to get your personal data corrected in the parish register.

  • I’m Italian and I know what UAAR does. The debaptism campaign is also called “bonifica statistica” that is a way to clean the Italian statistics on the number of Catholics (the number of them is calculated on the number of baptisms… and it helps in some way the Catholic Church to get money).

  • Ric
  • The Rationalist Society of St. Louis has offered debaptism for quite a while. Visit our website at for further info.

  • An English version of the actus defectionis is available on the Freedom From Religion Party Australia website

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