Getting De-Baptized (For Real) September 2, 2008

Getting De-Baptized (For Real)

In Italy, a group called the Italian Union of Rationalists and Agnostics (UAAR) has taken it upon themselves to help people get debaptized.

As I wrote last year, “If you’re Catholic, you need to send the Church a formal letter (the ‘actus defectionis’) in order to officially leave the faith.”

A sample copy of this letter has been downloaded thousands of times from the UAAR website.

All this really does is let ex-Catholics formally leave the Church.

Somehow, the Christian Alliance Defense Fund has manipulated this information.

The Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics — how do you like that title?! — filed suit in an attempt to end the baptism of children in Italy. Their plaintiff, sought to be “debaptised.”…

(What’s wrong with that title?)

World Net Daily follows suit:

The ADF stepped into the battle when the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics filed a lawsuit seeking an end to all baptisms of children in Italy. The organization alleged the practice encroached on its religious freedom and violated Italian Constitutional Court precedents regarding free will and personal privacy in religious decisions.

In fact, nothing of the sort of going on. UAAR is not (and would not) try to put a stop to baptisms. Religious people have a right to do that. All they want is for people who were baptized into the Church to have a way out of it when they are adults.

UAAR is trying to fight back against this smear campaign. If you go to that link, you can see the multitude of sites spreading the wrong information.

There needs to be a rebuttal.

In an effort to set the record straight, UAAR is putting out the following message to websites writing about this falsehood — feel free to spread it:

This article contains incorrect and misleading information regarding the activities of our association, and in the interests of fairness and accuracy we request that you publish the following rectification:

Your headline is erroneous and in fact a careful reading of account provided in your article fails to support your accusation. UAAR has never requested that the Italian government ban the rite of baptism.

Furthermore, UAAR has never requested that the government proscribe the baptism of infants specifically.

On the contrary, ten years ago UAAR did provide its support for a lawsuit filed by his former secretary seeking to establish that an adult who has been baptised as an infant (and who therefore is automatically considered by both the church and state to be a member of the church) can request to no longer be considered a member of the Catholic Church. As a result of this initiative, in 1999 the Garante italiano della privacy (the government office charged with protecting the information privacy of Italian citizens “in every sector of the social, economic and cultural spheres”) acknowledged this right.

At present, individuals who have been baptised can file a request with their bishop for a certificate recognizing their wish to no longer be considered as belonging to the Catholic Church. In practical terms — since baptism in the eyes of the Church is an act that, like marriage, cannot be annulled — this request simply signifies that the individual no longer considers him/herself a member of the Catholic Church and as such, should no longer be subject to canon law, whose jurisdiction in the civil sphere has been legally recognized by an Italian court.

Furthermore, the Garante recognized that this right pertains not only to atheists and agnostics, but also to members of other religions, including Christians who wish to obtain certification that they no longer belong to the Catholic Church.

UAAR is also seeking — but has not yet obtained — the right to have his/her certificate of baptism cancelled by his diocese. On the general principal that an adult should have the right to ask that an act undertaken on his behalf by others be cancelled, UAAR contends that persons of adult age who no longer consider themselves Catholic have the legitimate right to request the cancellation of an act that they do not recognize and which was imposed on them when they were minors. This position does not in any way imply a desire that the baptism of infants be proscribed. We instead ask that individuals — once they have reach maturity and if they no longer consider themselves Catholic — be allowed to request that their act of baptism be cancelled by the Church, likewise the Catholic marriage can be declared null by the Rota Romana.

On this point it is relevant to note that, in sentence no. 239/1984, the Constitutional Court of Italy established that an individual’s decision to join a religious community can only be considered valid if the decision was taken of the individual’s own free will.

It is also pertinent to note that the baptism of children is criticized by various Christian denominations. We are convinced that it would be preferable for parents to leave their children free to choose their faith when they reach maturity, but clearly this is a decision that must be left to the parents themselves.

It is obvious that, as non-believers, we do not believe in the spiritual effects of baptism. The rite nevertheless does have specific consequences in the eyes of Italian jurisprudence and affects the civil status of the individual. Baptised persons are considered to be subject to the ecclesiastical authorities; indeed, a sentence of the Appeals Court of Florence declared that they are subject specifically to the authority of their bishop. In Italian law, bishops have jurisdiction over the members of their diocese and can emit censures and condemnations based on the Code of Canon Law. This jurisdiction extends even to persons who no longer consider themselves to be Catholic (since the sacrament cannot be expunged). The only legal means for such individuals to remove themselves from this jurisdiction is through the formality of ‘de-baptism’.

The sole initiative undertaken by UAAR with regard to de-baptism was a case tried before a court eight years ago, in 2000, and we are not aware that any Christian organization — in America or Italy — took any interest or action in the affair.

Finally, that particular case was filed by an individual, our former secretary Lucian Franceschetti, and not by UAAR since in Italy such cases can only be brought by private citizens.

Trusting in your wish to publish only accurate information, we respectfully request that you post this rectification on your site.

Of course, the Christian sites in question will likely ignore this information.

So if you can help spread the information, that would be fantastic.

(Thanks to Raffaele for the story!)

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  • justin jm

    f course, the Christian sites in question will likely ignore this information.

    Apologists have been doing this for 2000+ years. They then claim that arguments against the Bible have no effect on believing Christians and that there is some secret “justification” for belief.

    On a note more strictly related to the article, you’re right. It appears that an attempt by somebody to “opt out” is considered anti-Christian persecution, ironically by those who don’t want opting out to be a socially acceptable alternative.

  • Undo

    Kinda stupid if you ask me. It’s not like it does anything real anyway. It just a silly superstition.

  • Why would we try to keep people from pouring water on their babies?

  • Roland B


    Kinda stupid if you ask me. It’s not like it does anything real anyway. It just a silly superstition.

    I totally agree here with Undo.

  • Actually, how is it the parents’ right to decide what religion their children will follow? What about the children’s rights? The children should be education in the available religions and other philosophies, and choose what they want to be baptized into, if anything, when they grow up.

  • ubi dubius

    “Undo Says:

    September 2nd, 2008 at 6:35 pm
    Kinda stupid if you ask me. It’s not like it does anything real anyway. It just a silly superstition.”

    Undo: It is a superstition, but in Italy and some other countries, it has legal effect. For example, in some countries, church courts handle marriage, divorce, inheritance, and even minor crimes. Being clear about whether church courts have jurisdiction over you can be very important.

    BTW: I have an attorney colleague whose practice includes a good deal of Catholic Canon Law.

  • I was going to state something along the lines of: Why bother? Becoming debaptized is like trying to undo the spell a witch put on you when you were a child – a symbolic, but otherwise useless task. It means nothing to you at this point, since you don’t believe in it anyway, and it can only offend others (although that may be the point).

    However, I do agree that if you live in a place where the church can actually exert legal influence on your life based on your supposed affiliation with them, opting out is a good step.

    I still think being debaptized is silly, though; a good lawyer (like the one ubi dubious mentioned above) should be able to draw up the appropriate papers to remove yourself from the church’s sphere of control.

  • Epistaxis

    Hey, they have Ho venduto l’anima su E-bay in their biblioteca.

  • Lynn

    Actually, I don’t think you can get “debaptized”. You can officially leave the Church via formal letter if you so wish (I did it, but only as a personal statement for myself — I also drowned all my religious paraphernalia, including the creepy “relics” my great aunt left me, in the Atlantic), but I don’t think that makes you “unbaptized” in the Church’s view. Just makes you not officially Catholic, although in the US it hardly matters whether or not you make an official statement to the Church. Just don’t go to Mass and don’t give them money — the latter being the only statement they’re really interested in, anyway.

  • I can understand why American people are a bit skeptical about the whole debaptism thing. The problem is that Italy, though secular by constitution, has always granted many priviledges to the catholic church and abides canon law in many ways, for instance on catholic marriage and marriage annulment.

    Please refer to UAAR’s website (sorry for the Google translation!) for further info.

  • SarahH

    Yeah, I think the real problem is that the baptisms have any legal ramifications at all.

  • Lynn

    Yeah, I think the real problem is that the baptisms have any legal ramifications at all.

    Yeah — hard to believe it’s the 21st century sometimes.

  • Will

    It would also be mildly annoying if the CC uses the fact that I did not make leaving the church official as a way to promote me as a member. In other words, statistically, there may be many “members” of the Catholic Church who have left the church, but are still recorded members, thereby making it seem like there are more members than there really are.

  • David

    I was baptised as an infant in the RC church. Now I believe Baptism should be for adults who understand the significance of it and freely choose to do so, not just as a ritual or joining a religious denomination. Then the matter of de-baptising would not be an issue.

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