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Belgium: Amid Sex Scandals, De-Baptism Gains Favor

By: for Global Post on Sept. 16, 2010
World News
Photo Credits: Johanna Geron/AFP/Getty Images
Belgium's top Roman Catholic bishop, Andre-Joseph Leonard, celebrates Easter mass on April 4, 2010, in Brussels. The bishop has has denounced the "guilty silence" of church officials in the paedophile priest scandal.
BRUSSELS, Belgium — Faced with ever-more harrowing revelations of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergymen, Belgians are turning in record numbers to apostasy — formally breaking with their religion through a process of “de-baptism.”

“It has increased enormously since the cases of child abuse. It keeps going up,” said Bjorn Siffer, deputy director of Flemish Humanist-Secular Society. “We know from the bishops' secretaries that they can’t cope with all the requests they are getting for de-baptism.”

Siffer says 80 people ditched Catholicism during a single “de-baptism day” in Antwerp in June and a similar number dropped out of the Church in an event earlier this year in the western city of Kortrijk.
A secular organization in Belgium’s French-speaking south says 869 people have used its help to sever links with the Church so far this year, compared to 380 for the whole of 2009, and just 66 two years ago.

"The pedophilia cases play a part, but it’s more that people have had enough of the positions which the Catholic Church has taken on issues like abortion, contraception and homosexuality," said Daniel Leclerq, a coordinator at the Federation of Friends of Secular Morality.

Leclerq said many people were also influenced to leave the church because of the decision by Pope Benedict XVI last year to lift the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, who has described Jews as enemies of the Church and denied the existence of the Nazi gas chambers.

Belgium was shaken by the revelation in April that the Bishop of Bruges Roger Vanhegheluwe, one of the country’s best-known clergymen, had sexually abused his own nephew for 13 years, starting when the boy was just 5 years old.

The country was further shocked over the weekend when a Church inquiry commission published the often graphic testimony of hundreds of people who stepped forward to say they had been abused by priests in their youth.

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