Demand in France for “debaptism” is rising as Catholics ask to be struck from Church records in protest against the festering sexual abuse scandal in Lyon.
The Church says baptism cannot be undone and keeps no central record of these departures, but scattered reports from several dioceses show an upsurge. Parishes often simply note in their registers that the person asked to be removed.
About 1,000 French Catholics are estimated to ask for “debaptism” every year, with totals jumping at times of crisis. The latest spike is linked to Lyon, where Cardinal Philippe Barbarin received a suspended sentence last month of covering up for a predator priest but remains in office because Pope Francis refused his resignation letter.
Media inquiries in some of France’s 93 dioceses reported Lyon received about two requests a day last month, which was 10 times the normal rate, while the 15 received in Paris were four times as many as normal.
Reims saw requests jump to 17 in 2018 and already 21 this year. In Soissons, north of Paris, the diocese has 11 requests already compared to 15 for all of last year. Coutances-Avranches in Normandy already had 25 requests by early April after 30 for 2018.
“The two reasons cited are mostly related to paedophile crimes in the Church and, for some, lingering issues linked to the legalisation of same-sex marriage,” Fr Thierry Anquetil, vicar general in the Normandy diocese, told local television. Strong Church opposition to same-sex marriage in 2013 alienated many Catholics.
The widely viewed film "By the Grace of God" about the Lyon abuse scandal may have fuelled the trend since victims depicted debate debaptism in one scene.
An episcopal vicar for the Lyon archdiocese has quit his post in protest against Cardinal Barbarin's handling of the clerical sexual abuse scandal there. Fr Bruno Millevoye said in an 7 April message distributed in churches in his Roannais sector northwest of Lyon: "My disagreement about the bishop's view of his responsibility in this painful conflict was too great for me to continue to participate in his council.” Millevoye, who is due to be transferred to another parish, said he did not demand that Barbarin quit his post, only that he take responsibility "for an institution that has made a grave error".