“De-Baptisms” Increase as Italian Apostasy Rises

In September 2019, Mattia Nanetti filled out a de-baptism form he found online and sent it, along with a letter explaining why, to his parish church. Two weeks later, sbattezzo was written next to his name in his parish’s baptism registry. Sbattezzo means he is de-baptized in Italian.

The 25-year old Nanetti grew up in Bologna, northern Italy. Like many Italians, Nanetti grew surrounded by Catholic culture and teachings and learned about Catholic sacraments in parochial schools. But Nanetti is also one of the many Italians, whose number is growing every year, formally declaring themselves de-baptized.

According to the Diocese of Brescia in eastern Milan, in 2020, they received 27 applications for de-baptism. This year, as of August, they have de-baptized 72 people so far. Although the data is lacking, the actual numbers may be higher.

The Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics (UAAR) laid the groundwork for the process of de-baptism to become possible in Italy more than two decades ago.

Roberto Grendene, National Secretary of the UAAR, said they launched an online registry where people can submit applications for de-baptism. When combining the traffic on their website and the partial data from multiple parishes, the UAAR estimates more than 100 thousand have already been de-baptized in Italy.

Rev. Daniele Mombelli, professor of religious sciences at the University of the Sacred Heart and the vice-chancellor of the Diocese of Brescia, said that erasing a baptism is impossible because it happened and was registered. Instead, applying for de-baptism can only “formalize the person’s abandonment of the church,” Mombelli explained.

According to Mombelli, anyone who applied for de-baptism is committing the crime of apostasy. Mombelli added that the crime of apostasy is different from the sin of apostasy since the latter can be forgiven. “An apostate, instead, manifests their will to formally abandon the church externally, so they face legal consequences for their decision,” he added.

But the words of the Catholic church should mean nothing against Italy’s Personal Data Protection Authority that gives everyone the right to abandon the church, regardless of their reason.

A 23-year old Pietro Groppi from Piacenza, who was de-baptized in May 2021, said he asked himself if he believed or not before sending his application for the de-baptism. The answer was simply, “no,” Groppi said.

Others also grounded their reason for leaving the church on social issues like LGBTQ rights, euthanasia, and abortion. Nanetti said his decision helped him acknowledge and come to terms with him being bisexual.

22-year old Francesco Faillace, on the other hand, sees the de-baptism as a means to formalize his lack of belief because he has been an atheist “since basically forever.” “I’ve been baptized for cultural reasons more than religious because that’s how it goes in Italy,” Faillace said. “

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