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Irish Catholics go online to lose religion

Thanks to Adam for the link.

A website is acting as a one-stop shop for disgruntled Catholics who want to officially quit their religion, especially in the wake of the Ryan report on child abuse in religious institutions.

So far more than 300 Catholics have indicated their intention formally to leave the church through the website, set up last month after publication of the report. The creation of three young lapsed Catholics, the facility is designed to provide clear information and the necessary documents to help people leave the church for good.

Hundreds of like-minded people have completed an “actus defectionis” or “declaration of defection” on the site since it went live last Wednesday.

They have completed a three-step process that enables users to get the formal letter required by church officials to change baptism records and allow former followers officially to leave the faith. The document needs to be signed, witnessed and sent to the parish where the person was baptised.

Cormac Flynn, a 29-year-old website designer who describes himself as agnostic, linked up last month with Grainne O’Sullivan and Paul Dunbar to create the online campaign, which also runs on Facebook and Twitter.

“We were concerned by the continuing influence of the church in Ireland and we merely wanted people to use a site like this to make the church aware of their feelings,” said Flynn, from Dundalk, who has been living in Paris for more than two years. “I would be genuinely happy if it even just got people to consider their relationship with the church.”

Those who don’t want to commit to defecting from the church can use the website to register their feelings about the scandals revealed in the Ryan report or the relationship between the church and the state.

Formally defecting from the Catholic church also sends an “unambiguous message” that people with changed beliefs no longer wish to be included in head counts used to justify the church’s role in the state’s services, the campaigners say.

“There are many so-called lapsed Catholics as well as agnostics and atheists in Ireland but the church continues to count them as members,” said Dunbar. “Formally defecting will mean the church can no longer use their large membership to justify continued involvement in the provision of education and health services.”

When a diocese receives a declaration of defection, a clergy member can note in the register of births that the flock member has permanently strayed. But the process is not always that straightforward, Flynn says, because some bishops’ assistants will request a face-to-face meeting before signing off on the document, or the diocese may delay or even ignore the request.

“It varies from diocese to diocese,” Flynn said. “Paul got a response in five days, while others have been ignored.”

Catholic-raised Flynn, a science graduate, has considered himself an agnostic since he was 16. “A lot of people start questioning their religion when they reach their teens, and I was quite a nerdy teenager and into science, and that made me think about it,” he said.

“It’s very hard to throw off the church. I don’t have a particular axe to grind with it and I was surprised by my own reaction to the Ryan report, given that we’ve all known about what went on for a while. I found the details quite shocking.” spells out the consequences of leaving the church. Technically speaking, defecting excludes people from getting married in a Catholic church or having their funeral there, or getting the last rites.

Flynn argues that the application of these rules differs, depending on the parish or priest in question. Campaigners point out that all cemeteries in Ireland accept people of any faith because they are managed by local authorities.

Martin Long, director of the Catholic Communications Office, declined to comment on the website.

He said each of the island’s 26 dioceses has received an average of one defection a year over the past five years. Since the Ryan report’s publication, though, Long’s office has received “a lot of e-mails and letters expressing concern about the content of the report”.

However, the church will always take the view that there is a permanent bond with anyone who has been baptised because “you can never be unbaptised”, said Long.



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