The number of “de-baptisms” asked of the Catholic Church has steadily declined over the past few years, after an impressive surge in 2010 linked to the paedophile scandal surrounding Bruges bishop Roger Vangheluwe. According to figures submitted by Belgian dioceses, most of them received fewer than 100 requests to leave the Church in 2014. In 2010, there were around 2,000 cases in some regions (2,183 in Antwerp and 1,846 in Malines-Brussels). Only the Namur diocese, which does not keep statistics, did not submit figures. In the other 7 Belgian (arch-)dioceses, the drop in applications has been noticeable since 2010. Only Bruges shows a slight increase: 81 requests in 2014 compared to 78 in 2013 (but 105 in 2012). Antwerp (with 110 requests compared to 133 in 2013), Malines-Brussels (with 153 in 2014 – a provisional figure because some cases have yet to be dealt with – compared to 189 in 2013), Ghent (79 compared to 121 in 2013), Hasselt (46 against 62 in 2013). Liege (54 versus 68 in 2013), and Tournai (50 compared to 81 in 2013), have all seen this phenomenon of religious disaffiliation slowly decrease in recent years.
“The declining trend is clear,” points out Jeroen Moens, from the Malines-Brussels arch-diocese. “This is a relatively marginal movement, especially when it is compared with the number of new baptisms, which reaches over 13,000 every year in the Malines-Brussels arch-diocese alone.” According to Tommy Scholtes, press officer for Belgian bishops, “people currently asking to be removed from the baptismal register often have personal issues with their parish or have had negative experience.” Their reasons are different to what we encountered in 2010, when people “felt disheartened by the discovery that such a thing (paedophilia – editor’s note) could have been taking place within the Church.”