BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - In an effort to reduce the church's political influence, Argentine atheists and feminists are spearheading a drive to get people who were baptized Roman Catholic but disagree with the church's politics to formally renounce their faith.
The "Not in my Name" Internet campaign, also called Collective Apostasy, encourages people who are Catholic in name only to write to the bishops where they were baptized to officially register that they have left the church.
Latin America is home to about half of the world's Roman Catholics but many people who were baptized Catholic do not practice the religion.
"The church counts all those who've been baptized as Catholic and lobbies for legislation based on that number, so we're trying to convey the importance of people expressing that they no longer belong to the church," said campaigner Ariel Bellino, a member of an atheist group and a former Catholic.
Some 200 people signed onto the campaign on Monday, when it was first launched, and another 500 people signed up on Tuesday at www.apostasiacolectiva.org, Bellino said.
He said a similar drive was waged in Spain, where leftist movements have a historical anti-clerical streak, and in Chile.
Apostasy in the Roman Catholic Church is defined as the total and obstinate repudiation of the faith.
More than three-quarters of Argentina's 40 million residents define themselves as Catholic, according to a survey done by state researchers last year. But of that group, only about 20 percent say they regularly attend mass.
The country's relatively liberal social mores clash with Catholic doctrine on birth control, abstinence before marriage and homosexuality. The capital, Buenos Aires, was the first Latin American city to allow gay civil unions, back in 2003.
A constitutional requirement that presidents be Catholic was stripped out of the country's charter in the mid-1990s.
Alejandro Russo, a Catholic priest in the archdiocese of Buenos Aires, said this campaign could end up helping those people who have left the church -- and the church itself.
"Some people may suffer a kind of spiritual torture for being part of a church even though they don't share the faith, just because they were baptized as children," he said.
"So this could be positive, relieving the conscience of those who need to express that they're not Catholic, and also doing the Catholic Church a great favor in contributing statistics that it otherwise wouldn't have."
Additional reporting by Hilary Burke; Editing by Cynthia Osterman