Fifteen years ago, 61% of Germans belonged to churches, a number that has now dropped below 50%. Last year was a record year for Germany in that, for the first time, less than half of the country belonged to a church.
The Catholic Church saw hundreds of thousands of members officially resign their membership, and large numbers of former Protestants followed suit. According to newly published documents from the German Bishops' Conference (DBK), at least 359,000 Catholics left the church in 2021, a huge leap from the 221,390 who left in 2020.
Even in deeply Catholic Bavaria, 14,035 people left the church from January to June of this year in Munich alone, almost double the number for the same time period in 2019. Also in 2021, some 228,000 Protestants left the 20 different denominations registered in Germany. In 2020, that number was 60,000.
Most Catholics do not attend Mass
DBK chairman Georg Bätzing said he was "deeply shocked by the extremely high number of people leaving the church." It is testimony to a "profound crisis in which we find ourselves as the Catholic Church in Germany," he added. Even among those who still belonged to the church, extremely few regularly attend Mass, according to the DBK. Only 4.3% of Catholics said they go to church most Sundays.
"To these numbers we must add the realization that... not only are the people leaving [those] who have had little or even no contact with their parish for a long period of time, but there is increasing feedback that people are taking this step who were previously very committed to their churches," Bätzing said.
"There is no longer anything we can take for granted as the Catholic Church. We have to explain ourselves anew, explain what we do and why we do it." It remains to be seen to what extent shifting cultural norms, child abuse and the COVID-19 pandemic have to do with declining church membership and attendance. There is also the matter of church taxes, which some have written on social media is too great an expense in a time of soaring inflation and an uncertain economic future.
Church tax is a common practice in several European countries, whereby members of religious communities pay a tax (an 8 or 9% additional levy in Germany, depending on the state) in order to finance its operations. Although it is called the church tax, it does not apply only to Christian communities in Germany. Whatever the cause, the change in German society is clear. Fifteen years ago, 61% of Germans belonged to either a Catholic or Protestant church. Today, about 26% of Germans are officially registered as Catholics and 23.7% as Protestants.
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