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Catholic Church in Germany lost a record number of members last year

In the diocese of Limburg, headed by Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, 9,439 people left the Catholic Church in 2019, 1,459 more than in 2018.

Limburg Bishop Georg Batzing speaks during a March 3, 2020, news conference in Mainz after being elected as the new president of the German bishops' conference. (CNS photo/Harald Oppitz, KNA)

CNA Staff, Jun 26, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- A record number of Catholics formally left the Church in Germany in 2019, according to official figures released Friday.

The statistics issued June 26 showed that 272,771 people exited the Catholic Church last year, a significant increase on the 2018 figure of 216,078.

In a June 26 statement, Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, said that he did not wish to “gloss over” the figures.

He said: “Of course, the declines are also due to demographics, but they also show first of all the fact that, despite our concrete pastoral and social actions, we no longer motivate a large number of people for Church life.”

“I find the very high number of people leaving the Church particularly burdensome. We regret every departure from the Church and we invite everyone who has left or wants to leave to talk to us. The number of people leaving the Church shows that the alienation between Church members and a life of faith in the Church community has become even stronger.”

The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), a body representing 20 Protestant groups, also released its annual statistics June 26. It reported that its membership fell from 21.14 million in 2018 to 20.7 million in 2019, a drop of 440,000.

According to the new figures, the number of Catholics in the country decreased from 23 million in 2018 to 22.6 million in 2019.

Catholics now account for 27.2% of Germany’s population of almost 84 million, down from 27.7% in 2018.

The proportion of Catholics attending church services has fallen to its lowest level, with 9.1% attending in 2019, compared to 9.3% in the previous year.

Formal departures from the Catholic Church in Germany are sometimes motivated by a desire to avoid the country’s church tax. If an individual is registered as a Catholic then 8-9% of their income tax goes to the Church. The only way they can stop paying the tax is to make an official declaration renouncing their membership. They are no longer allowed to receive the sacraments or a Catholic burial.

Meanwhile, the number of admissions to the Church fell from 2,442 in 2018 to 2,330 in 2019, while readmissions decreased from 6,303 to 5,339 in the same period.

In 2019, church marriages declined by 10%, Confirmations by 7% and First Communions by 3%, according to the website of the Catholic Church in Germany.

The number of baptisms also fell from 167,787 in 2018 to 159,043 in 2019.

In Bätzing’s own diocese of Limburg, 9,439 people left the Catholic Church in 2019, 1,459 more than in 2018.

The bishop, who succeeded Cardinal Reinhard Marx as bishops’ conference chairman in March, said that the Church should respond not by “chasing after a spirit of the times,” but by recognizing the “signs of the times,” as called for by the Second Vatican Council.

He said: “This sometimes requires courageous changes in our own ranks. That is why last year we set out on the Synodal Way of the Church in Germany to ask what God wants from us today in this world.”

“We will take the figures published today seriously and bring them into the discussions of the Synodal Way.”

The “Synodal Way” is a two-year process that brings together lay people and bishops to discuss four major topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

The German bishops initially said that the process would end with a series of “binding” votes — raising concerns at the Vatican that the resolutions might challenge the Church’s teaching and discipline.

In June 2018, Pope Francis sent a 28-page letter to German Catholics urging them to focus on evangelization in the face of a “growing erosion and deterioration of faith.”

“Every time an ecclesial community has tried to get out of its problems alone, relying solely on its own strengths, methods and intelligence, it has ended up multiplying and nurturing the evils it wanted to overcome,” he wrote.

Last September, the Vatican sent a letter to the German bishops declaring that plans for the synod were “not ecclesiologically valid.”

After a back and forth between the bishops’ conference and Vatican officials, the first synodal assembly took place in Frankfurt at the end of January. The second meeting is expected to go ahead, despite the coronavirus crisis, in September.

In his letter to German Catholics, the pope said that participants in the “Synodal Way” faced a particular “temptation.”

“At the basis of this temptation, there is the belief that the best response to the many problems and shortcomings that exist, is to reorganize things, change them and ‘put them back together’ to bring order and make ecclesial life easier by adapting it to the current logic or that of a particular group,” he wrote.

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  1. More than that are leaving the Church in the United States. Just no government records are kept of membership, so it’s more difficult to quantify. But look around at most any parish: empty pews and gray hair abound. The Church in the U.S. is almost a complete failure as an evangelizing Church.

  2. Social justice religion is a dead branch. It doesn’t procreate, evangelize or act any differently than a political activist organization.

  3. The numbers are actually far too low. Isn’t the real question why anyone who is really Catholic would be a member of the German Church today?

  4. The reason for decline of catholic all around the world is, unfortunately, the priests and bishops, those who are priests and that are those that enter the priesthood to destroy the church, I am not talk about those, did not heard Our Lady‘s messages and did not talk about God’s punishment, nor the last four things, nor hell, in which, now, they say is not a place, when is clearly showed by the Blessed Virgin Mary to the little children in Fatima, is under the earth. So, in the bible says, because of Jesus name, every knee will bend, in heaven, on earth and UNDER THE EARTH and every tongue will profess, Jesus Christ is the Lord, for the glory of God the father. And PENANCE, PENANCE, PENANCE, THE angel cried out. The other thing is, Imagine if all the priests of the catholic church wear a big crucifix around their neck and be recognised, by it, how wonderful that will be. Have courage and change.

    • The Church today has taken away the reality of Hell and the Devil atarting with comments by Francis.. the greatest lie perpetrated by the devil is having the world believe he dose t exist. So no need for confession, no need to fear eternity in hell with suffering and fire. In almost every Catholic Church Jesus is all Love and everyone goes to heaven.. Jesus said wide is the road to prediction, Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire the Luke warm,tipid, social activist, homosexual, and no longer believing priest back into communion with the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Jesus said beware of wolfs dressed as sheep who will lead the church astray..

  5. Has any research been done to truly determine why German Catholic faithful are leaving the Church? Could it be because they no longer feel spiritually connected to the Church or due to the changes in the Church?

  6. Aside from the tax, the devastating effect of Nazism, German intellectualism [defined here as greater reliance on reason than faith] blinds German hierarchy, Bishop Georg Bätzing from perceiving that it ends with Bultmannian ‘mythological’ cleansing and the ironic practicality of “Chasing after the Zeitgeist”. That the signs of the times, as called for by the Second Vatican Council, as interpreted by the Bishops, calls for further radical accommodation the remains of which is a secularized German church, an NGO with the trappings of religion. Germans at large are fed up with innocuous high sounding blather, when their life is better accommodated with secular professionals be they psychologists, social scientist. Return to a Bultmann purged spirituality brilliantly elucidated by Benedict XVI in his Jesus of Nazareth would set Germany back on course.

  7. Speaking truth to power is becoming a feature among people of goodwill world-wide. Serving faith through promotion of justice continues to be an exciting option.

  8. In fact, these falling numbers are not that bad for two reasons:
    (1) What actually dropped is number of tax payers, not number of faithful (which is only small fraction of all church tax payers).
    (2) Billions collected from the tax are used to build ruthless bureaucracy which terrorizes literary whole world, including German faithful, Latin America and so on.

    • Only in the liberal and socialistic countries of Europe can one have a “Church Tax”. Friends of mine espouse the multifaceted benefits of European government but always fail to mention the devil in the details. Cradle to grave rights come at a terrific cost and at the heavy price of loss of freedom and liberty.

      • Authentic Europeanism can be seen in the fact that this (optional) tax is hardly anything else than a mask upon state reign over the Church.

        But U.S. is only slightly better than that. For example JFK denied any cooperation between the Church and Washington (infamous, deeply unconstitutional Houston speech), Clinton expelled every remains of puritanism and there is, of course, authentic american socialistic tradition ranging from Roosevelt to Democratic Party’s abortionism. And the result? Zentralkomitee, USCCB, …

  9. Germans are leaving the Catholic Church because they no longer want to pay taxes to prop up fat, gay heterodox bishops more interested in worldy wealth and power than preaching the gospel as it was handed to them.

  10. The German Catholic’s have been thrown under the bus by their Bishops and Frau Merkel.Our present Pope Francis is also problematic to the German Faithful.

  11. An ironic twist to the tale of the church tax. Germans get faulted for almost everything these days, which seems to go with being a great nation and regards the tax they are indeed the primordial culprits. But were they culprits? Religious or church tax began with the Germanic tribal chieftains prior to Christianization. Other Christian Europeans thought the clever geldt minded pagan Germans had a good idea and adopted the church tax themselves. Today not only Germany but Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Sweden, some parts of Switzerland have mandatory church tax. After WW II the new German constitution permitted churches to opt out of the mandatory tax. That option would seem to be helpful in a future restoration of Catholicism.

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