German leaders see crisis as Catholics quit church

BONN, Germany — For the first time in German history, less than half of the German population has registered as a member of one of two major churches: Catholic and Protestant.

New figures on church member resignations came as a shock to many, the German Catholic News Agency reported. DNA.

“The figures for 2021 show the deep crisis in which we find ourselves as the Catholic Church in Germany. There is no way to embellish it,” said Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German Bishops’ Conference.

The Catholic Church had 21.6 million members last year, according to its statistics released on June 27. This corresponds to about 26% of the population. The Protestant or Evangelical Church in Germany has 19.7 million members, which corresponds to 23.5%. Germany’s Christians remain by far the largest religious community, but the exodus of members has exploded.

In Germany, church membership is registered both in the local Catholic or Protestant parish and with civil authorities. About 360,000 Catholics have officially registered with civil authorities as not being members of a church, thereby avoiding future payment of church membership dues, the so-called church tax.

KNA reported that the aftershocks in the wake of the German abuse scandal continue with ever-increasing force despite all attempts at reform. Germany’s dioceses present their abuse reports separately and independently of each other, triggering new negative headlines every few months.

Responding to a report on past abuses in the Archdiocese of Munich, retired Pope Benedict XVI bowed to pressure to admit he had made a false claim and spoke of an “editorial oversight”. Pope Francis is increasingly unambiguous in his criticism of the Catholic Church’s reform consultations in Germany, which launched the so-called synodal path to regain lost trust, but so far the project has not didn’t have a lot of positive impact.

Frustration seeps into the heart of parishes, where even members who have been active in the church for years are beginning to leave. What is new is that the feeling of shame and dissatisfaction has even reached the leaders.

The Bishop of Hildesheim, Heiner Wilmer, described as disturbing “the fact that not only people of little faith, but sometimes also people of great faith are leaving the church”.

Several vicars general who have resigned probably did so in part for this reason – and they hold the most powerful administrative positions in church administration.

Andreas Sturm, who resigned as Vicar General of Speyer and joined another church, explained his resignation in May by saying: “Over the years I have lost hope and confidence that the Church Roman Catholic can really change.

His long-time counterpart in Munich, Father Peter Beer, spoke along similar lines when he recently remarked about his retirement in 2020 that he stood no chance against the “protectors of offenders”. He said: “In the end, I barely managed to change the system.”

In mid-June, the alleged suicide of a former clergyman rocked the diocese of Limburg, after allegations of “violent behavior”.

Christoph Kösters, a church historian from Bonn, said an earlier trend is now accelerating. For example, church attendance was already declining in the 1920s, when more than 50% of Catholics still attended Sunday mass regularly. Since the 1960s, secularization has accelerated sharply, and today less than 5% of Catholics regularly attend Sunday Mass.

Even the bishops use terms like “stunned” and “shocked” to describe their reaction to these developments. The once powerful religious community is almost in a state of paralysis at present, not least because of the tense limbo that has gripped the great archdioceses of Cologne and Munich, DNA reported.

Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx tendered his resignation last year, saying the church had reached a “dead point” – and adding it could become a turning point. Pope Francis rejected his resignation almost immediately.

The Pope is taking a different approach in the Archdiocese of Cologne, which is mired in a deep and unprecedented crisis and, to the alarm of some bishops, is dragging their dioceses with it.

Pope Francis said he had asked Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki for a letter of resignation, but was waiting for the unrest to die down before deciding what to do.

In mid-June, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin, “People want a modern, open-minded church that participates in their daily lives and tackles their daily problems.”

“Churches should stop focusing too much on themselves for fear of their own loss of meaning,” he said.

On the ground, this still happens in many parishes, although it attracts little public attention, DNA reported. Many women in particular maintain this basic work, through childcare, soup kitchens for the needy and language classes for refugees. And even in Catholic labor law, there have been advances that until recently would have seemed unthinkable.

A draft amendment specifies that in the future, “the form of relationship and the intimate sphere” of employees will no longer be grounds for dismissal. Until now, employment could be terminated if someone enters into a same-sex partnership or remarries at the registry office after a divorce.

But even overdue reforms will not stop the exodus overnight. Resignations are the culmination of a long process and people have a wide variety of reasons for taking the plunge: from criticism of abuse and power management, to the crusty image of the church, to a simple cost-benefit calculation (“don’t make use of what it offers anyway.”)

Steinmeier, on the other hand, believes that churches will continue to play a role when “self-made worldviews” reach their limits. “When it comes to the old and ever new questions of what we can count on in life and in death, what is needed is attention and a clear and understandable message,” he said. he declares.

Jerry B. Hatch