Exodus from the Catholic Church

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Exodus from the Catholic Church

Over 272,000 people left the Catholic Church in Germany in 2019. This record number of withdrawals is anything but a healthy downsizing. One thing is clear: the Church must cope with reality openly and self-critically.

Record-setting departure from the Catholic Church
The official statistics of 2019 released by the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) on 26 June 2020 show that the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, the largest religious organisation in the country with 23 million members, has suffered from the highest loss of members ever. Over 272,000 people announced their departure in 2019, breaking the record of 2014, when nearly 218,000 left the Church.[1]

Source: German Bishops’ Conference[2]

Several aspects of congregational life in the Catholic Church have suffered from the sharp drop, as religious ceremonies such as wedding ceremonies and baptisms have also significantly declined.[3]

The long way of alienation
According to a representative survey conducted by INSA Consulere in June 2020, 30% of German Catholics are considering leaving their church.[4] This shows a decline in personal attachment to the Church, said Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, who was elected president of the German Bishops’ Conference in March this year. [5]

Back in 2018, the diocese of Essen examined the question of why people left the Catholic Church through interviews and an online survey. The results were clear: the compulsory church tax is rather a trigger than the main reason for canceling the membership. After sexual abuse and financial scandals were brought to the light, the Church addressed its necessity and willingness to reflect on their mistakes, failures, and the missing aliveness in the house of God. However, it seems like not much has significantly changed over time, resulting in decreasing numbers of members.[6]

An exodus from the Church seems to be the best way out for many people, as they are coping with a long-missing emotional attachment to the Church, and doubts about their faith and the Catholic Communion.[7] “Those who choose to leave the Church are not against the Church, the Church just does not mean anything to them anymore,” said Georg Bier, Canon Law expert. [8]

The duty of the Church
Those ending their membership officially opt out of the church tax which accounts for the continuing wealth of the Church.[9] Therefore, this growing exodus from the Catholic Church in Germany is taking its financial toll, while the spiritual loss of individuals is immeasurable. [10]

The Church may need courageous reforms to reverse the trend. It is not about running after every zeitgeist, but about reflecting on whether the Catholic Church has fulfilled the duty of scrutinising the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the gospel, in a language intelligible to each generation, as the Second Vatican Council suggested. [11]

The Church must recognise, understand, and respond to the modern world, with its dynamics and its longings. After all, the reality is not something the Church can and should escape from.

Han Chang

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[1] Membership of German free evangelical denominations remains stable while Protestant and Catholic churches suffer huge losses; Kirchenaustrittszahlen in Deutschland so hoch wie nie zuvor; ZAHLEN UND FAKTEN 2013/14
[2] Kirchliche Statistik
[3] Kirchenaustrittszahlen in Deutschland so hoch wie nie zuvor; More than 220,000 people left the Protestant Church of Germany in 2018; People leaving German church at record rate
[4] 30 Prozent der deutschen Katholiken erwägen Kirchenaustritt
[5] German Catholics Flee Church; People leaving German church at record rate
[6] Kirchliche Statistik 2019: Der große Schock – und keine Hoffnung mehr?Die Kirchensteuer ist nur der Auslöser
[7] Die Kirchensteuer ist nur der Auslöser
[8] Diese Konsequenzen hat ein Kirchenaustritt  
[9] Germany: Catholic Church sees record drop in membership
[10] People leaving German church at record rate
[11] Kirchenaustrittszahlen in Deutschland so hoch wie nie zuvor; Gaudium et spes: PASTORAL CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD