30% of German Catholics now considering leaving church after record loss in 2019, survey finds

Interior of St. Catherine's baroque church in the center of Frankfurt, Germany.
Interior of St. Catherine's baroque church in the center of Frankfurt, Germany. | Getty/Stock photo

Two weeks after the Catholic Church in Germany announced a record 272,771 people formally left the Catholic Church across the country in 2019, a new survey released Thursday says some 30% of the church’s more than 22 million members are considering similar action.

The survey, conducted by the research institute INSA Consulere for the Catholic weekly newspaper Die Tagespost, shows that nearly a third of respondents agreed with the statement “I am a member of the Church and can imagine leaving the Church soon,” the Catholic News Agency reported.

Some 54% of Catholics disagreed with the statement, 9% said they did not know, and 7% did not respond to the statement.

Germany has a population of just under 84 million. Of that number, 22,600,371 or 27.2% are members of the Catholic Church, according to official statistics.

Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, said in a statement on June 26 that while some of the decline can be attributed to changing demographics he was concerned that the Catholic Church was no longer inspiring people to stay. 

“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,” Bätzing said.

“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.”

Bätzing, who succeeded Cardinal Reinhard Marx as bishops’ conference chairman in March, noted that the Church would respond to the falling numbers by recognizing the “signs of the times,” as called for by the Second Vatican Council, the National Catholic Register said, instead of “chasing after a spirit of the times.”

“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,” the bishop said. “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 body; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women, the NCR said.

The Vatican has warned against the process that is expected to end with a series of “binding” votes, which could result in a challenge to the church body’s teaching and discipline.

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

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