“Longtime” readers of Pray Tell – we’re fast approaching our first birthday! – will recall our editorial committee’s decision last winter to give some coverage to the sex abuse / hierarchy response scandal and related divisive and controversial issues. While these difficult issues are not the main focus of this liturgical blog, they are an important part of the societal and ecclesial context in which the liturgy is celebrated.
Here is a follow-up from Germany and Austria, where the government-collected “church tax” gives us data on the numbers leaving the churches.
In Germany, the diocese of Augsburg, where Bishop Walter Mixa was forced to resign in April over physical abuse and embezzlement accusations, recorded some of the worst figures. As of mid-December, 11,351 believers had left the church, compared to 6,953 in 2009. In the south-western Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese, 17,169 Catholics had left the church as of mid-November, almost seven thousand more than in 2009.
In Austria, it had been predicted last winter that over 75,000 Catholics might leave their church in 2010. Now it appears that it will be closer to 80,000. By comparison, under 37,000 left three years ago.
Cardinal Schönborn provoked some angered responses from victims’ groups and church reform groups when he stated that the Church hadn’t had such a wave of departures “since Nazi times.” Wir sind Kirche (“We are Church”) objected that Nazi pressure to leave the Church came from hostile outside forces, but in this case the impetus to separate from the Church arises from the Church’s own failures. The “Plattform Betroffener Kirchlicher Gewalt” (“Platform of Those Affected by Church Violence”) stated, “In view of its deplorable state, increasingly more people are upset with the Catholic Church, take a stand, and leave. It is twisting the facts and cynical to associate civil courage and social conscience with National Socialism.”
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Austrian politician and lawyer Herbert Kohlmaier has returned in protest the papal “Order of St. Gregory” honor he received 16 years ago. The Holy See had objected to his participation in a forum calling for more participation of laypeople in the naming of bishops and objecting to the recent appointment of the unpopular, conservative priest Ägidius Zsifkovics as bishop of Burgenland. The Vatican state department informed Kohlmaier that it expected “respect and good will toward the Successor of Peter and the Holy See” from award recipients. In response Kohlmaier stated that he considers it his “duty as a Christian and a Catholic to speak out energetically, along with many of like mind, against seriously flawed development in the leadership of our Church.”