Many leave the Catholic Church in Germany, Austria

“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.”



  1. When the Church continues to propound the Faith in EuropolitoUN-babble, what does one expect?

    The wound won’t be staunched until Dominicans are sent to street corners with the Great Commission, and Christ and Him crucified is preached again with clarity and fire.

  2. The link between the sexual abuse scandal and the new translation: dysfunctional governance.

    In the case of the translation, the dysfunction is even more obvious because nothing can be blamed on secularism, anti-Catholicism, or other external causes. No one outside the Catholic church has any influence on the new missal. And within the church, dealing with a Latin-to-vernacular translation (unlike dealing with sexual abuse) is a task for which the clergy is particularly well suited, and many are competent to do it and to evaluate it. Moreover, everyone wants it to succeed even if they have very different ideas of what a successful translation would look like. The fact that the result is so poor is a proof of general dysfunction.

    In fact, the translation saga makes me less angry about the sexual abuse scandal: the failure to recognize competent advice, the poor judgment, misplaced secrecy, misuse of authority, and general chaos, are not special to that scandal. How can I expect them to navigate the sensitive and unfamiliar terrain of sexual abuse, when they can’t even manage a new translation of the missal into English?

    My take is that the church is incapable of sound governance in its current state. My hope is that the new missal will serve as a wake-up call.

    1. “My take is that the church is incapable of sound governance in its current state. My hope is that the new missal will serve as a wake-up call.”

      I agree that the church seems incapable of sound governance, but I suggest you not hold your breath with that wake-up call hope. It’s not looking good for alarm clocks in Rome these days.

  3. To state the obvious, perhaps the ghastly existence of the tax has something to do with it? On this margin, a tax can cause people to flee the taxed thing.

    The old world thought the new world was nuts for the idea of religious liberty. But it seems that liberty has worked out better for the faith actually.

  4. It seems Pope Benedict is a reverse Midas. Everything he touches turns to lead. From day one of his papacy it has been one Vatican blunder after another.

    Now “Anglicanorum Coetibus” appears to be another such disaster alienating more latin rite Catholics than the Anglo Catholics it was suppose to attract to the Roman Church. Despite optimistic and cheery assessments of the ordinariate’s forthcoming success,it remains to be seen how many Anglicans finally take the plunge into the Tiber.

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