The Austrian government collects a church tax (the church prefers to call it a “contribution”) from each Catholic citizen, which necessitates keeping exact count of who is (still) a member of the Catholic Church. Each January brings the dreary annual news of how many Catholics unregistered from their church in the past year. The numbers are always in the thousands – for example, in 2006 and 2007 it was between 36,000 and 37,000.
In 2009 the Austrian Catholic Church was rocked by Pope Benedict’s controversial nomination of Fr. Gerhard Maria Wagner as bishop. Fr. Wagner had said, among other things, that the Harry Potter series is “satanic” and that Hurricane Katrina was “divine retribution” for homosexual activity in New Orleans. Pope Benedict XVI withdrew Wagner’s nomination. The numbers leaving in 2009 reached a new high, over 53,000.
And on to 2010. This was the year of – oh never mind, you already know. It was feared last summer that the numbers leaving the Catholic Church might climb to 75,000. Cardinal Schönborn in Vienna recently said it could be up to 80,000. Today the numbers for 2010 came out: a record high of 87,393.
In Salzburg there is “Rebellion in Kirchenbasis” – 14 parishes have united behind an initiative calling for optional celibacy, the acknowledgement of existing relationships of priests, the ordination of women to the diaconate, the readmission of priests who have resigned, and greater use of laypeople in ministry. This is a response to the official plan to consolidate 24 city parishes in Salzburg into 6 or 7 “pastoral units,” made necessary because 10 out of 27 priests in the city will be retiring within three years.
UPDATE 1-12: Austrian sources are speaking of an annual loss in tax income to the Catholic Church of 6-10 million euros – roughly between 7.75 and 13 million dollars. Experts project that within 20 years, less than half of the Austrian population will belong to the Roman Catholic Church.