Weak Ties to Church: Austria, Norway

In a recent poll, more than a quarter  (27%) of the Catholics in Austria say they are considering leaving the Church. Top reasons:

  • government-collected church contribution (tax), 54%;
  • sexual abuse in the church, 33%.

For those who have already left the Church, the top reasons why they left:

  • no interest in the institutional Church, 34%;
  • role of women in the Catholic Church, 31%;
  • appointment of conservative bishops, 26%;
  • lack of interest in religion, 25%.

There have been several controversial episcopal nominations in Austria in recent years. In Burgenland, where Bishop Ägidius Zsifkovics was recently installed, almost half (48%) of the Catholics are considering leaving the Church. 

Those surveyed were asked what their first spontaneous thought is about the Roman Catholic Church. The top answers:

  • sexual abuse (15%);
  • mandatory church contribution (tax) (14%);
  • old, outdated, old-fashioned, backward (10%);
  • the Pope (9%);
  • faith (8%);
  • nothing good (4%);
  • baptism, first Communion, etc. (3%);
  • positive things (2%);
  • prayer (1%);
  • the Cross (1%).

 *          *          *          *          *

In Norway, the average member of the state Lutheran Church attended church once in 2010. Much of this attendance can be attributed to non-church goers who attended once in the past year on the occasion of a Baptism.

Of Norway’s five million inhabitants, 78 per cent were members of the Church of Norway in 2010, as opposed to 86.3 per cent in 2000. Out of total newborns, 66.3 percent were baptized in the Church of Norway last year, down from 81.4 per cent in 2000.


  1. This is where the orthodoxy junkies fail entirely. The challenge is not to get the Catechism right but to show the modern world why and how the Gospel is meaningful. Do we ourselves find enlightenment in the Gospel — enlightenment powerful enough that we want to share it? The mealy-mouthed new translations suggest anything but a desire to share the light of the Gospel. They are the produce of a committee of bats who have never seen the sunlight.

    1. “The challenge is not to get the Catechism right but to show the modern world why and how the Gospel is meaningful.”

      That’s what I thought the Catechism was for… or am I missing something? In any case, right practice stems from right belief: unless we have the Catechism right, we cannot even begin to hope to be able to evangelise the modern world.

      “The mealy-mouthed new translations suggest anything but a desire to share the light of the Gospel. They are the produce of a committee of bats who have never seen the sunlight.”

      In your opinion.

      My opinion (for what it’s worth) is that the new translation, while by no means perfect, is far better than the claptrap we currently have to put up with. With the omission and obscuring of so much of our theology and heritage in the current translation, is it any wonder that our English liturgy, so poor a teacher, seems to turn out materialist Catholics who want to “live the Gospel” without really understanding it?

      For instance, compare the collects for the current liturgical season. The new translation, with the Latin, mentions things like bodily discipline (Fri in Lent 1), spiritual battle (Ash Wed), strengthening of our hearts (Mon in Lent 2). At the moment we have none of that–the current translation completely obscures the spiritual realities behind the Lenten season (and, by extension, our lives).

      People in the modern world are crying out for authentic spirituality, for true meaning. Why then put the cart before the horse? We can “live the Gospel” as much as we like, but if we do not understand it and cannot explain it, what’s the use? And if our liturgy so obscures the spiritual as to make it almost an irrelevance, how are we to understand what Christ calls us to?

      1. “We can “live the Gospel” as much as we like, but if we do not understand it and cannot explain it, what’s the use?”

        I am quite sure that you did not mean that. I am thinking of the book “Adam” by Nouwen, who talks about the members of the L’Arche communities. The core members have physical or mental handicaps, and some of them cannot explain their lives, but they are living the gospel and their lives are most certainly useful.

        I wonder if on this site liturgy is overrated. After all, liturgy is merely a tool to pull us towards Christ.

      2. Claire – excellent question! I think a particular danger of the profession for liturgists is that we take liturgy way too seriously. To tie in to another conversational thread on this blog – the field of liturgy is ripe for all sorts of idolatry.


      3. I am no defender of the collects of 1973. (The eucharistic prayers, the prefaces, the prayers of the Triduum, the solemn blessings, another matter.)

        But fair is fair.

        Ash Wednesday, from 1973:

        Opening Prayer

        Lord, protect us in our struggle against evil.
        As we begin the discipline of Lent
        make this day holy by our self-denial.

        Blessing of Ashes, alternative (as in the Latin)

        Lord, bless these ashes
        by which we show that we are dust.
        Pardon our sins
        and keep us faithful to the discipline of Lent,
        for you do not want sinners to die,
        but to live with the risen Christ,
        who lives ….

        Prayer over the Gifts

        help us to resist temptation
        by our lenten works of charity and penance.
        By this sacrifice
        may we be prepared to celebrate
        the death and resurrection of Christ our Savior
        and be cleansed from sin and renewed in spirit.

        Prayer after Communion

        through this communion
        may our lenten penance give you glory
        and bring us your protection.

        I will add the 1998 texts later.

      4. So long as we’re going to — from time to time — question the value of the Latin prayers themselves, I’d like to point out that the “alternative prayer” for the blessing of the ashes is the only prayer of the blessing of the ashes. The other prayer does not bless the ashes.

        In full disclosure, I admit that I learned about this tendency in the revised Roman Rite and the Book of Blessings to avoid blessing things (and to only bless people) from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf.

    2. I know many of the members of the ‘committee’ Joe – and I think you’re being particularly unkind to bats.

  2. Dear Joe,

    Why should one figure an antagonism between orthodoxy and enlightenment in the gospel? And do you really think if the Austrian Church unilaterally adopted the We Are Church agenda that their stats would start going northwards? It’s not that I’m being snippy, and I agree with you that new translations -are they retranslating the german missal?- will/ would not do much to arrest the decline… the situation is far too gone for that. But that does’t mean we shouldn’t ditch the High School Pelagianism of the current translations, though I do admit that the new ones can be a little clunky.

    I wonder if the situation in Austria might have something to do with the fact that the Church is effectively Established and that that close connection with the secular order, as well as the general drift in the episcopal culture of the last few decades, a tacit compromise with social trends, has created a general expectation that the Church would simply capitulate to modernity? Now that there are signs of resistance, this rankles. But, as you imply, rankling is not enough of itself; there has to be a positive proclamation of the Gospel. How to proclaim a Gospel full of ‘the splendour of the Truth’?

  3. Giles Heather :

    But that does’t mean we shouldn’t ditch the High School Pelagianism of the current translations, though I do admit that the new ones can be a little clunky.

    What is meant by High School Pelagianism? Could you offer a few paragraphs or a link to someone who goes into this? What does it have to do with the translations? Is “High School” here a form of the philosophy or a level of education? I apologize for my failure to comprehend what has been written.

    1. Hmmm

      Pelagianism is a belief that we can accomplish things on our own, rather than receiving everything good from God. So it is reflected in phrases like ” bodily discipline” and “spiritual battle.”

      No wait. Those are the phrases that are missing from the current translation.

      I guess I do not have an answer to your question. Maybe Matthew can answer why these phrases do not reflect “high school Pelagianism” when Giles explains what does.

      1. The Pelagianism refered to can be illustrated by the number of times the 1973 translation changes the Latin into us asking God to “help” us, as if we could really do it ourselves if we tried hard enough, we just need a little “boost” from God, as if it was not really God’s work, it’s really just us down here, but that a li’l help from our pal God might be nice. Most of the time when we ask God to “help us” in the 1973 translation, the Latin says something completely different such as “lead us” or “by your grace” make such-and-such happen. Also, 1973 ICEL evidences a habit bordering on the systematic removal of the concept of grace, refusing to translate the Latin gratia as “grace.” Sounds pretty Pelagian to me.

        You don’t have to look very hard to find examples.

      2. On this point, I share Ben’s concerns. Eamon Duffey’s important article, ““Rewriting the Liturgy: The Theological Implications of Translation,” in Stratford Caldicott, Beyond the Prosaic, offers a convincing critique of the Pelagian undertone of the current translation.

        I wouldn’t accuse the current translation or its creators (or the bishops who approved it) of heresy. This is a question of emphasis. The Scriptures include both Galatians and James. But I think it’s unfortunate that the current translation overplays human agency and underplays God’s initiative in all that we do.

        But perhaps the Latin, or the coming translation, while free of the Pelagian problem, solves it at the high price of using ‘groveling’ language from another era or culture – I don’t know.


  4. How is it that no matter what is presented someone quickly links it to the translation problem?

    It is as distracting as reading NCR comments which always hook into the pedophilia scandal these days or had always hooked into the investigation of the nuns.

    I know that the content and process of VC2010 is a constant irritation for some, but could you please, before posting, ask yourselves if making the connection actually contributes to the discussion of the topic.

  5. “The challenge is not to get the Catechism right but to show the modern world why and how the Gospel is meaningful.”

    “That’s what I thought the Catechism was for… or am I missing something?”

    This is what’s missing from church junkies of either the orthodox or progressive flavor: A lived gospel witness that inspires a mixture of curiosity, joy, and beauty.

    The self-styled orthodox fail in the reliance on human things: the printing of books, the intellectual arguments, the cookbook approach not only to liturgy but to the Christian life. More so, much of the neo-orthodox approach adopts the political means of the secular world: assemblt a manifesto, cheerlead for the base, attack the non-compliant, appeal to base feelings in the guise of intellectual self-satisfaction.

    The reality is that the Gospel is more about artistry and apprenticeship than about the wisdom of the world. Christian faith is eminently reasonable, but it defies the usual trappings of human reason.

  6. Following on comment 5, texts for Ash Wednesday from the 1998 Sacramentary:


    Grant us, Lord, the grace
    to begin this time of Christian service with a holy fast,
    that, as we struggle against the spirit of evil,
    we may be strengthened by the practice of self-discipline.

    BLESSING OF ASHES (alternate as in the Latin)

    you do not wish sinners to die
    but to turn to you and live.
    In your goodness hear our prayer:
    bless+ these ashes,
    which we place on our heads to remind us
    that we are dust and unto dust we shall return.
    Grant that by our faithful observance of Lent
    we may gain pardon for our sins
    and newness of life
    in the image of your risen Son.


    Lord God,
    as Lent begins we offer you this solemn sacrifice,
    begging that through our works of charity and penance
    we may turn away from sin and harmful pleasures
    and unite ourselves more closely to the passion of your Son,
    who lives and reigns for ever and ever.


    may the sacrament we have received in faith
    sustain and strengthen us,
    so that our Lenten fast may win favor in your sight
    and help to remedy our human weakness.



    prepare your people fittingly
    for the celebration of Easter,
    that the bodily penance we have solemnly begun
    may work to the good of our souls.



    Ever-faithful God,
    for the healing of our souls
    you teach us to discipline our bodies by penance.
    Give us the grace to abstain from all sin
    and to accept the demands that your love makes upon us.

    Every single word of the Latin? Every Latin structure replicated? Not slavishly. The native rhythms of the receptor language respected? Yes. And in most instances in 1998, far more so than in 2008/2010 (2011?). 1998 is indeed prayer. What’s more, ENGLISH PRAYER.

  7. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197

    “A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set for extinction, say researchers.
    The team’s mathematical model attempts to account for the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives behind being one.”

    The authors seem to not conceive of any reason why someone would be religious, other than social utility. But they claim that their model fits census data well…

    1. Claire,

      This is a mathematical model and all such models are dependent upon their assumptions. This model appears to be one that fits well which languages tend to be learned and used.

      One does not have to become a citizen of England or even an English speaking country in order to profit socially from learning to read, write and speak English. Also one does not have to give up reading, writing and speaking Chinese in order to read, write and speak English.

      Religion while it has some things in common with language is not exactly the same.

      The largest religions, Christianity and Islam, are exclusive religions. While you could study them and acquire knowledge of them as a kind of language in order to deal more effectively with Christians and Moslems, I doubt if many people take the time to do that. You generally don’t get the social benefits of religions unless you become an exclusive adherent. While there are some social benefits to religion such as encountering Catholics in other countries, most of the social benefits are very local, tied to congregations, families, friendships and small groups.

      A different mathematical model of religion would have to have built into it assumptions that you cannot simultaneously be a Christian and a Moslem. It would also have to model the benefits of local relationships. It would seem to me that there are some social advantages to being a Christian and a Moslem, and therefore the model should predict that these large religions like major languages will survive and prosper as they seem to be doing, except for Christianity in Europe where there may be some social advantages to being secular.

  8. O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me.

    1. Could you help me move this table?

    2. I simply can’t go on. I desperately need your help.

    Again, I hold no brief for the collects of 1973, but I believe that given the circumstance of worship, the placement of the prayers in the liturgical action, and the evident purpose of the prayers, the second sense is intended. It may not have been the best solution, but I think the charge of Pelagianism is overdrawn, indeed facile.

    The absence of the word “grace” in 1973 simply cannot be sustained, beginning with the most commonly used greeting in the Introductory Rites.

    1. Rita, as blog administrator, I urge you to stop John Robert Francis from continuing to let truth get in the way of other posters’ good stories.

  9. The possibility occurs to me that the translators may have avoided the word “grace” because they were concerned about the too common misunderstanding of grace as a sort of accounting system for heavenly wealth. It accompanies a sort of vending machine attitude toward religion. Put in the proper amounts of time and prayers and out comes the grace.

    “Grace” is one of the words which might be avoided because its English meaning is so far divorced from its etymological meaning of free/gift. The theological denotation is clear, but the common usage is often warped.

    “Generous help” might be an English translation in order to better convey the original sense. Just using the worn word “grace” conveys so much less because of the unfortunate connotations it carries.

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