In 2019, the two large churches lost more than 540.000 members lost. The erosion of popular churches is progressing rapidly. "There's nothing to sugarcoat," said the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Georg Batzing.
For the first time as chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Limburg Bishop Georg Batzing has to comment on the annual statistics of church departures. And then such a hammer.
The erosion of the two large popular churches has accelerated. From a high level the previous year (216.000), the number of people leaving the Catholic Church has once again jumped to 272.771 increased. An increase of 26.2 percent over the previous year. That is also far more than the previous high of over 217.000 from 2014: At that time, the abuse scandal, the financial affair surrounding Limburg Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, and changes in church tax collection had led to high losses.
But the Protestant churches are not spared the negative trend either: they also recorded around 270.000 resignations, 22.3 percent more than in 2018 (around 220.000). For the first time, the total number of church departures exceeds the threshold of 500.000 – and clearly so.
It is also clear, however, that the number of people leaving is only one factor: Both churches also have a demographic problem. The number of funerals is far higher than the number of baptisms, and admissions. The Catholic Church lost around 400,000 members in 2019.000 members in 2019 and still has 22.6 million members. A total of around 43.3 million Germans still belong to one of the two major churches – that's just over 52 percent.
"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," said Batzing. The declining values in the reception of the sacraments also showed an "erosion of personal church loyalty".
There are few concrete reliable findings about the motives for leaving the church. It stands to reason that among Catholics, the abuse scandal is one of the causes. In September 2018, the bishops had published the study, which examined the extent of sexual abuse between 1946 to 2014. In it, there was evidence of nationwide 3.677 victims of sexual assaults by Catholic clergymen. By the end of 2018, the number of people leaving the church had already increased significantly as a result, as random samples showed.
It is unclear why the Protestant churches are also following the trend. Abuse cases in their ranks play a much smaller role in the public eye. It is possible, however, that many German citizens no longer distinguish so much between the two churches.
And now the Corona crisis
Beyond the abuse scandal, however, there are other reasons as well. For example, in a study published in 2018, the Diocese of Essen had found that a long path of alienation, coupled with doubts about faith, were the main reasons for people leaving the church. Sexual morals in particular are felt to be outdated, as are the church's image of women and celibacy. But here, too, the question arises as to why the Protestant churches not affected by this are losing out just as badly.
Last year, in a study of the churches, the Freiburg financial scientist Bernd Raffelhuschen predicted that by 2060 both the number of members and the church tax revenue will fall by about half.
What is exciting now is how the Corona crisis will affect the numbers. Dioceses and Protestant regional churches expect sharp declines in church taxes. It is also conceivable that the economic crisis will cause even more citizens to turn their backs on the churches.
The increase in the number of people leaving also suggests that the reform process that the Catholic Church began with the Synodal Way is still having little effect. Batzing ared that the current figures will be brought into the reform process. The church must regain trust through transparency and honesty. "This is not about chasing a zeitgeist," he ared. But the church must recognize the signs of the times and "interpret them in the light of the Gospel," said the Limburg bishop.