By AC Wimmer
The Catholic Church in Germany is facing an unprecedented crisis, with more than half a million baptized Catholics leaving the Church in 2022, according to figures released by the German Bishops’ Conference on June 28.
This marks the highest number of departures ever recorded, with 522,821 people choosing to leave the Church, according to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language partner news agency.
The total number of departures, including deaths, exceeded 708,000, a stark contrast to the 155,173 baptisms and 1,447 new members recorded during the same period. The figures reveal a historic negative trend, with the number of departures doubling from over 270,000 in 2020 to the current record.
Despite these departures, Church statistics for 2022 show that nearly 21 million people in Germany remained officially Catholic by the end of the year, representing 24.8% of the country’s resident population of 84.4 million.
Several German bishops expressed dismay over the figures. Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau described the numbers as “frighteningly high,” while Bishop Bertram Meier of Augsburg acknowledged the Church’s need to regain trust with “patience and credibility.”
Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, stated on his diocese’s website that the “alarming” figures underscore the need for continued “cultural change” and the implementation of the resolutions of the German Synodal Way.
A 2021 report by CNA Deutsch noted that 1 in 3 Catholics in Germany were considering leaving the Church. The reasons for leaving vary, with older people citing the Church’s handling of the abuse crisis and younger people pointing to the obligation of paying church tax, according to one earlier study.
The German Bishops’ Conference currently stipulates that leaving the Church results in automatic excommunication, a regulation that has sparked controversy among theologians and canon lawyers.
A 2019 forecast by a project of scientists at the University of Freiburg predicts that the number of Christians paying church tax in Germany will halve by 2060.
Despite the crisis, the Church saw a slight increase in Mass attendance in 2021, rising from 4.3% to 5.7%, after the coronavirus crisis prevented the celebration of many sacraments. The number of church weddings also increased from just over 20,000 in the previous year to 35,467 in 2022.
The figures do not include data on confession, as the sacrament is not included in the bishops’ conference statistics.