Dhe number of officially registered Christians in Germany fell by around 900,000 people last year. As the statistics published on Wednesday by the Protestant and Catholic Churches for 2020 show, the number of Catholics fell by around 400,000 to almost 22.2 million. The Protestant Church put the number of its members at the end of 2020 at 20.2 million. This corresponds to a decrease of around 500,000 people. Together with the (often valued) Orthodox Christians and members of various free churches, 44.8 of the 83.1 million Germans can still be described as Christians. This corresponds to a share of the resident population of 54 percent. 1990, the year of the reunification. the proportion of Christians in the resident population was still around 72 percent.
Because of the Conora pandemic and the associated restrictions for the celebration of church services and other official acts, the so-called key data of church life for 2020 are only partially comparable with those of previous years. The secretariat of the German Bishops’ Conference reported a decrease in the number of people leaving the church by 18.8 percent to around 221,000. The informative value of this number is limited, however, because the pandemic made it difficult, and at times even impossible, to declare one’s resignation to an authority, a court or a notary. In the months in which the registry offices were open, the “level was still alarmingly high,” said the Württemberg church councilor Martin Kastrup of the FAZ. It is undisputed that the number of withdrawals in 2020, despite all the obstacles, is one of the highest since reunification is. The willingness to leave is still very high in the current year.
Massive death surplus
In the Archdiocese of Cologne, the number of people leaving the church also fell – from 24,298 in 2019 to 17,281 last year. The crisis of confidence surrounding Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, which had led to a wave of people leaving the church in recent months, first unfolded at the end of 2020 and is likely to have an impact above all in the current year.
However, resignations are only one reason the churches are shrinking. The second is a massive death toll. Last year, almost 237,000 funerals were registered in the Catholic Church, but only 104,000 baptisms. In 1990 there were 252,000 burials compared to almost 300,000 Catholic baptisms. A similar picture emerges in the Protestant Church. Around 160,000 children and adults were baptized in 2019 and 255,000 Protestant Christians were buried.
The churches themselves were careful not to interpret the slight slowdown in exits as a trend reversal on Wednesday. The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Georg Bätzing, described the statistics as “painful”. “Many have lost confidence and want to set an example by leaving the church,” said Bätzing. The Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, told the German Press Agency: “At the present time, we can still hardly say how the declining number of people leaving the church is to be interpreted.”
Indifference among the young
The most important reason for the loss of membership in the large churches is the church tax. Other factors such as bad experiences with clergy or anger about political statements by the churches hardly play a role. This is the result of a representative study of the two Protestant regional churches of Württemberg and Westphalia, which is available to the FAZ.
The examination of church resignations shows that saving in church tax is a major motivation for around 75 percent of those who have resigned. The reasons for leaving the church also differ greatly according to age. People over the age of 40 often have a specific reason to be angry about the Church.
With the younger generation it is often a general indifference to the church and especially with younger men it is also a general rejection of religion. Only four percent of those who were questioned justified their departure with the political stance of the church. Study author Fabian Peters speaks of a “significant but manageable factor” that can be observed particularly in older men.
Only ten out of 500 respondents cited the controversial engagement of the church for the sea rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean as a reason for their exit. “Our guess was that it plays a bigger role,” Peters told the FAZ
The debate about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, on the other hand, has a strong impact on the Protestant Church. “We are not fully, but largely taken into joint liability,” said the Württemberg church councilor Kastrup.