Catholic Church in crisis: more resignations than ever before

As of: 06/27/2022 3:06 p.m

Around 360,000 people left the Catholic Church in 2021 – almost a third more than in the previous record year. One reason: the abuse scandal. For the first time, the members of the two churches are in the minority.

In the past year, more people have left the Catholic Church than ever before. According to the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK), 359,338 Catholics across Germany turned their backs on their church in 2021 – around 86,000 more than in the previous record year 2019.

“For us, this is the highest number so far,” confirms DBK spokesman Matthias Kopp, looking at the new statistics. According to him, the Catholic Church still has 21,645,875 members – that corresponds to 26 percent of the total population.

DBK chairman Georg Bätzing was “deeply shocked by the extremely high number of people leaving the church”. The number is evidence of a “profound crisis in which we as the Catholic Church in Germany are,” he said. “There’s nothing nice about it.” In the meantime, not only people who have had no contact with the church for a long time are leaving, but also more and more previously very committed Catholics, said Bätzing.

In 2020, 221,390 Catholics in Germany had left the religious community. In 2019 – the year before Corona – the number was 272,771 according to DBK information.

Fall Woelki is seen as a trigger

The abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, which has been going on for years, is seen as one of the causes. This came to a head again in 2021. In particular, the processing in the Archdiocese of Cologne and the behavior of Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki there caused massive criticism.

In the Archdiocese of Cologne alone there were 40,772 people leaving the church – compared to 17,281 cases in the previous year, this was more than double. The outgoing Cologne Vicar General Markus Hofmann explained that the Archdiocese must recognize “that the painful process of coming to terms with the past and other crises have severely shaken the trust of many people in the Church”. He further said:

We must do everything we can to regain lost trust.

According to the Münster-based sociologist of religion Detlef Pollack, the trend will accelerate: “Whoever’s gone is hard to get back.” The reason for this is that church membership is increasingly in need of justification, he said in an interview with the epd news agency. “Today you have to mobilize reasons for being in the church, whereas in the past you had to find reasons for leaving.”

There is really little the churches could do to stop the trend.

Resignations also in the evangelical church

For the first time, less than half of German citizens belong to one of the major churches. The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) is also reporting falling membership numbers. She had already published her statistics in March. Accordingly, last year 19.7 million Germans belonged to one of the Protestant regional churches. The number of people leaving the church rose by 60,000 to around 280,000 compared to the previous year.

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