7 Apr 2011

Record number of German Catholics renounce church membership in 2010 over clergy child abuse scandals

Deutsche Welle   -  Germany     April 6, 2011

German Catholics leave church in droves

Author: Dagmar Breitenbach (dpa, epd, KNA)

Editor: Michael Lawton

A record number of Catholics in Germany have turned their backs on the church. They officially cancelled their membership in the wake of child abuse scandals that rocked church institutions across the country.

A record 180,000 German Catholics left their church for good in 2010, and it appears the child abuse scandal was the main reason for the dramatic rise in departures.

Data provided by 24 of Germany's 27 Catholic dioceses and published this week by the newspaper Die Zeit shows that 50,000 more Catholics cancelled their church membership last year than in 2009, an increase of 40 percent.

It was what the church had feared, Alois Glück, head of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics said.

"It's a dramatic signal and a clear message that we have to take the issue seriously; winning back people's trust has to be at the core of our efforts for renewal and dialogue."

Germany has faced revelations over the past year that hundreds of children were physically and sexually abused in church institutions throughout the country. All but a handful run were by the Roman Catholic Church.

It looks likely that this is also the first time in Germany's postwar history that more Catholics officially renounced their church membership than Protestants: Germany's Protestant church estimates that just under 150,000 people left in 2010.

German bishops shocked

The wealthy diocese of Cologne, Germany's largest, saw the biggest drop in membership ever last year. The city's vicar-general, Dominik Schwaderlapp, said the departures were painful for the Catholic church because many people apparently chose to leave the church as "their personal form of protest and of expressing their disgust at the scandal."

Hardest-hit were a handful of dioceses in deeply Catholic Bavaria, which saw up to 70 percent more people leaving the church than the year before.

Matthias Kopp, press spokesman for the German Catholic Bishops' Conference, said that every single person who left was a human loss for the church. "The German bishops won't ignore that, they want to win back lost credibility."

The bishops, who have been criticized for their slow response, have meanwhile offered compensation of up to 5,000 euros ($6,900) to the sexual abuse victims. None of the offenders can be prosecuted because of a three-year statute of limitations. Some of the sexual abuse cases occurred in the 1950s, most of them in the 1970s and 1980s.

In Germany, membership in a religion is more than symbolic - it has a concrete financial significance, as members of a religious group officially recognized by the government in Berlin pay a "church tax" that is automatically deducted from their monthly paychecks.

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  1. What makes in any case a lot of sense, also on the
    secular level, is the advice Jesus gave:
    "And when you pray go into your room, shut the door ..."
    He never ordered anyone to visit the temple nor
    would he demand to belong to a congregation. Of course churches never tell that. Like this, people can in good conscience save themselves a whole lot of trouble and problems, not to mention save money.

  2. German court warns Catholics: pay church tax or face expulsion

    Tony Paterson, The Independent September 27, 2012

    A German court gave its backing yesterday to a decree by the country's Catholic bishops declaring that believers who refused to pay an eight per cent church tax could not be considered Catholic and would automatically lose the right to receive Holy Communion and a religious burial.

    The verdict, which was delivered by Germany's chief administrative court in Leipzig, was a bitter defeat for Germany's grass-roots Catholics and conservative church campaigners who had denounced the bishop's decree as "pay and pray" and claimed it sent "the wrong signal".

    The Leipzig court rejected the case brought by Hartmut Zapp, a retired canon law professor, dubbed "the church tax rebel", who had insisted on his right to remain a Catholic without having to pay church tax.

    But the Leipzig judges ruled that in Germany it was "not possible" to stop paying church tax and remain a member of the Catholic Church. It added that the state was obliged by law to tax church members but stressed it was up to the Church to decide how to deal with those who refused to pay.

    The ruling was welcomed by Germany's Catholic bishops who said it had finally dispelled the notion that individuals could belong to a church without paying church tax.

    "Whoever leaves the Church leaves it completely," insisted the Reverend Hans Langendorfer, a Catholic Church spokesman on German television's ARD channel.

    The German state has collected a religious tax on individuals registered as Catholics, Protestants and Jews since the 19th century. The revenue is then funnelled back to the respective religious bodies.

    The levy amounts to between eight and nine per cent of an annual income tax bill and for the Catholic Church it amounts to one of the biggest sources of funding worldwide.

    The Leipzig court's ruling followed a controversial decree issued only days before by Germany's Catholic bishops. It spelled out severe sanctions for those who failed to pay their church tax. But it stopped short of mentioning full excommunication – the ultimate sanction in the Catholic Church.

    The bishops stressed that non-payers could no longer be considered Catholic and would automatically be banned from receiving Holy Communion, working in church schools or hospitals and taking part in parish activities. They also stated that without a "sign of repentance before death" religious burial could be refused. Opting out of the tax would also bar individuals from becoming godparents to Catholic children, they added.

    continued in next comment...

  3. continued from previous comment...

    The bishops' decree was criticised by a conservative Catholic group called the Union of Associations, which is loyal to the Pope. "So sacraments are for sale – whoever pays the Church can receive the sacraments," the group said in a statement which accused the bishops of going "beyond the sale of indulgences" Martin Luther denounced at the beginning of the Reformation.

    Critics have pointed out that the bishops' decree was partly a response to the crisis in the Catholic Church in Germany. Catholics make up around 30 per cent of the population but the number of believers leaving the Church runs at well over 100,000 annually – not least because of a recent scandal exposing widespread sex abuse by the Catholic clergy.

    The bishops' ruling has also been interpreted as an attempt to resolve a long-standing disagreement between the Catholic Church in Germany and the Vatican over church taxes.

    German bishops had previously warned believers that they would face excommunication if they failed to pay taxes. However, the Vatican ruled in 2006 that the penalty could not be imposed merely because someone had declared to a tax office that they were leaving the Church – they also had to declare this to a priest, it said.

    A conservative Catholic group denounced the decree as 'pay and pray' and said it sent 'the wrong signal'


  4. German Priests Carried Out Sexual Abuse for Years

    By MELISSA EDDY New York Times January 18, 2013

    BERLIN — A report about child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, based on victim accounts and released by the church this week, showed that priests carefully planned their assaults and frequently abused the same children repeatedly for years.

    The report, compiled from information collected from victims and other witnesses who called a hot line run by the church from 2010 until the end of last year, includes the ages of the victims, the locations of the assaults and the repercussions they have suffered since. The accounts were provided in 8,500 calls to the hot line; they are not representative of abuse cases over all and cannot be individually verified. The church said the report contained information from 1,824 people, of whom 1,165 described themselves as victims.

    Germany’s bishops have vowed a thorough and impartial investigation into the abuse. Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier, who is looking into abuse cases for the German Bishops’ Conference, told reporters after the report was released on Thursday that it served as an example of that intention.

    “I found particularly devastating the perpetrators’ lies to their under-aged victims that their actions were an expression of a loving bond with God,” he said Thursday. Claudia Adams, who said she was assaulted as a child in a preschool run by the church in a village near Trier, works through her trauma by blogging about the abuse scandal. The priest who abused her “told me that I was now ‘closer to God,’ ” she said in a telephone interview on Friday from her home near Trier.

    The church’s credibility regarding its commitment to an impartial investigation suffered a fresh blow last week when the bishops canceled an independent study into the abuse scandal amid allegations by the independent investigator, Christian Pfeiffer, that the church was censoring information.

    The church insists that it remains committed to carrying out the independent study once a new investigator can be found. Even if the church should produce a report, observers note that it will be a challenge to undo the damage caused by Mr. Pfeiffer’s allegations. “It’s not even about the damage to their image so much as it is to their trustworthiness,” said Andreas Holzem, a professor of church history at Tübingen University.

    Many of the victims said their call to the hot line was the first time they had told anyone about assaults that took place decades ago, most between 1950 and 1980, the report said. Many callers broke down in the middle of their stories and, overcome by emotion, simply hung up the phone, it said. Those who told their stories painted a picture of priests who preyed on emotionally vulnerable children, building up their trust and then assaulting them, repeatedly, over a period of several years.

    The reported assaults were clustered largely in the country’s heavily Roman Catholic regions along the Rhine River to the west and throughout the south, including Pope Benedict XVI’s home state, Bavaria.

    Germans were further outraged by reports this week that two Roman Catholic hospitals in Cologne had refused to carry out a gynecological examination on a 25-year-old suspected rape victim. An emergency doctor who had helped the woman told the newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger that the hospitals cited ethical objections to advise women on unwanted pregnancies and on steps that can be taken to prevent them, like the morning-after pill. The Archdiocese of Cologne denied that the church refuses to treat rape victims. The hospitals blamed a “misunderstanding” and said the matter was under investigation.