An unprecedentedly low number of Catholic priests in Germany are being ordained, new figures show, as a crisis appears to be engulfing the Church in that country.
Only 58 men joined the clergy in 2015, according to the figures released by the German Episcopal Conference this week.
The number of ordinations has dropped by half in the past decade: In 2005, a total of 122 diocesan priests were ordained, and five decades ago, in 1965, the number was 500.
Today, there are 14,000 Catholic priests active in Germany, down from almost 20,000 in 1990.
Meanwhile, only 96 new seminarians – trainee priests – were registered in 2015, the lowest number ever. At the same time, 309 priests died, and 19 left the priesthood.
The new figures for priests being ordained are the latest element of what appears to be a crisis in the German Catholic Church.
In July, it emerged that almost 200,000 Catholics left the Church in Germany last year, according to figures which show an ongoing, steady decline in church attendance.
There are 23.7 million Catholics in Germany, comprising 29 per cent of the population of 80 million, making Catholicism the largest religious group. But figures released last month by the German Bishops' Conference show that in 2015, a total of 181,925 people left the Church, while 2,685 people became Catholic, and 6,474 reverted to Catholicism.
When compared to the official statistics of 20 years ago, average church attendance was down from 18.6 per cent in 1995 to 10.4 per cent in 2015, while the number of baptisms has declined by more than a third, from almost 260,000 in 1995 to just over 167,000 in 2015.
The decline in marriages was even steeper, with 86,456 couples marrying in church 21 years ago, and almost half that number – 44,298 couples – tying the knot in church last year.
Despite the figures, the head of the conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, last month described the Church as a continuing "strong force, whose message is heard and accepted".
Cardinal Marx added: "We need a 'sophisticated pastoral practice' that does justice to the diverse lifeworlds of people and convincingly passes on the hope of the Faith. The conclusion of last year's synod of bishops and the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis are important signposts... Pope Francis gives us courage... when he tells us that the way of the future Church is the way of a 'synodal church'. That means: All faithful are called upon, laypeople and priests! Together we will continue to give convincingly witness to our Faith and the Gospel".
Critics of the Church in Germany point to the Kirchensteuer, or church tax system, which raises very large sums for the Church.
In 2013 for example, the Catholic Church in Germany received almost €5.5 billion (£4.6 billion) via the tax.
The tax is believed to put Catholics off practising their faith, and only around a third of German Catholics actually pay the levy, which originates from the 19th Century and is paid as a supplement to income tax.
The wealthy nature of the German Church was illustrated by Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the notorious "Bishop of Bling" removed for his lavish spending by Pope Francis in 2014.
Recent figures also show that among the current clergy, more than half – 54 per cent – go to confession only "once a year or less."