Over 400,000 people formally left Germany's Catholic Church in 2023

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(CP) In 2023, a substantial number of individuals, totalling 402,694, decided to formally dissociate themselves from the Catholic Church in Germany, a significant figure though slightly less than the record set in 2022.

The German Bishops' Conference, which came out with these statistics, said while these numbers are high, they reflect a slight decrease from the 522,821 departures recorded the previous year, indicating that this was the second-highest departure rate to date, according to National Catholic Reporter.

In Germany, church membership has financial implications due to the church tax system, which is a part of the broader tax structure. Members who formally exit the church no longer need to pay this tax, providing a financial incentive for deregistration. Exceptions to this requirement include low earners, the unemployed, retirees, students and others.

Despite the slight decrease in departures, the overall membership of the country's Catholic Church stood at roughly 20.35 million by the end of 2023, according to the German Bishops' Conference.

The backdrop to these departures includes a longstanding crisis stemming from scandals related to abuse by clergy members, NCR noted. In recent years, many have turned away from the Catholic Church as these issues have persisted.

In an effort to address these concerns, the bishops and a prominent lay organization launched a three-year reform initiative known as the "Synodal Path." The process, marked by deep divides between progressive and conservative elements within the Catholic Church, culminated last year with calls for the church to sanction blessings for same-sex unions despite overt opposition from the Vatican.

Further tensions have surfaced in a subsequent reform process initiated this year following Vatican pressures to halt previous reform votes.

"The figures are alarming. They show that the church is in a wide-ranging crisis," Limburg Bishop Georg Bätzing, the head of the Bishops' Conference, was quoted as saying. "Reforms alone will not solve the church crisis, but the crisis will get worse without reforms. And so changes are necessary."

The issue of declining church membership is not isolated to the Catholic Church in Germany.

The Protestant Church also reported substantial departures, with around 380,000 members leaving in the past year, mirroring levels seen in 2022 and reflecting challenges facing religious institutions in Germany.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the Catholic Church's situation presents a contrast in certain areas. While the Northeast sees ongoing declines in church enrollment, areas like South Florida are witnessing growth, largely driven by an increasing Hispanic population, according to an October 2023 piece published on Substack by Pastor Ryan Burge.

Research by Burge noted that from 2008 to 2022, only six states — Vermont, Idaho, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Arizona and Tennessee — saw increases in the proportion of residents identifying as Roman Catholic. In contrast, states such as Hawaii and Connecticut experienced significant declines in Catholic identification.

Furthermore, attendance at weekly Mass showed varied trends across the U.S., with states like Alaska and Hawaii seeing increases, while others like Wyoming and Rhode Island having seen sharp declines.

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