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Church in Germany shrinking faster than ever before

German church tax

Daniela Staerk | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 09/16/23

While sexual abuse scandals are partly to blame, Germany's mandatory church tax is an important factor that should not be overlooked in today's economy.

The German Catholic Bishop’s conference is calling attention to a massive departure of Catholics, who have been unregistering themselves and leaving the Catholic faith in record numbers. The numbers show that about 2.5% of German Catholics left in 2022, which suggests the Catholic Church in Germany could shrink by as much as half in the next 20 years if the trend continues. 

While there is still hope for Catholics in Germany, the trend has only become more exacerbated as the years go on. In 2022, The Guardian reports, 522,821 left the Church, a process which is a little more in depth than in other nations. In Germany, those who belong to the Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish faiths need to register with the government and a portion of their taxes are sent to their faith group. In order to leave, one must unregister themselves at a local registry office. 

The number of those who left in 2022, however, was considerably higher than that of 2021, when around 380,000 unregistered themselves from the Catholic faith. There are currently an estimated 21 million Catholics living in Germany, accounting for just under a quarter of the population. This figure could continue to fall, however, as the rates of departures from the Church are only expected to increase in coming years. 

The Guardian noted several reasons why the Church has been shrinking in Germany at a record rate, not least of all accusations of sex abuse. The number of those leaving the Church was seen to increase after an expert report on abuse in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising was released in January 2022. The Protestant community in Germany has experienced similar scandals, but lost fewer than the Catholics, with around 380,000 leaving. 

The public perception of the Church is definitely a factor of the droves leaving the pews for good, but the church tax mentioned previously, called Kirchensteuer or Kultursteuer in German, should not be overlooked. It is quite possible that some German Catholics have left the Church simply to avoid paying the mandatory tax, while keeping their Catholic faith private and donating what they can to their parishes in the Sunday collection plate.

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