Watch Evening News weeknights at 6:30 p.m. ET.
BONN, Germany (ChurchMilitant.com) - New statistics released by the German bishops are showing fewer priests are being ordained than ever.
A report issued this week by the German Episcopal Conference shows 58 men were ordained to the priesthood in 2015 for the entire country. The number of men ordained doesn't come close to replacing the 329 priests who died or left the priesthood in the same year. For a country of 74 million people — nearly 24 million of them Catholic — the news is appalling.
The number of ordinations has dropped by over 50 percent in just 10 years, and there's no evidence things will get any better. In fact, it's been a 50-year trend. Since 1965 there has been a stunning 90 percent drop in ordinations. The report also notes a large number of priests in Germany are foreign, with the highest numbers being from India and Poland.
The drop in numbers is causing a ripple effect on the laity. In the past 20 years, Mass attendance has dropped nearly 20 percent, with only about 10 percent of German Catholics attending Mass.
While this has been going on, hundreds of thousands have been leaving the Church in just the last few years. In 2014 and 2015, nearly 400,000 left the Catholic Church. In 2015 nearly 182,000 left, while just over 9,000 became Catholic or reverted to the Faith.
While the laity seem to be voting with their feet, the bishops of Germany are being criticized by their fellow bishops. ChurchMilitant.com reported in July that Pope Francis' secretary Abp. Georg Gänswein slammed the German bishops for refusing the sacraments to Catholics who don't pay their 8 percent monthly income tax to the Church. In 2015 alone, German bishops raked in over $7 billion.
"[T]hat is a serious problem," he said. "How does the Catholic Church in Germany react to someone leaving? By automatic expulsion from the community, in other words, excommunication! That is excessive, quite incomprehensible."
In 2015 head of the German bishops Cdl. Reinhard Marx — appointed cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI — commented that the bishops "profoundly regret" losing over 200,000 Catholics, but notes they "also respect the freedom of choice."
Although the majority of German bishops downplay the catastrophe in the German Church, Pope Francis isn't. At their annual meeting in 2015, Pope Francis chided the German bishops, noting the drop in ordinations, marriages, Mass attendance and the reception of the sacraments. He stressed that "[f]ewer and fewer recieve the sacraments and the Sacrament of Penance has all but disappeared."
"When we take all these facts into account, we can speak of a true erosion of the Catholic faith in Germany," the Holy Father remarked.