MUNICH, Germany (ChurchMilitant.com) - Last year marked the highest number of Catholics leaving the Munich and Freising archdiocese to date, as parishioners continue to depart annually.
A Munich statistical office is reporting that 10,744 Catholics formally withdrew from the archdiocese in 2019, making last year the first time the 10,000 mark has been reached since recordkeeping began.
One pastor in the town of Roth within the archdiocese wrote to everybody leaving to know why they withdrew. Answers varied among the few who responded.
"For me, the Church is a human work, and as is always the case with mortals, there are always many mistakes in such a work. Somewhat less abstract — handling money, child abuse and the greatest possible exclusion of women," wrote one respondent.
Dr. Yasemin El-Menouar from the Bertelsmann Foundation's religion monitor has been studying the trend for years and says people mainly leave because they have estranged themselves from the Church for a long time, are disappointed with scandals such as clergy sex abuse and/or do not want to pay the Church tax.
Known as the Kirchensteuer, German citizens officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews must pay a Church tax as part of their yearly income tax. The Church tax in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg is 8% of one's annual income and 9% in the rest of Germany. Officially withdrawing from the Church exempts one from the Church tax.
Known for his progressive views, Cdl. Reinhard Marx has been archbishop of the Munich and Freising archdiocese since February 2008.
In 2013, Pope Francis appointed Marx to a group of cardinals to advise him and to prepare a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia. The dubious character of the group led investigative journalist George Neumayr to comment: "We have seen time and time again clerics rise under Pope Francis not in spite of their corruption but because of it."
Recently stepping down as president of the German Bishops' Conference, Marx has been a leader in the German bishops' so-called "synodal way" or "synodal path" — neither an official synod nor a particular council — through which the bishops are attempting "to change the Church's teaching on sexual morality," according to journalist Ed Pentin.
In September 2019, Marx backed married priests. Asked about the priest shortage in the South American interior, the cardinal answered: "I can easily imagine that one can come to the conclusion that it makes sense, under certain conditions, to allow married priests in certain regions."
"In my childhood, it would have been unthinkable for a person to leave the Church," Marx continued. "But we do not want to go back to earlier times, into closed milieus and societies; we have to go forward, take on the current situation and gain new credibility."
"It's not about celibacy alone, but about the future of the priestly way of life," he added.
In February 2018, Marx backtracked in the face of opposition to his suggestion gay partners be blessed.
Asked on Bavarian Radio, "So, you really can imagine that there might be a way to bless homosexual couples in the Catholic Church?"
"Yes," he answered. "There are no general solutions, and I think that would not be right because we are talking about pastoral care for individual cases and that applies to other areas as well, which we cannot regulate, where we have no sets of rules."
But after some backlash, Marx said that Catholic News Agency's English translation was incorrect.
In a recent interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, Marx said, "As a 15-year-old, I did not like the fact that after the Second Vatican Council, old ceremonies and images were abolished in many places. Traditions are also something important."
He also said, "Jesus did not only want men to have power in the Church."
The numbers for Protestant withdrawals in Bavaria — where the Munich and Freising archdiocese is located — are comparable. In the past 10 years, nearly a quarter of a million people have left the Evangelical Church in Bavaria.