Although Germany is the homeland of the retired Pope Benedict XVI and the historical centre of the Protestant Reformation, Christianity in Germany is in long term decline, and this is reflected in the Catholic Church which was one of the mainstays of Germany’s national recovery after World War II.
While 60 per cent of Germans still describe themselves as Christian – almost equally divided between Catholic and Protestant – religious practice is very low, meaning that many churches are empty. If it were not for the state tax, the churches would face bankruptcy.
Unlike countries like Australia where churches depend on their congregations’ donations to survive, in Germany, there is a state tax of 8-9 per cent levied on religious believers, and then delivered to the churches.
This has guaranteed the churches a very large income, regardless of whether people practice or not.
It has also made the German churches very active in funding missionary endeavours in the Third World.
However, a consequence has been that the churches have largely abandoned the role of evangelisation of the young in Germany itself.
Declining congregations have forced the closure of some 515 Catholic churches over the past decade, according to the Wall Street Journal, while 340 Protestant churches closed between 1990 and 2010, according to the German newspaper, Der Spiegel (14 February, 2013).
Protestant officials state that only 15 per cent of young Germans will be baptised Protestant, indicating that the decline is only going to increase.
Phil Lawler, an American Catholic writer, described the decline of Catholicism in Germany as alarming.
In an article in the online magazine Catholic Culture in 2015, he described the impact of the church tax as “corrupting”.
Lawler recounted that Pope Francis had told a group of German bishops visiting Rome for their ad limina visit, “There is always a danger of corruption within the Church … This happens when the Church, instead of being devoted to faith in our Lord, in the Prince of Peace, in joy, in salvation, becomes dominated by money and power.”
He added, “Last year the world heard a great deal about the ‘Bishop of Bling’: Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz van Elst, who resigned his post as head of the Limburg diocese after being criticised for spending $US43 million to remodel his residence and diocesan headquarters.
“But the truth is that his pattern of spending is not radically different from that of other German prelates. Just for example, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, pictured, the president of the German bishops’ conference and a member of the Pope’s Council of Cardinals, has spent a whopping $US186 million on his own new archdiocesan headquarters.
“A German cardinal can command a salary of about $US16,000 a month—roughly three times what his American counterpart would receive. That figure does not include his residence, automobile, food, health care, and travel expenses, all of which are covered.
“In short a German prelate receives the sort of compensation one might expect for a senior corporate executive—which, in a real sense, he is. But there is a crucial difference: the prelate is paid by the state.”
Lawler said that the inevitable consequence is that the Catholic Church is more interested in maintaining good relations with the state than with evangelisation.
While some have expressed concern that Islam will replace Christianity in Germany, the last census shows that around 5 per cent of the population are Muslim, reflecting the large number of “guest workers” from Turkey who went to Germany in the 1950s and 1960s, and decided to stay.
Germany, like other countries in Western Europe, is afflicted by the general problem of secularisation, or more exactly, the ideology of secular humanism. This is a common problem from Scandinavia to the UK, Holland, France and Germany
On top of that, the parts of Germany which previously belonged in communist East Germany, including the capital city of Berlin, are significantly more secular than western Germany.
In fact, a majority of people living in the formerly Protestant East Germany now declare that they have no religious beliefs or affiliations.
The map of Germany showing religious affiliation makes clear that eastern Germany is definitely more secular, and less religious, than other parts of the country.
Associated with the German church’s failure to effectively evangelise the young, there is an additional issue associated with the failure to preach the Gospel in the predominantly agnostic and atheist east of the country.
In contrast, the Baltic States and Hungary which adjoin Germany in the east, are overwhelmingly Christian, and with relatively high rates of religious practice, following the fall of Soviet communism.