217,716 Leave German Catholic Church

lt;pgt;New data released last week by the German Catholic Bishops#039; Conference shows that 217,716 people left the Catholic Church in Germany last year, a 22 percent increase from the previous year.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;In the past five years, more than 820,000 German Catholics have renounced their membership, according to lt;a href=quot;http://www.dbk.de/de/zahlen-fakten/kirchliche-statistik/?tx_igmedienkatalog_pi1[catsearch]=120tx_igmedienkatalog_pi1[show]=1cHash=f4db78d0dfdaf4b195c5f00b1b851ef8quot; rel=quot;nofollowquot;gt;official church datalt;/agt;. Compared to the withdrawal rate in 1990, last year#039;s exodus represented a 52 percent increase.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;Commenting on the figures, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the chairman of the German Bishops#039; Conference, said the bishops were quot;painfully awarequot; of the high number of withdrawals but declined to give specific reasons for people leaving the church.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;quot;Behind the numbers of church withdrawals are personal life decisions that we in each case profoundly regret but also respect the freedom of choice,quot; lt;a href=quot;http://www.dbk.de/de/presse/details/?presseid=2852cHash=b77e4072709bec2c01ecca7865e594a1quot; rel=quot;nofollowquot;gt;saidlt;/agt; Marx.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;When contacted by Newsweek, the German Bishops#039; Conference was unavailable to provide further information on the rising numbers..lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;Catholics in Germany have financial reasons for abandoning their faith. German Catholics are subject to a church tax, known as the kirchensteuer, a levy of 8-9 percent of their income tax which also applies to Protestants and Jews living in the country. According to German law, anyone baptised as a child is considered a member of the church and liable for the tax unless they make a formal renunciation of their faith. The tax is collected by the state and distributed back to the respective religious communities.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;Ben Ryan, a researcher at the U.K. religion and society think tank Theos, believes the tax provides a particularly enticing reason to leave the church for non-committed Catholics.quot;That is a particularly serious disincentive if you are a nominal Catholic, someone who would put on a survey that they are a Catholic, for example, but in practice it doesn#039;t mean much to them. There#039;s obviously a financial incentive to withdraw,quot; says Ryan.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;On the other hand, there are serious consequences within the Church for withdrawing from the tax. The German bishops issued a statement in 2012 announcing that Catholics who failed to pay the tax would not be able to receive sacraments or work in the church#039;s institutions.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;Last year, the Catholic Church received around lt;a href=quot;http://www.dbk.de/fileadmin/redaktion/Zahlen%20und%20Fakten/Kirchensteuer/Kirchensteuer%20im%20gesamten%20Bundesgebiet/Kirchensteuer_1991-2014.pdfquot; rel=quot;nofollowquot;gt;5.68 billion euros in church taxlt;/agt;, which is used to fund the running of parishes and other Catholic institutions, such as hospitals and schools.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;The church in Germany is already acknowledged as one of the wealthiest branches of the Catholic Church in Europe, with the single diocese of Cologne having lt;a href=quot;http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2015/02/19/germanys-richest-diocese-has-greater-assets-than-the-vatican/quot; rel=quot;nofollowquot;gt;assets worth 3.35 billion euroslt;/agt;, more than the Vatican#039;s entire asset wealth.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;The German Catholic hierarchy was rocked by a financial scandal overthe past two years as the former bishop of Limburg, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, was accused of lt;a href=quot;http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26746110quot; rel=quot;nofollowquot;gt;spending more than 31 million euroslt;/agt; on renovating his private residence. Tebartz-van Elst,, who was dubbed the quot;Bishop of Blingquot; in media reports, reportedly carried out renovations including a luxurious bathtub worth 15,000 euros and a 2.9-million-euro private chapel.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;Ryan says that the quot;Bishop of Blingquot; scandal, coupled with the church#039;s massive wealth, may have proved a turn-off to German Catholics.quot;[The German church] has an enormous property and financial portfolio, which is generally tolerated on the basis that it does a lot of good work. But if you get a situation where a person in power is seen to be spending all that money on a very nice bathtub and a nice palace, people understandably get annoyed about that,quot; he says.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;The Bishops#039; Conference recorded almost 24 million Catholics in the country, making up 29.5% of the country#039;s population. There was a slight increase in the number of Catholic marriages and baptisms carried out in 2014 compared to the previous year, but there was also a small decrease in the number of priests.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;The Catholic Church is not the only religious institution in Germany seeing followers leaving in droves. The lt;emgt;lt;a href=quot;http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/11380968/Compulsory-income-tax-on-Christians-drives-Germans-away-from-Protestant-and-Catholic-churches.htmlquot; rel=quot;nofollowquot;gt;Telegraphlt;/agt;lt;/emgt; reported in January that around 200,000 Protestants renounced their church membership last year, the highest number in almost 20 years.lt;/pgt;