Roman Catholicism

Germany Table of Contents

With about 28.2 million members, the Roman Catholic Church in unified Germany is organized into five archdioceses, eighteen dioceses, three diocesan offices, and one apostolic administration. Two of the archdioceses are based in Bavaria (Munich/Freising and Bamberg) and two in North Rhine-Westphalia (Cologne and Paderborn). More than 57 percent of all German Roman Catholics live in these two Länder . Another 28 percent live in the three Länder of Baden-Württemberg, Hesse, and Rhineland-Palatinate. Only about 900 of the church's 13,000 parishes and other pastoral centers are located in the new Länder . The number of Roman Catholics in East Germany declined from 2 million shortly after the war to 800,000 by 1992. Serving these Roman Catholics are two dioceses, one in Brandenburg (Berlin) and the other in Saxony (Dresden).

Between 1970 and 1989, the number of Roman Catholics attending Sunday mass in West Germany declined from 37 percent to 23 percent. Between 1970 and 1990, the number of annual baptisms fell from about 370,000 to around 300,000. Approximately 470,000 Roman Catholics officially left the church between 1985 and 1990. In the same period, about 25,000 returned to the church, and another 25,000 converted to other religions.

Despite the diminishing numbers of Roman Catholics, the church tax enables the Roman Catholic Church to remain strong financially. In 1992 the church's share of tax revenues amounted to approximately DM8.5 billion. An additional DM8 billion was received in the form of government subsidies, service payments, property, and contributions. Much of this support is returned to society through an extensive network of church-operated kindergartens, senior citizen centers, and hospitals. The main Roman Catholic charitable organization is the Deutscher Caritasverband, which had about 400,000 employees in 1992.

As the FRG has become an increasingly secular society, the centuries-old traditional authority of the Roman Catholic Church in matters of morality has declined, especially among German youth. Many German Roman Catholics routinely ignore the church and in particular the pope's positions on such key issues as birth control, premarital sex, divorce, and abortion. For years the number of ordinations in Germany has declined. To address this issue, most German Catholics favor permitting priests to marry, and many support the ordination of women.

Periodically, independent reformist clergymen challenge the church hierarchy and doctrine. Often they do so with the support of many German Catholics. In the 1970s, Hans Küng, a theologian at Tübingen University, used his position and charisma to criticize the idea of papal infallibility and other dogmas. In the early 1990s, major differences of opinion between the laity and church authorities were revealed by a clash between a reform-minded priest and the archbishop in Paderborn, the most conservative German diocese. For beliefs deemed contrary to Vatican policies and dogma, Father Eugen Drewermann was defrocked by Archbishop Johannes Degenhardt. In the tradition of Luther, Drewermann continued to express his unorthodox views outside the church--at universities and in the media, including talk shows. A 1992 survey indicated that among all Germans, Drewermann was more popular than Pope John Paul II.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress