Germany now a ‘mission country’


Germany — a nation whose history is entangled with the Catholic Church — has become a “mission country” its Bishops’ Conference says.

Conference president Bishop Georg Bätzing says under half of Germany’s citizens still belong to Christian denominations.

Evangelisation in Germany has been a central theme since the time of Pope St John Paul II he says.

“But the other half [who aren’t Christian] are not simply faithless or don’t ask any questions and, in this respect, I believe we need to do much more” Bätzing says.

“We should get in touch with these people, talk to them without being intrusive. The times of a mission with a negative tone are over, but speaking and answering questions about the hope that fills us, as the letter to the Hebrews says, is part of Christianity.”

Losses by the number

Bätzing’s own Diocese of Limburg exemplifies the reduction in the Catholic faithful of Germany.

In 2016, over 630,000 Catholics resided in Limburg. By 2022, there were fewer than 540,000.

The overall Catholic population in Germany has likewise significantly decreased.

In 2020, there were approximately 22.19 million Catholics among the country’s 83 million population. By 2022, this number had fallen to 20.94 million.

Projecting the future

In 2019, scientists at the University of Freiburg predicted the number of Christians paying church tax (a requirement for practising Christians) in Germany would halve by 2060.

The Bishops’ Conference says that within three years over 500,000 baptised Catholics had left the Church.

At that time, Bätzing wrote on his diocese’s website that the “alarming” figures showed the necessity of continued “cultural change” and for the German Synodal Way resolutions to be implemented.

However the German Synodal Way, which has advocated for significant changes, has not changed the haemorrhaging Church numbers.

In 2021 CNA Deutsch reported that a third of Catholics in Germany were considering leaving the Church.

Older people cited the Church’s handling of the abuse crisis. An earlier study had said that younger people didn’t want to pay church tax.

Excommunication and evangelisation

The German Bishops’ Conference says leaving the Church results in automatic excommunication.

Many theologians and canon lawyers disagree with this view.

Pope Francis prefers to focus on evangelisation.

He wrote to German Catholics in 2019, urging them to focus on evangelisation amid a “growing erosion and deterioration of faith”.

Relying solely on internal strengths doesn’t work, he wrote.

“Every time an ecclesial community has tried to get out of its problems alone, relying solely on its own strengths, methods and intelligence, it has ended up multiplying and nurturing the evils it wanted to overcome.”

In September 2021, a motion to emphasise evangelisation was narrowly passed.

Exactly a year later, Bätzing said the shortest definition of religion was “interruption”.

Some forms of continuity which people seek from religion are “frankly suspect” he said.



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