Membership in the German Catholic Church plunged by more than 200,000 people in 2018, according to official figures out Friday.

The country’s Protestant Churches suffered the same fate over the same period, losing the same amount of faithful.

Driving the news

Data released today by the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference revealed 216,078 people left the Catholic Church last year.

Some 220,000 faithful left the Evangelical Church in 2018, according to the statistics published by the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).

For the record

Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Peter Hans Langendorfer called the sharp drop in the faithful “worrying”, as DW reports.

“Every departure hurts,” said Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, president of the EKD.

“Since people today, unlike in the past, decide out of freedom whether they want to belong to the Church, it is important for us today to make even clearer why the Christian message is such a strong basis for life”.

One level deeper

Fewer faithful in German pews means a drop-off in credibility for the various Churches. Not to mention a steep drop in wealth.

Practising Christians in Germany give billions of euros to their Churches every year via an automatically-deducted “Church tax”. The tax in some states can be as much as 9% of income.

The faithful, however, are free to give up the faith by means of an official declaration presented at a Government office.

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The big picture

Christians are still the majority in Germany. The faithful make up 53.2% of the country’s population of 83 million people.

Around 23 million Germans are Catholics. Around 21 million are Protestant.

Context on Novena:

Half a million German Catholic women demand access to priesthood

What’s next

According to a May study of the University of Freiburg, the Christian majority in Germany won’t last long.

The number of Christians in the country is expected to drop from 45 million now to 35 million in 2035 and 23 million in 2060.

The main reasons for the drop-off include an aging population, fewer baptisms and discontent with the clergy sex abuse crisis.