Six things to know about Catholicism in Germany

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Six things to know about Catholicism in Germany
Church services in Münster on Thursday. Photo: DPA

With the 101st German Catholic Congress in full swing in Münster, a major event that attracts tens of thousands of people every two years, here are some facts you might not know about Catholicism in the country.


This year’s Catholic Congress (Katholikentag) in the western town of Münster has already welcomed high-profile guests such as Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The gathering runs from May 9th to May 13th.

Since 1950, the congress - which attracts tens of thousands of Christians and non-Christians from Germany and beyond - has taken place every two years in a different German city. Alternating yearly with the Protestant Congress (Kirchentag), in 2016 it was held in Leipzig and two years prior to that in Regensburg.

Chancellor Merkel addressing a crowd at Katholikentag on Friday. Photo: DPA

The aim of the five-day event is to raise questions having to do with the church and society and to pray, discuss and celebrate with one another. The motto of the 2018 edition is “Seeking Peace”.

1. History of Catholicism in Germany

Unlike religions like Islam, which first arrived in Germany in the 1600s, the history of Catholicism in the country can be traced all the way back to the earliest stages of Christianization before the fifth century.

This Christianization took place in the western part of the country, which was controlled by the Romans and its pagan subjects.

SEE ALSO: Eight things to know about Islam in Germany

Later, Christianity began to really spread through the German territories when missionaries from Scotland, Ireland and England came over. After about 800 years of this missionary work, by the 13th century, much of Germany had been Christianized.

A defining moment in the history of the Roman Catholic Church came when Charlemagne was crowned emperor by the Pope in the Middle Ages. Charlemagne was a key figure in the attempt to create a united Christendom.

With Catholicism the dominant religion in the Holy Roman Empire, the Church was a major power during this period; significant developments took place that shaped the history not just of Germany, but of Europe in relation to religion.

The first cracks in its power came with the Reformation, which was kicked off by Martin Luther half a millennium ago.

These days the Catholic Church has lost much of its political importance, but it sure does have a hefty amount of money.

READ MORE: 12 surprising facts you didn't know about Martin Luther

2. Germany's biggest religion...

Perhaps surprisingly, as Germany is often thought of as a Protestant country, Catholicism is the single biggest faith in the Bundesrepublik.

The latest figures from 2016 reveal that there are 23.6 million people in Germany registered as being part of the Catholic Church. That means that it just edges out the Protestant church, which has 21.9 million members.

Altogether, about 60 percent of German society (some 50 million people) identify as Christian (Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox or non-denominational).  

By comparison, Muslims make up roughly five percent of the population and the Jewish community makes up 0.1 percent.

A further 35 percent of the population belongs to another denomination or has registered as not belonging to any religious group.

3. ...even if followers aren't too observant

In spite of some 30 percent of people in Germany registering Catholicism as their faith, it seems this figure doesn’t reflect the portion of Catholics who actively practise their religion.

Church attendance rates show that many Catholics nationwide aren’t actually religious. Only 10 percent of registered Catholics attend church on Sundays.

Churches are moreover seeing fewer weddings. Between 2010 and 2015, weddings in churches declined by 8 percent among Catholics. Whereas in the late 1980s as many as 110,000 Catholic weddings took place each year, in 2016 this figure had dropped to 43,610.

Over the past few decades, weddings in Catholic churches have declined. Photo: DPA

More and more believers are also leaving the Church. From 2010 to 2015, an average of 167,000 Catholics left the church in Germany each year.

Most recently, 162,093 people left the Church in 2016. This is significantly less, however, than the record number of 217,716 in 2014.

When it comes to baptism, the figures show a different trend. Since 2011, the number of people being baptized as Catholic has either been stable or slightly increased.

4. The Catholic (and Protestant) Church makes billions despite declining numbers

In 2016 the Catholic Church collected €6.1 billion in church tax - just a wee bit more than the Protestant Church which collected €5.5 billion.

A membership fee in the form of a tax was introduced in the Weimar Republic back in 1919. The tax, which was intended to counter the financial aftermath of the separation of church and state, is still paid by registered Christians today.

For church members above a minimum income threshold, the rate is currently set at 9 percent of a person’s income. The money helps pay for costs involving parishes, church employees, childcare centres and other properties.

Since the Finance Ministry handles these taxes, it also gets a piece of the pie (i.e. 3 percent of the total, which amounted to €348 million from both the Catholic and Protestant Churches in 2016).

5. The Churches combined are the second biggest employer in Germany

After the state, the Catholic and Protestant Churches combined are the second largest employer in the country. Through their charities (e.g. Catholic charity Caritas), kindergartens, elderly homes, hospitals and social centres, they employ over a million people.

Research estimates from 2005 (no exact data exists) put the Churches at a combined annual turnover of €125 billion. By comparison, Germany’s biggest automobile maker Volkswagen sees an annual turnover of close to €230 billion.

SEE ALSO: Crosses must be mounted in all state buildings, Bavaria orders

6. The 2018 Catholic Congress costs €9.4 million

On the topic of money, here are some facts about this year’s 101st congress.

The theme of the 2018 Katholikentag is "Seeking Freedom". Photo: DPA

To help cover its costs of €9.4 million, the federal and state governments are contributing around €2 million. The city of Münster is dishing out nearly €1 million and the diocese of Münster is shelling out €1.5 million. Meanwhile the Association of German Dioceses is contributing €1 million.

The organizer, the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), expects to earn some of the money back - with predicted revenues of €3.6 million from ticket sales, donations and shops.

A season ticket for the congress, which integrates local transport fares, costs €87.

A total of 50,135 participants with season tickets have been registered thus far - 719 of whom are coming from outside of Germany. An additional 21,500 daytime visitors are expected.

Around 1,000 events are planned ranging from workshops to concerts in some 100 venues across Münster, including 22 churches, 14 stages and 300 tents.

And any attendees who want to drink the blood of Christ (and eat his flesh too) at the convention need not worry. Some 57,000 pieces of altar bread and 25 litres of altar wine are on hand.

For breakfast services a total of 27,000 bread rolls, 2,700 litres of milk and 450 kilograms of jam have been ordered.

With DPA

SEE ALSO: The gruesome story of a radical Isis-like movement that once ruled Münster



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