In 2015, almost 200,000 people left the German Catholic Church, continuing a trend of steep decline in attendance numbers, a new report found.
According to a report from the German bishops' conference, approximately 181,925 left the Church, while only 9,159 either became Catholic or returned to Catholicism. This is the Church's second worst year on record, following 2014 in which 218,000 people left, Breitbart News reports.
Not only are more people leaving the church entirely, but followers are also attending church less. Church attendance in Germany decreased 8.2 percent from 1995 to 2015. Marriage and baptism numbers are also dwindling, with baptism rates down a third and marriage numbers cut in half from 20 years ago.
Despite these possibly disheartening statistics, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising referred to the German Catholic Church as a "strong force, whose message is heard and accepted," Christian Today reports.
Breitbart News reports that this mass exodus could, in part, be due to the fact that people are becoming more attracted to mainline Protestantism.
The German Catholic Church has also been widely criticized for the "Kirchensteuer," or "church tax." When citizens declare religious affiliation on their income tax returns, a certain amount of their taxes goes to the appropriate religious body. This tax is an estimated additional 8 to 9 percent of one's total income tax payment. The Catholic Church heavily profits off of this system, receiving $6.3 billion in 2011.
Christian Today reports that the tax is one of the biggest reasons why people are leaving the Church. Only a third of German Catholics actually pay the Kirchensteuer today.
Pope Francis commented on the Church's decline in Germany in 2015, saying that the situation is dire.
"When we take all these facts into account," said Francis in a speech, according to Breitbart News, "we can speak of a true erosion of the Catholic faith in Germany."
The Pope is calling on bishops to embrace the new evangelization and strengthen the role of priests.
"Pope Francis gives us courage ... when he tells us that the way of the future Church is the way of a 'synodal church,'" said Marx, according to Christian Today. "That means: All faithful are called upon, laypeople and priests! Together we will continue to give convincingly witness to our Faith and the Gospel."