Deutsche Welle (English edition)

6 facts about Catholic and Protestant influence in Germany

How Christian is Germany? Judging by a sharp decline in church attendance, not very. But a look at tax revenue, board membership­s and land holdings suggest that its two biggest churches still have a wealth of influence.


The Holy Roman Empire, the birthplace of Protestant­ism, the battlefiel­ds of Christian theology. The lands that make up modern Germany once had front-row seats to some of the most significan­t developmen­ts both in the history of Europe and of Christiani­ty.

Today, those Christian roots are hard to overlook. Public holidays based on Catholic and Protestant beliefs provide highly-anticipate­d vacation days that go beyond just Christmas and Easter. And while "Christian" political parties — Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and the Bavarian Christian Socialist Union, for example — are considered traditiona­l rather than religious, the parties' names make it clear they were conceived on the basis of Christian values.

Yet the ubiquity of steeples crosses, and saints is deceptive: Churches are largely empty. With more and more Christians rejecting core tenets of the faith, including the existence of God, is it accurate for Germany to be considered a Christian nation?

DW looks at six facts and figures that shed light on the makeup of Catholic and Protestant identity and influence in Germany today.

1. The majority of Germans identify as Christian

Roughly 45.7 million Germans identify as Christian, be they Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or non-denominati­onal. That's nearly 55 percent of German society, according to figures from 2019.

The Muslim population comprises approximat­ely 5 percent (4.5 million) of the population; the Jewish community 0.1 percent (94,7000).

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

2. Under 10 percent of Christians go to church regularly

The majority of Germany's Christians are registered as either Catholic (22.6 million) or Protestant (20.7 million). The Protestant Church has its roots in Lutheranis­m and other denominati­ons that rose out of the 16th-century religious reform movement. Despite the Protestant Church's official name — the "Evangelica­l Church of Germany" (EKD) — it is not to be mistaken with the Evangelica­l movement in the United States.

What the numbers do not reveal is whether church members are practicing the Christian faith or simply preserving tradition. A look at attendance rates would support the notion that the majority of society is, in actuality, not religious.

According to the German Bishops' Conference, only 10 percent of registered Catholics attend church on Sundays. Among Protestant­s, it's barely 3 percent. Not only that, but churches are seeing fewer baptisms, brides, and — where Protestant­s are concerned — burials: Between 2010 and 2019, church weddings declined by nearly 20 percent among Catholics and 19 percent among Protestant­s.

In 2019 alone 272,000 Catholics and 270,000 Protestant­s officially left the church.

3. Churches make billions

despite falling numbers

In 2019, the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church collected a record-breaking €6.76 billion ($7.94 billion) and €5.95 billion ($6.98 billion) in church tax, respective­ly.

The right for churches to collect a de-facto membership fee in the form of a tax dates back to 1919, when the Weimar Republic introduced the measure to counter the financial aftermath of the separation of church and state.

The rate is currently set at 9 percent of one's income for members above a minimum income threshold. The money helps keep parishes, church employees, daycares and other properties afloat.

And as the Finance Ministry handles the tax for them — neither church has the necessary infrastruc­ture for such a massive undertakin­g — it also receives a neat 3 percent of the total, which added up to €380 million in 2016.

4. Land holdings also boost church wealth

Assessing the churches' wealth is a tricky and tangled business due to their extensive land holdings and reparation payments they receive from the states.

The two churches own at least 830,000 hectares (8,300 square kilometers or 3,200 square miles) of land, according to an estimation by church critic Carsten Frerk, whose number is often cited by German media.

The churches themselves have disclosed tens of thousands of buildings that they each hold in addition to at least 21,100 Protestant and 24,500 Catholic churches. When examining buildings related to the churches' roles in healthcare, education, and charitable work, the Catholic Church has at least 66,000 additional holdings and the Protestant Church a further 50,000. They also lease an undisclose­d number of properties to homeowners and businesses nationwide.

Moreover, they receive state funds to compensate for property losses dating back to the early 1800s when Napoleon upended the Holy Roman Empire. According to broadcaste­r Deutschlan­dfunk, this amounted to nearly €500 million in 2017 and comes from taxpayers whether they belong to a church or not.

5. Church widely represente­d in public matters

Another reason Catholic and Protestant interests are so visible in German society is the seats church representa­tives are granted on supervisor­y boards across a wide variety of organizati­ons. There, the churches sit alongside other interest groups such as conservati­onists, union leaders, and experts from a range of fields in the name of representi­ng an important demographi­c.

By way of example, the two churches have a voice on public broadcasti­ng councils, from the nationwide ARD and ZDF to the regional WDR, to the internatio­nal Deutsche Welle (DW), which receives federal funds. Included in these councils' oversight tasks is helping to select the director-general.

Given the innumerabl­e supervisor­y boards across Germany, it is next to impossible to know exactly how many of these seats are held by the churches.

A handful of members of the German parliament are involved in the Central Committee of Catholics (ZDK) or the synod of the German Evangelica­l Church (EKD). Nominated as private citizens and not as representa­tives of their parties, these individual­s are among several hundred laities who help set each church's agenda.

6. Fewer Christians believe in the core tenets of their faith

When asked by German pollster INSA in 2017 if they believed in the resurrecti­on of Jesus Christ, only 52 percent of Catholics and 48 percent of Protestant­s said yes. When asked if they believed in life after death, only 40 percent of Catholics and 32 percent of Protestant­s said they did.

Additional­ly, the research institute Emnid asked Christians whether they believed in God. Roughly 24 percent of Protestant­s and 11 percent of Catholics said no, according to the newspaper Tagesspieg­el.

These surveys clearly point to a German society in which many people do not equate Christian identity with doctrinal belief. This, in turn, raises the question of the extent to which the Catholic and Protestant Churches use their influentia­l positions in the German state and society to act in the interest of their combined 45 million members.

This is an updated version of an article rst published in 2018.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round-up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understand­ing this year’s elections and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developmen­ts as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

 ??  ?? Germany once had front-row seats to some of the most significan­t developmen­ts in the history of Christiani­ty
Germany once had front-row seats to some of the most significan­t developmen­ts in the history of Christiani­ty
 ??  ?? Barbara Sukowa (left) and Heino Ferch (right) in the movie 'Vision'
Barbara Sukowa (left) and Heino Ferch (right) in the movie 'Vision'

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Germany