Catholic Church in Germany

Catholic population, according to the 2011 German Census

The Catholic Church in Germany, part of the worldwide Catholic Church, is under the leadership of the Pope, assisted by the Roman Curia, and of the German bishops. The current "speaker" (i.e., the chairperson) of the episcopal conference is Cardinal Reinhard Marx, metropolitan Archbishop of Munich and Freising. The German church, due to a church tax compulsory for those who register civilly as Catholics, is the wealthiest Catholic Church in Europe. It is divided into 27 dioceses, 7 of them with the rank of metropolitan sees.[1] All the archbishops and bishops are members of the Conference of German Bishops.

Secularization has had its impact in Germany as elsewhere in Europe; nevertheless, 28.9% of the total population is Catholic (23.761 million people as of December 2015),[2][3][4] down 4% compared to the year 2000. Before the 1990 unification of the Federal Republic of Germany (or West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (or East Germany), Catholics were 42% of the population of West Germany.[5] What makes it easier to know religious statistics in Germany is that Christian taxpayers must declare their religious affiliation as church tax is deducted by the State to be passed on to the relevant church in the state where the taxpayer lives.[6]

Apart from its demographic weight, German Catholicism has a very old religious and cultural heritage, which reaches back to both St. Boniface, apostle of Germany and first archbishop of Mainz, and to Charlemagne, buried at Aachen Cathedral. Notable religious sites include Ettal Abbey, Maria Laach Abbey, and Oberammergau, famous for its performance of the Passion Play, which takes place every 10 years. (The last performance of the Passion Play was in 2010.)

The German church also boasts one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Germany, Cologne Cathedral. Other notable Catholic cathedrals are in Freising, Mainz (St. Martin's Cathedral), Fulda, Paderborn, Regensburg, Frankfurt, Munich (Frauenkirche), Worms, Berlin (St. Hedwig's Cathedral, with crypt of Bernhard Lichtenberg), Bamberg, and Trier.[7]

History of Catholicism in Germany

Christianization of the Germans

Main article: Germanic Christianity

The earliest stage of Christianization of the various Celtic people and Germanic people occurred only in the western part of Germany, the part controlled by the Roman empire. Christianization was facilitated by the prestige of the Christian Roman Empire amongst its pagan subjects and was achieved gradually by various means. The rise of Germanic Christianity was at times voluntary, particularly among groups associated with the Roman Empire. Aspects of primeval pagan religion have persisted to this day, including the names of the days of the week.

As Roman rule crumbled in Germany in the 5th century, this phase of Catholicism in Germany came to an end with it. At first, the Gallo-Roman or Germano-Roman populations were able to retain control over big cities such as Cologne and Trier, but in 459, these too were overwhelmed by the attacks of Frankish tribes. Most of the Gallo-Romans or Germano-Romans were killed or exiled.[8] The newcomers to the towns reestablished the observance of the pagan rites.[9] The small remaining Catholic population was powerless to protect its faith against the new ruling Frankish lords.

But as soon as 496, Frankish King Clovis I was baptized together with many members of his household. In contrast to the eastern German tribes, who became Arian Christians, he became a Catholic. Following the example of their king, many Franks were baptized too, but their Catholicism was intermixed with pagan rites.[9]

Over the next eight centuries, Irish, Scottish, and English missionaries reintroduced Christianity into the German territories. During the period of the Frankish Empire, the two most important of these missionaries were Columbanus, who was active in the Frankish Empire from 590, and St. Boniface, who was active from 716. The missionaries, particularly the Scottish Benedictines, founded monasteries (Schottenklöster, Scottish monasteries) in Germany, which were later combined into a single congregation governed by the Abbot of the Scots monastery at Regensburg. The conversion of the Germanic peoples began with the conversion of the Germanic nobility, who were expected to impose their new faith on the general population. This expectation was consistent with the sacral position of the king in Germanic paganism: the king is charged with interacting with the divine on behalf of his people. Hence the general population saw nothing wrong with their kings choosing their preferred mode of worship. The favoured method of showing the supremacy of the Christian belief was the destruction of the holy trees of the Germans. These were trees, usually old oaks or elm trees, dedicated to the gods. Because the missionary was able to fell the tree without being slain by the god, his Christian god had to be stronger.

The pagan sacrifices, known as blót, were seasonal celebrations where gifts were offered to appropriate gods and attempts were made to forecast what the coming season would be like. Similar events were sometimes convened in times of crisis, for much the same reasons.[10][11] The sacrifices, consisting of gold, weapons, animals, and even human beings, were hung on the branches of a holy tree.

The Hiberno-Scottish mission ended in the 13th century. Supported by native Christians, they succeeded in Christianizing all of Germany.

Catholicism as the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire

Ecclesiastical provinces and episcopal sees in Central Europe 1500

In medieval times, Catholicism was the only official religion within the Holy Roman Empire. (There were resident Jews, but they were not considered citizens of the empire.) Within the empire the Catholic Church was a major power. Large parts of the territory were ruled by ecclesiastical lords. Three of the seven seats in the council of electors of the Holy Roman Empires were occupied by Catholic archbishops: the Arch-chancellor of Burgundy (archbishop of Trier), the Arch-chancellor of Italy (archbishop of Cologne), and the Arch-chancellor of Germany (archbishop of Mainz). The Holy Roman Emperor could only become such by coronation of the Pope.

The Protestant Reformation

Burghers and monarchs were united in their frustration at the Catholic Church not paying any taxes to secular states while itself collecting taxes from subjects and sending the revenues disproportionately to Italy. Martin Luther denounced the Pope for involvement in politics. Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms justified the confiscation of church property and the crushing of the Great Peasant Revolt of 1525 by the German nobles. This explains the attraction of some territorial princes to Lutheranism. Along with confiscated Catholic church property, ecclesiastical (Catholic) dominions became the personal property of the holder of the formerly religious office, for the right to rule was attached to this office.

On September 25, 1555, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and the forces of the Schmalkaldic League signed the Peace of Augsburg to officially end the religious wars between the Catholics and the Protestants. This treaty made legalized the partitioning of the Holy Roman Empire into Catholic and Protestant territories. Under the treaty, the religion of the ruler (either Lutheranism or Catholicism) determined the religion of his subjects. This policy is widely referred to by the Latin phrase, cuius regio, eius religio ("whose reign, his religion", or "in the prince's land, the prince's religion"). Families were given a period in which they were free to emigrate to regions where their desired religion prevailed.

The religious intolerance and tensions within the Holy Roman Empire were one of the reasons of the Thirty Years' War, which would devastate most of Germany and kill twelve million people, two thirds of the population of the empire.

Secularization of church states in the aftermath of the French Revolution

In the war of the First Coalition, revolutionary France defeated the coalition of Prussia, Austria, Spain, and Britain. One result was the cession of the Rhineland to France by the Treaty of Basel in 1795. Six years later, the Concordat of 1801 an agreement between Napoleon and Pope Pius VII, was signed on 15 July 1801. Another two years later, in 1803, to compensate the princes of the annexed territories, a set of mediatizations was carried out, which brought about a major redistribution of territorial sovereignty within the Empire. At that time, large parts of Germany were still ruled by Catholic bishops (95.000 km² with more than three million inhabitants). In the mediatizations, the ecclesiastical states were by and large annexed to neighbouring secular principalities. Only three survived as nonsecular states: the Archbishopric of Regensburg, which was raised from a bishopric with the incorporation of the Archbishopric of Mainz, and the lands of the Teutonic Knights and Knights of Saint John.

Monasteries and abbeys lost their means of existence as they had to abandon their lands. Paradoxically, the losses in church land and property made the national or local churches in Germany (as well as in the former Holy Roman Empire, France, Switzerland, and Austria) more dependent on Rome (ultramontane). This shift in the 1850s was sustained by a more zealous clergy, the revival of old teaching orders, the emergence of Marian confraternities, new religious congregations of men and women, and the holding of popular missions.[12][13]


Secularization became a main theme of European history in the 18th and especially 19th century and was vehemently opposed by the Catholic Church. In Germany, this process had its first culmination in the German revolutions of 1848–49 and, after their suppression, gained new momentum with the establishment of liberal governments in various German states in the 1850s and 1860s and in the empire in the 1870s. The Catholic Church, an outspoken opponent of Liberalism, had opposed German unification under predominantly Protestant Prussian leadership and Chancellor Bismarck accused the Church of promoting nationalism among the Catholic Polish minority. Therefore, he regarded the Church as a threat to the newly founded empire, especially after establishment of a Catholic political party which became a strong opposition in parliament. The Liberals, particularly in light of new Catholic dogmas promulgated under Pope Pius IX in the 1860s and at the Council of 1870, had always considered the Catholic Church as an enemy of progress.

Laws enacted in the state of Prussia and in the empire in the early 1870s to curb Catholic influence in public affairs met with open resistance of the Church leading to heated public debates in the media and in the parliaments during which the term "Kulturkampf" gained widespread currency. Diplomatic ties with the Vatican were cut and additional laws were passed to quell Catholic opposition. This only resulted in more support by the Catholic population and more resistance by the Church. During the Kulturkampf, four bishops and 185 priests in defiance of the laws were trialed and imprisoned and many more were fined or went into exile.

After the death of Pius IX in 1878, Bismarck took up negotiations with more conciliatory Pope Leo XIII who proclaimed the end of the Kulturkampf on 23 May 1887. [14] [15] [16] [17] [18]

Catholicism and the Third Reich

The Catholic Church denounced Nazism in the years leading up to their rise to power in 1933-34. It believed its primary duty was to protect German Catholics and the Church. Popes Pius XI and Pius XII publicly denounced racism and the murder of innocents. Many Jews were offered baptismal certificates by local parishes and priests in Germany, and some actually converted, to escape deportation, arrest or execution, though the Nazi policy of anti-semitism did not exempt "converts" as their philosophy was based on race pointed out in its National Socialist Program - not religion. The Vatican knew of the murder of the Jews very early on, as they had religious representatives in all of the occupied countries. Many individuals priests, religious and lay Catholics attempted to save Jews in Germany. Adolf Hitler was raised as a Catholic in Austria who no longer practised his faith as an adult and as he rose to power. The Catholic Church was in opposition to Nazism as well as other ideologies like Communism, because these ideologies were deemed incompatible with Christian morals. Some German bishops expected their priests to promote the Catholic political Centre Party. The majority of Catholic-sponsored newspapers supported the Centre Party over the Nazi Party. In Munich there were some Catholics, both lay and clerics, who supported Hitler, and, on occasion and contrary to Catholic doctrine, (in the early 1920s) attacked a leading bishop for his defense of Jews.[19][20][21][22] Some bishops prohibited Catholics in their dioceses from joining the Nazi Party. This ban was modified after Hitler's March 23, 1933, speech to the Reichstag in which he described Christianity as the foundation for German values.[23] The Nazis did not formally advocate Catholicism, but rather, an apostate "Christian" sect known as Positive Christianity in direct opposition to Catholic Dogma and Doctrine.

Catholicism in the German Democratic Republic

After World War II the Catholics in the zone occupied by the Soviet army found themselves under a militantly atheist government. Many parishes were cut off from their dioceses in the western part of Germany. German Catholicism was comparatively less affected than Protestantism by the establishment of the GDR, as nearly all of the Soviet zone's territory was historically majority Protestant, and only 11% of the people were Catholic. There were only two small majority Catholic regions in the GDR: a part of the Eichsfeld region, and the region in the southeast inhabited by Sorbs.

The present situation of Catholicism in Germany

Members of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany in December 2012 (ecclesiastical provinces)

Only two of Germany's Bundesländer (federal states) have Catholic absolute majorities: Bavaria in the southeast (51.2%) and Saarland in the west (59.8%).[2] Besides these states, Catholicism is also the largest religious group in Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg.

The German state supports both the Catholic and Protestant churches; it collects taxes for the churches and there is religious education in the schools, taught by teachers who have to be approved by the churches. Church taxes are "automatic paycheck deductions" taken from all registered church members, "regardless of how often members attend services."[24]

Catholicism in Germany today faces several challenges:

One of the biggest challenges facing the church is to retain the registered, tax-paying members (regardless of how often they attend services) to fund parishes and church agencies, especially its international relief organizations like Adveniat.[30] German Roman Catholics, however, are divided over the issue of a compulsory Church tax. Under the tax an additional 8 percent to 9 percent of personal income tax is deducted at source by the German state from registered churchgoers (of Catholic and Protestant communities). Although the tax provides the Catholic and Lutheran churches with an exact membership count and a net income of 5.6 billion euros (in 2008) which has helped make the German Roman Catholic Church one of the wealthiest in the world, it forces out or excommunicates Catholics who wish to retain membership but do not want to pay the tax. Many Catholics favour leaving the system intact because it pays the salaries of thousands of church employees and contributes to the work of aid agencies such as Caritas, among others. Other Catholics say members should not have to be forced out of the church or excommunicated simply because they don't want to pay the Church tax.[31]

2013 increased resignations of registered Catholics and allegations of misappropriation of Franz-Peter Tebartz ("Tebartz effect")

A spate of nationwide resignations and protest occurred in late 2013 caused by what church officials termed as the 'Tebartz-effect'. Investigations revealed alleged misappropriation of church funds by Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg over several years. Nicknamed the "bling-Bishop" he has attracted growing disapproval for hypocrisy for preaching the virtues of poverty while living extravagantly, such as, travelling first class on humanitarian missions to India with flights costing around €7,000 each.[32] Tebartz and Vice-Vicar Franz Kaspar both qualified for Lufthansa's luxury frequent flyer Senator grade seating requiring them to accumulate over 100,000 status points annually.

Tebartz commissioned a bishop's residence complex named the St. Nicolas Diocese Center costing €5.5 million.[32] Details of the project were kept secret from Limburg's construction authorities to confirm rumours of stately luxuries such as saunas and wine cellars to interior decorations with precious gem stones. However, Limburg's citizens found the building to resemble a "Kabba of Limburg", as the colour and its cubical shape resembled the Kabba of Mecca. The diocese budgeted tightly. It often lacked the funding to afford basic overhead and upkeep of church facilities such as maintenance, and disbanded services such as daycare.[32]

The "Tebartz effect" has also disenfranchised both Protestant and Catholic Christians. In Cologne the Evangelical Church encountered an 80% increase in absences, with 228 de-registrations.[33] 1,250 Bavarians left the church in October 2013, doubling from 602 in September. Throughout Germany the cities of Bremen, Osnabrück, Paderborn, Passau and Regensburg reported three-fold increases of Catholic resignations.[33]

Catholic organizations in Germany

German popes

Pope Leo IX was one of eight German popes.

Eight popes have been either German or from Germanic tribes. Pope Boniface II, an Ostrogoth, served as the first Germanic pope from 530 to 532. The next German pope was Gregory V (Pope 996-999). The 11th century saw five German popes, including Leo IX, who was canonized as a saint.

Pope Benedict XVI (resigned in 2013), the former Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, is a German, from Bavaria. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in her 9-page address at the Bavarian Catholic Academy's conference on "Political Action based on Christian Responsibility", noted that Benedict XVI's new encyclical Caritas in Veritate points to the way forward in the current economic crisis.

See also


  1. Annuario Pontificio 2012, p. 1127
  2. 1 2 Website der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz (PDF), retrieved 2. October 2016
  3. Zahlen und Fakten 2014/15 Website der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz (PDF), retrieved 20. July 2015
  4. Church statistics PDF
  5. Craig R. Whitney (28 December 1992). "Church tax cuts the German fold". New York Times.
  6. Annuario Pontificio 2008 en presentert
  7. Kurt Hoppstädter and HansWalter Herrmann (Publishers, Geschichtliche Landeskunde des Saarlandes, Book 2: Von der fränkischen Landnahme bis zum Ausbruch der französischen Revolution. Selbstverlag des Historischen Vereins für die Saargegend e. V., Saarbrücken 1977, Pg 17/18
  8. 1 2 Kurt Hoppstädter and HansWalter Herrmann (Publishers, Geschichtliche Landeskunde des Saarlandes, Book 2: Von der fränkischen Landnahme bis zum Ausbruch der französischen Revolution. Selbstverlag des Historischen Vereins für die Saargegend e. V., Saarbrücken 1977, Pg 25
  9. See Viga-Glum’s Saga (Ch.26), Hakon the Good’s Saga (Ch.16), Egil’s Saga (Ch. 65), etc.
  10. Adam of Bremen. Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae pontificium Book IV. Ch.26–28.
  11. David Blackbourn, Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century Germany (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1994), 29.
  12. Jonathan Sperber, Popular Catholicism in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Princeton, NJ: Princeton, 1984)
  13. Clark, Christopher (2006). Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600–1947. pp. 568–576.
  14. Grew, Raymond in: "Liberty and the Catholic Church in 19th. century Europe", Freedom and Religion in the 19th. Century, edited by Richard Helmstadter, Stanford University Press, 1997, ISBN 9780804730877
  15. Olsen, Glenn in: The Turn to Transcendence. The Role of Religion in the 21st. Century, The Catholic University of America Press, 2010, ISBN 9780813217406
  16. Iván T. Berend in: An Economic History of 19th-century Europe, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1-107-03070-1
  17. Rebecca Ayako Bennette, Fighting for the Soul of Germany: The Catholic Struggle for Inclusion after Unification (Harvard U.P. 2012)
  18. Kevin Spicer Hitler's Priests (DeKalb: University of Northern Illinois Press, 2008), 30
  19. Spicer, Resisting the Third Reich, 29
  20. Ludwig Volk, Cardinal von Faulhaber, 1917-1945 Volume I (Mainz, 1975), 305-325.
  21. Faulhaber Archives in Archiv des Erzbistums Munchen und Freising
  23. Niels Sorrells,"Luther's spiritual heirs face uncertain future, CHRISTIAN CENTURY, March 20, 2007, 16
  24. Pongratz-Lippitt, Christa (2004-06-26). "Katholikentag draws 20,000". TABLET. p. 26.
  25. Protestant (EKD only) and Roman Catholic statistics by Bundesland 2009)
  26. Erzdiözese München: Nichtkatholiken seit 2010 in der Mehrheit Catholics a minority in Archdioses Munich: source Austrian Catholic Newservice
  27. Key Performance Indicators of the Roman Catholic Church 1990 -2009
  28. See Willkommen zum Adveniat-Blog, Adveniat Media Portal, etc.
  29. Pongratz-Lippitt, Christa (2009-08-22). "Funding system of German Church challenged". Tablet. p. 29.
  30. 1 2 3 Muller, U. Martin; Wensierski, Peter.'Living in lap of luxury:Bishop's extravagant behavior triggers uproar'.August 23, 2013.Der spiegel online. retrieved December 6, 2013
  31. 1 2 "'Untrusting' Catholics rush to leave church". The Local: Germany's news in English. November 7, 2013. Retrieved December 6, 2013.

External links

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