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Roman Catholicism

With about 28.2 million members, the Roman Catholic Church in unified Germany is organized into five archdioceses, eighteen dioceses, three diocesan offices, and one apostolic administration. Two of the archdioceses are based in Bavaria (Munich/Freising and Bamberg) and two in North Rhine-Westphalia (Cologne and Paderborn). More than 57 percent of all German Roman Catholics live in these two Länder . Another 28 percent live in the three Länder of Baden-Württemberg, Hesse, and Rhineland-Palatinate. Only about 900 of the church's 13,000 parishes and other pastoral centers are located in the new Länder . The number of Roman Catholics in East Germany declined from 2 million shortly after the war to 800,000 by 1992. Serving these Roman Catholics are two dioceses, one in Brandenburg (Berlin) and the other in Saxony (Dresden).

Between 1970 and 1989, the number of Roman Catholics attending Sunday mass in West Germany declined from 37 percent to 23 percent. Between 1970 and 1990, the number of annual baptisms fell from about 370,000 to around 300,000. Approximately 470,000 Roman Catholics officially left the church between 1985 and 1990. In the same period, about 25,000 returned to the church, and another 25,000 converted to other religions.

Despite the diminishing numbers of Roman Catholics, the church tax enables the Roman Catholic Church to remain strong financially. In 1992 the church's share of tax revenues amounted to approximately DM8.5 billion. An additional DM8 billion was received in the form of government subsidies, service payments, property, and contributions. Much of this support is returned to society through an extensive network of church-operated kindergartens, senior citizen centers, and hospitals. The main Roman Catholic charitable organization is the Deutscher Caritasverband, which had about 400,000 employees in 1992.

As the FRG has become an increasingly secular society, the centuries-old traditional authority of the Roman Catholic Church in matters of morality has declined, especially among German youth. Many German Roman Catholics routinely ignore the church and in particular the pope's positions on such key issues as birth control, premarital sex, divorce, and abortion. For years the number of ordinations in Germany has declined. To address this issue, most German Catholics favor permitting priests to marry, and many support the ordination of women.

Periodically, independent reformist clergymen challenge the church hierarchy and doctrine. Often they do so with the support of many German Catholics. In the 1970s, Hans Küng, a theologian at Tübingen University, used his position and charisma to criticize the idea of papal infallibility and other dogmas. In the early 1990s, major differences of opinion between the laity and church authorities were revealed by a clash between a reform-minded priest and the archbishop in Paderborn, the most conservative German diocese. For beliefs deemed contrary to Vatican policies and dogma, Father Eugen Drewermann was defrocked by Archbishop Johannes Degenhardt. In the tradition of Luther, Drewermann continued to express his unorthodox views outside the church--at universities and in the media, including talk shows. A 1992 survey indicated that among all Germans, Drewermann was more popular than Pope John Paul II.


In the mid-1990s, most of the country's roughly 30 million Protestants were organized into twenty-four member churches of the Evangelical Church in Germany (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland--EKD), headquartered in Hanover. Later in the decade, the church's headquarters is scheduled to relocate to Berlin. The mainline Protestant churches belong to one of three groups: Lutheran (ten); Reformed, or Calvinist (two); and United, or Lutheran-Calvinist (twelve). The largest number of congregations is in Saxony, Berlin, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Bavaria, Thuringia, and Baden-Württemberg. Protestant clergy are permitted to marry, and women are actively engaged in the ministry. One of the most prominent women in the EKD and in Germany in the mid-1990s was Maria Jepsen, bishop of Hamburg.

In the early 1990s, about 5 percent of German Protestants attended weekly services. Annual baptisms declined from about 346,000 in 1970 to around 257,000 in 1990. Of the 257,000 baptisms in 1990, only about 12 percent took place in the former East Germany. Out of 219,000 confirmations in 1990, about 10 percent involved East German youth. Like their Roman Catholic counterparts, Protestant churches are well supported by taxes and contributions. The EKD also runs numerous hospitals and other social institutions and is a vitally important member of the country's system of social welfare. The main Protestant charitable organization is the Diakonisches Werk; it has about 350,000 employees.

In East Germany, Protestant churches became a focal point of opposition during the 1980s. This was possible because of an agreement with the authorities in 1978 that granted the churches a degree of independence. Opposition groups, composed of believers and nonbelievers alike, subsequently were able to meet at the churches, where they discussed peace issues and how East Germany could be reformed. In 1989 these churches, in particular those in Leipzig, became staging points for the massive demonstrations that led to the collapse of the communist regime (see The Peace Movement and Internal Resistance, ch. 2).

Data as of August 1995

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