This trend has been linked to the 'bling bishop' scandal in which Catholic Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst was found to have spent millions of euros of church money on his own private house. He later 'resigned'. Once again ordinary Catholics had to endure the embarrassment of yet another Catholic cleric abusing the power and trust his position gave him.
In Germany, a tax is levied on church members by the government unless they specifically deregister from the church with the local town hall. Officials in city after city across Germany have reported a huge increase in deregistrations not only from the Catholic Church but also from Protestant churches following this scandal. This has been dubbed the 'Tebartz effect' by officials.
|Bishop Franz Peter Tebartz-van Elst, "The Bishop of Bling".|
The largely Catholic state of Bavaria also saw huge rises in deregistrations. In Munich the number double to 1250 and it tripled in Regensburg, Nuremberg and Passau between September and October 2013.
Detlef Pollack, a sociologist from Münster University, said that this sudden jump is part of a steady trend away from religion in Germany as living standards and standards of education rise.
This news is another blow for German Christianity following a poll by Forsa in former East Germany which found 52.1 percent self-identify as Atheists and only 25 percent self-identified as religious. Even more troubling for the Church, the same poll failed to find a single East German under the age of 28 who did not self-identify as Atheist! Many young people are still voluntarily undergoing a sort of Atheist confirmation ceremony known as Jugendweihe (literally, youth consecration) which was introduced under pre-unification Communism. The Protestant church in former East Germany is now losing twice as many members per year as it gains.
As Peter Thompson of the Guardian, writing before the 'Tebartz effect', pointed out, this process is not confined to Germany but is following the same trend across Europe:
Secularisation processes are under way throughout the continent and the role of religion and the church in modernity are being questioned everywhere, from gay marriage to women priests to abortion and on to whether the EU should identify itself as a Christian entity. The question should perhaps be whether it is actually folk atheism that represents the future of Europe.
Peter Thompson, Eastern Germany: the most godless place on Earth
The idea that the EU should formally identify itself as some sort of Christian entity is absurd given this steep decline in Christianity in member states and Christianity's increasing association with the conservative, authoritarian and reactionary wing of politics in an increasingly secular, Atheist Humanist Europe.