Catholic Church exodus

By David RogersThe number of Catholics leaving the Church soared last year, according to Catholic press agency Kathpress.It reported today (Weds) that 53,216 people had left the Church last year – 30.9 per cent more than in 2008.The figure was 0.96 per cent of all Austrian Catholics, the agency said.The number of Catholics in Austria at the end of 2009 was 5.53 million, down by 0.8 per cent from the 5.58 Catholics at the end of 2008, Kathpress said.Erich Leitenberger, press spokesman for the Vienna archdiocese, said every departure from the Church was “painful”, but added the number of Catholics had remained “relatively stable” in 2009.He also claimed the recession was one of the major factors behind the exodus as people who formally leave the Church no longer have to pay a church tax.The increase in Church departures last year was highest in Linz diocese – 43.5 per cent. Many observers said that had been largely down to Pope Benedict XVI’s nomination of conservative Windischgarst Pastor Gerhard Maria Wagner as auxiliary bishop. The ultra-conservative priest had labelled the Harry Potter books “the work of Satan,” called homosexuality “curable” and said natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans had been God’s punishment of human sin.The Pope later withdrew the nomination after a subsequent public outcry.A Linz diocese spokesman said today that the number of Church departures there last year had been “painful” and “a cause of great concern.”Diocese official Gabriele Eder-Cakl added that the Pope’s lifting of the excommunications of some bishops of the Pius Brotherhood last year had also caused some Catholics to leave the Church.The Pius Brotherhood rejects some of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and includes a bishop who has denied the Holocaust.The second-largest increase, 40.3 per cent, occurred in Feldkirch diocese in Vorarlberg, where Bishop Elmar Fischer made controversial remarks about homosexuality.The lowest increase was in Carinthia, 15.1 per cent, and Vienna ranked in the middle of Austrian dioceses with an increase of 27.8 per cent.Austria has the eighth highest percentage of people claiming to follow a religious faith – 79 per cent – among European Union (EU) member states, according to EU statistics.