Record 2010 Church exodus expected after whopping first-quarter figures

More Austrians than ever in history are expected to leave the Catholic Church this year.Official figures from today (Thurs) show that 30,004 people left the Church in the first three months of this year, up by 42 per cent compared to the same time span of 2009 when more people than ever cancelled their membership.These developments mean that between 70,000 and 80,000 Austrians are expected to leave the Church throughout this year after last year’s record of 53,216 people leaving the Church.The image of the Austrian Catholic Church has suffered as hundreds of people come forward revealing how they were beaten or verbally or sexually abused by clergy and staff at Catholic boarding schools and other clerical institutions. Research by public opinion agency Integral showed earlier this year that 69 per cent of Austrians thought the Church was lacking in credibility in its dealing with the revelations.A recent Karmasin poll showed that 57 per cent of Austrians are of the opinion Pope Benedict XVI should resign amid the sex abuse incidents across Europe were there a rule that enabled him to do so.Public debate regarding Church in Austria was last year dominated by the controversial statements of Gerhard Maria Wagner, the ultra-conservative priest of Windischgarsten in Upper Austria.Wagner branded the bestselling Harry Potter books by Joanne K. Rowling a “work of Satan” and called homosexuality a “curable disease”. He also claimed that natural disasters such as tsunamis and hurricanes were God’s punishment of human sin.He was nominated by Pope Benedict XVI to become auxiliary bishop of Linz diocese, but eventually announced he had decided to stay at his local parish.Wagner hit the headlines this year when he claimed that January’s Haiti earthquake was God’s penalty since “nine in ten people living there believe in voodoo”.Church leaders are now set to negotiate how to react to the upcoming bottlenecks caused by the decreasing number of financial contributions from the so-called church tax every member has to pay.