JANUARY 17, 2013 1:49PM

Would Berlin's last Catholic please switch off the lights?

Rate: 7 Flag

St. Hedwig Cathedral, seat
of the Archdiocese of Berlin
(Source: wiki)

AS OF LAST YEAR, the “Red List” of the International Union of the Conservation of Nature identified 3,947 species as “critically endangered.” May I modestly propose that Berlin’s Catholics be added to this catalogue? 

The northern German metropolis has never been a particularly religious place. With a full sixty percent of Berliners describing themselves as atheist or at least agnostic, a mere 9.2 percent self-identify as Catholic, just two percentage points ahead of the city’s Muslims. In the surrounding state of Brandenburg, a region informed as much by forty years of communist rule as by the Protestant Reformation, only 3.1% still eat the wafer and drink the wine.

The trend has been heading downward for decades and has to do with the Vatican’s perceived cluelessness about the nature of modern existence as well as with the financial burden of a government-collected “church tax” that is levied on registered believers. Berliners were also shocked by a vast pedophile scandal that rocked the once-illustrious Jesuit-operated Canisius Kolleg high school here in 2010, touching off a nationwide debate on child rape, as well as similar and seemingly incessant offences to human dignity at the hands of local Catholic clergy in recent years.

Archdiocese of Berlin 
The Catholic Archdiocese of Berlin, which includes portions
of Brandenburg and West Pomerania, is shrinking
to just thirty parishes.
(Source: wiki)

Among other effects, such outrages cool the desire of many believers to shell out their hard-earned cash every month in order to bankroll coverups and compensate victims. But revulsion against the Church is hardly restricted to Berlin: A recent study discovered that now, for the first time since Christianity first reached the Germanic territories in the sixth century, more people are leaving the Catholic Church than are being baptized into it. 

These developments have been eating away at the Church as a public institution and employer. A decade ago, the Berlin archdiocese discovered that it was saddled with 148 million euros in debt and took drastic action: It slashed its parishes in the city and in neighboring regions of Brandenburg and West Pomerania from around 200 to 105 and dismissed 440 staff members.

Rainer Maria Woelki 
Fish or cut bait?
Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki .
(Source: wiki)

Now, the daily Tagesspiegel reports, Berlin's new archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, is dropping even more ballast: His new austerity plan will consolidate the remaining parishes from 105 to just thirty by the year 2020. Schools and hospitals will be "networked" and those priests still left over will be relieved of administrative duties. In taking these measures, Woelki is apparently not responding to any immediate crisis but rather to recent demographic projections showing a massive decline in both the Catholic flock and in the availability of priests to lead it. Lord knows what he or his successor will announce in 2020. The Berlin Church could soon end up as an exclusive club financed by wealthier dioceses and, as is partially the case already today, the German government, which coughs up Cardinal Woelki's generous monthly salary as part of a sweetheart deal first hammered out in 1803.

Yes, we are living in trying times, and Woelki’s decision certainly makes sense from a strictly business perspective. And yet, it does seem like an odd choice for a man professing faith in charismatic and divinely inspired “fishers of men” like Jesus and the Apostle Peter. In the Book of Acts, the Church's first Pope presented a radically different scenario for a troubled era:

17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:

19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:

20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:

21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

But we've moved a long way since the first century. When confronted with the choice to fish or cut bait, the good archbishop did not hesitate for a moment. Perhaps, like most German Catholics today, Woelki is wondering why he should bother to fish when he can get the fish sticks for free.



Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
the church will linger, as a sociological oddity. now, time to put the boot into islam: go get 'em!
This was, after all, the land that gave birth to Luther and Kant, not to mention dozens upon dozens of the greatest minds mankind has produced. The wonder is the religion isn't entirely extinct in the country.
True, considering how hard the Church has been working to destroy its own reputation in recent years.
Alan, have you ever seen the film Zeitgeist (it's American, despite the German title)? All the young people I know in New Plymouth under 25 have seen it. Among other useful information it provides (e.g. regarding the 911 month and the way our monetary system works), it describes quite eloquently how the emperor Constantine invented Catholicism in the 3rd century by weaving together all the pagan sun god mythologies that was prevalent in the Middle East in the first few centuries. Here's the link to a free version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrHeg77LF4Y&list=UURvfydopchRUdVrF_RJpSQg&index=1
Sorry I mistyped. I meant "911 myth."
Yes, Dr. Stuart, I have seen it. It's intriguing all right, although I think it's claims are exaggerated. And yet the pagan roots of the Catholic Church are obvious, including the vestments, the rituals, the incense, the pantheon of saints, and even the title of Pontifex Maximus, which was previously held by the Roman emperor. The influence of Mithras and Isis/Horus is obvious, as is the lingering presence of Sol Invictus, who was born on December 25 and remains the patron of our weekly Sunday holiday.
The Church is fading fast, but it retains a lot of respect for its (often government-financed) charitable activities. Politicians love it for its "stabilizing" influence, so expect it to stay around for a while.
Churches and religions have been counted out before, and come back, if in different guises to some extent too, if they don't often advertise that fact.
Very true, Don, although this time the Church doesn't seem to have a clue how to proceed.
The ebbing of faith is of particular interest to me. I think those of us born into the faith in the 20th century see it a certain way. Those born toward the beginning of the 20th century see it, (or would if they were still alive) in a distinctly different way, and those from the 19th century see it still differently.

Early 20th century scientists and philosophers began to talk about the death of God because of the growing acceptence of the scientific process. Knowledge was increasingly explained and catalogued due to obervation and hypothesis and less by player and revalation. The mysteries of life are less magical, and more science.

A school kid today will likely see life from another panet, or evidence of life that had once been there. The bible's story becomes less and less relevant. Like Loomis said, its existence will dwindle into that of sociological oddity. As the large agricultural families disappear, dependent on the mysteries of climate and the seasons, and science and global awareness grow and become more the rule, I am curious about what will be.
You've got some interesting insights here. Yes, context is everything. When I was a kid, religion seemed to me to be on the way out, and thus appeared fairly benign, until the resurgence of political fundamentalism in the 1980s. Kids today are confronted with unflattering demonstrations of religion everywhere they look. As you say, it will be interesting to see how this all works out.