When compared to the official statistics of twenty years ago, the number of baptisms has declined by more than a third, from almost 260,000 babies baptized in 1995 to just over 167,000 in 2015. The situation is even worse for marriages. Twenty-one years ago, 86,456 couples tied the knot in Church. Last year, the number was down by almost half: In a nation of 80 million people, only 44,298 couples were married in the Church last year.
Further official numbers confirm this precipitous decline: average church attendance is down from 18.6 percent in 1995 to 10.4 percent in 2015.
The number of people departing the Church has increased within the same timeframe, having peaked in recent years at more than 200,000 annually.
No numbers are provided by the German episcopate about how many Catholics went to confession last year. However, a recent academic study of the priesthood in Germany showed that even amongst the clergy, more than half – 54 percent – go to confession only "once a year or less". Amongst pastoral assistants, a staggering 91 percent responded that they receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a year or less.
Despite these alarming numbers, the head of the bishops' conference issued an upbeat appraisal of the situation: "The statistics show that the Church in Germany continues to be a strong force, whose message is heard and accepted. There obviously not only is an interest in, but also an active desire for the sacraments of the Church, as the slight increase of baptisms and marriages proves", Cardinal Marx said in a statement issued by the German bishops' conference.
Acknowledging the high numbers of people leaving the Church, the head of the German bishops' conference said: "We need a 'sophisticated pastoral practice' that does justice to the diverse lifeworlds of people and convincingly passes on the hope of the Faith. The conclusion of last year's synod of bishops and the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis are important signposts."