Number of Catholics leaving Church in Austria declines in 2006

.- According to a “new and encouraging” report by the Archdiocese of Vienna, the number of Catholics that leaving the Church sharply declined in 2006, in marked contrast with the high numbers if citizens formally abandoning their Catholic faith in previous years.

According to the Associated Press, 36,645 people formally left the Church in 2006, down from 44,609 in 2005.  In 2004, 45,000 Austrians officially renounced their Catholic faith.

Most of those who left said the main reason for their decision was the sexual scandal that exploded when homosexual and pornographic material was discovered at the St. Poelten Seminary, located 80 kilometers west of Vienna.

Others said leaving the Church was their way of rejecting the obligation to pay the annual tax for the Church, which amounts to around $325.  In order to avoid paying the tax, they must register with the government as having officially renounced the Catholic faith.

The report also indicated that since 1995, some 500,000 Austrians have formally left the Church.  Nevertheless, Msgr. Wilfried Kreuth, who works in the Diocese of St. Poelten, said the decline in the number of those who left the Church in 2006 is “new and encouraging.”  Likewise, some 4,600 people who expressed their desire to leave the Church in recent years returned to the faith last year.

The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Vienna, Erich Leitenberger, said that 4 out of every 10 Austrians attend Mass at least once a month, while 33% attend Mass during Christmas, Holy Week and on other religious feast days.  “Nobody can suppress the three basic questions: ‘Where do I come from? Where am I going? What is the meaning of life?”, said Leitenberger.

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