More than 200,000 Germans formally left the Catholic Church last year. It represents a 22 per cent increase from 2013, when 178,805 left, to 217,716 in 2014. Last January it was reported that up to 200,000 German Protestants had also filed official declarations in 2014 renouncing membership of their churches.
Germans who belong to a designated church pay between 8 per cent and 9 per cent of income tax towards its support. They can opt out by notifying tax authorities that they no longer wish to do so. A decision to extend the income tax charge to include capital gains income seems to have sparked this current sharp decline in German church membership.
Just a third of German Catholics pay the church tax, which brought in €6.5 billion in 2013, making the German Catholic Church the second wealthiest in the world after that in the United States.
About 30.8 per cent of Germans, 24.7 million people, are Catholic, while 30.4 per cent are Protestants, 24.3 million people.
Under German law, a person automatically becomes a member of the church where he/she is baptised and and is obliged to pay the tax regardless of belief or whether they attend church.
Formally leaving means people can legally be denied certain rites, from religious burial to access to the best state-funded schools, while former Catholics can be barred from confession, communion, and from the anointing of the sick unless on the point of death.