Vienna, Austria, Jan 12, 2022 / 09:10 am (CNA).
The Catholic Church in Austria on Wednesday reported a decline in membership and a rise in income.
New statistics published on Jan. 12 showed that the number of Catholics in Austria fell in 2021 by around 1.6%, from 4.91 million in 2020 to 4.83 million on Dec. 31, 2021.
The Central European country, located to the south of Germany, has an overall population of almost 9 million.
A total of 72,055 people formally left the Church in Austria in 2021, compared to 58,727 in 2020 and 67,794 in 2019.
They showed that Austrian dioceses received 484 million euros (around $550 million) from the obligatory Church Contribution in 2020, compared to 481 million euros ($546 million) in 2019.
Registered Catholics in Austria pay around 1% of their taxable income to their local diocese, amounting to 75% of the Church’s annual revenue.
Rising income and declining membership are not unprecedented in the Catholic Church in Europe.
If an individual is registered as a Catholic in Germany, 8-9% of their income tax goes to the Church. The Church received more money in church tax than ever before in 2019 despite losing a record number of members. The rise was believed to be due to the growth of Germany’s economy in 2019.
The Austrian bishops’ conference did not offer an explanation on Wednesday for the increase in income from the Church Contribution in 2020, a year marked by the worldwide COVID-19 recession.
But bishops’ conference president Archbishop Franz Lackner thanked Catholic taxpayers in his Archdiocese of Salzburg for their contributions.
“Every euro from the Church Contribution makes our commitment and dedication to the people of our archdiocese possible,” he said on Jan. 12.
Austrian Church authorities announced that 4,301 people rejoined the Church or joined for the first time in 2021 — more than in 2020, when 4,068 joined or rejoined.
In addition, 545 people made use of their “right of withdrawal” in 2021. People invoking this right initially declared their intention to leave the Church, but decided not to take the step after contacting Church officials within a three-month period.
Wednesday’s figures showed a significant fall in the number of baptisms, with 32,521 in 2020 and 44,977 in 2019. The Church said that many baptisms were postponed in 2020 due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
As the country continues to battle the pandemic, a rosary initiative launched in Austria is expanding worldwide.
Austria is expected to become the first Western country to introduce mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 from February 2022 — a move that has prompted large-scale street protests.
Austria’s bishops have suggested that the obligation is permissible if used as a last resort.
Commenting on the formal departure of 6,335 people in Salzburg archdiocese in 2021, Archbishop Lackner invited Catholics leaving to the Church to talk with him.
“Pope Francis repeatedly invites us to enter into dialogue together. Ultimately, a new credibility is needed — in the Church as well as in each individual. We must continue to work on this,” he said.