Cause for Celebration?
The exodus peaked in 2004, when 45,000 Austrians left a church bedeviled by scandal and a chronic shortage of priests."Fewer desertions" = "New and encouraging" trend?
Many cited disgust over the discovery of up to 40,000 lurid images at a seminary in St. Poelten, 50 miles west of Vienna, including child porn and photos of young candidates for the priesthood fondling each other and their older religious instructors.
Other dropouts expressed discontent with a church tax collected by the government for the church — a levy that averages more than $300 a year. Catholics wishing to avoid paying it must formally renounce their affiliation to their church.
Since 1995, when accusations surfaced that the late Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer molested youths at a monastery in the 1970s, the Austrian church has lost almost half a million members, officials say....
Catholics in most nations simply stop going to church. In Belgium, "very few people formally leave the church," said Abbe Eric de Beukelaer of the Belgian Bishops Conference. "As in most modern societies ... they leave it silently if they do — just stop going to church or say they don't believe."...
"People today are more individualistic. They don't want to be part of a big organization that tells them what to think and believe," said Georg Plank, a Catholic lay leader in the southern city of Graz. "Perhaps some still suspect it's like that in the church."
But Monsignor Wilfried Kreuth, a cleric tracking the trend in the diocese of St. Poelten, where church departures slowed by more than 27 percent last year, called the shift "new and encouraging."
Forgive me, but I just don't get it.