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The German Catholic Church, part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, is under the leadership of the Pope, curia in Romemarker, and the Conference of the German Bishops. The current president of the conference is Robert Zollitsch, the archbishop to Freiburgmarker, the country's second largest diocese with 2.07 million Catholics. The German church, thanks to a compulsory church tax, is the wealthest Catholic Church in Europe. It is divided into 27 dioceses and archdioceses. All the archbishops and bishops are members of the Conference of German Bishops.

Secularisation has had its impact in Germany as elsewhere in Europe; nevertheless, 31.0% of the total population is Catholic (25,461 million people as of December 2007), down 0,2 percentage points from the previous year. Before the 1990 unification of the Federal Republic of Germanymarker (or West Germany) and the German Democratic Republicmarker (or East Germany), Catholics were 45% of the Federal Republic (i.e., West German) population. Furthermore, quoting the same source, a mere 13.7% of German Catholics attended Mass on Sundays in 2007 (or about 4% of the total German population [82 million], which, according to the CIA Factbook, is divided among Catholics [34%], Protestants [34%], Muslims [3.7%], and non-believers [28.3%]). Still, in membership alone, the church today (as noted above) is close to its 1935, pre-war membership of 33%. What makes it easier to know religious statistics in Germany is that Christian taxpayers must declare their religious affiliation.

Apart from its demographic weight, German Catholicism has a very old religious and cultural heritage which reaches back to both St. Boniface, apostle of Germany and first archbishop of Mainz, and to Charlemagne, buried at Aachen Cathedralmarker. Notable religious sites include Ettal Abbeymarker, Maria Laach Abbeymarker, and Oberammergaumarker, famous for its performance of the Passion Play, which takes place every 10 years. (The next performance of the Passion Play will be in 2010.)

German Catholicism also has political weight through the Christian Democratic Union. Recently, Jorg van Essen, parlimentary manager of the Free Democrats, noted that "the Christian Democratic Union is still very much a Catholic party."

The German church also boasts of one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Germany, Cologne Cathedralmarker. Other notable Catholic cathedrals are in Freisingmarker, Mainzmarker, Fuldamarker, Paderbornmarker, Regensburgmarker, Frankfurtmarker, Munichmarker (Frauenkirche), Wormsmarker, Berlinmarker (St. Hedwig's Cathedralmarker, with crypt of Bernhard Lichtenberg), Bambergmarker, and Triermarker.

Catholic dioceses of Germany

There are 7 archdioceses and 20 dioceses.
Archdiocese of Bamberg
Diocese of Würzburgmarker
Diocese of Speyer
Diocese of Eichstätt
Archdiocese of Berlin
Diocese of Dresden-Meissen
Diocese of Görlitz
Archbishopric of Cologne
Diocese of Aachen
Diocese of Essen
Diocese of Limburg
Diocese of Münster
Diocese of Trier
Archdiocese of Freiburg
Diocese of Mainz
Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart
Archdiocese of Hamburg
Diocese of Hildesheim
Diocese of Osnabrück
Archdiocese of Munich and Freising
Diocese of Augsburg
Diocese of Passau
Diocese of Regensburg
Archdiocese of Paderborn
Diocese of Erfurt
Diocese of Fulda
Diocese of Magdeburg

History of Catholicism in Germany

Christianization of the Germans

The earliest stage of Christianization of the various Celtic people and Germanic people occurred only in the western part of Germany, the part controlled by the Roman empire. Christianization was facilitated by the prestige of the Christian Roman Empire amongst its pagan subjects and was achieved gradually by various means. The rise of Germanic Christianity was at times voluntary, particularly among groups associated with the Roman Empire. After Christianity became a largely unified and dominant force in Germania, remaining pockets of the indigenous Germanic paganism were converted by force. But aspects of the primeval pagan religion have persisted to this day, including the names of the days of the week.

As Roman rule crumbled in Germany in 5th century, this phase of Catholicism in Germany came to an end with it. At first, the Gallo-Roman or Germano-Roman populations were able to retain control over big cities such as Cologne and Triermarker, but in 459, these too were overwhelmed by the attacks of Frankish tribes. Most of the Gallo-Romans or Germano-Romans were killed or exiled. The newcomers to the towns reestablished the observance of the pagan rites. The small remaining Catholic population was powerless to protect its faith against the new ruling Frankish lords.

But as soon as 496, Frankish King Clovis I was baptized together with many members of his household. In contrast to the eastern German tribes, who became Arian Christians, he became a Catholic. Following the example of their king, many Franks were baptized too, but their Catholicism was mixed with pagan rites.

Over the next eight centuries, Irish, Scottish, and English missionaries reintroduced Christianity into the German territories. During the period of the Frankish Empire, the two most important of these missionaries were Columbanus, who was active in the Frankish Empire from 590, and St Boniface, who was active from 716. The missionaries, particularly the Scottish Benedictines, founded monasteries (Schottenklöster Scottish monasteries) in Germanymarker, which were later combined into a single congregation governed by the Abbot of the Scots monasterymarker at Regensburgmarker. The conversion of the Germanic peoples began with the conversion of the Germanic nobility, who were expected to impose their new faith on the general population. This expectation was consistent with the sacral position of the king in Germanic paganism: the king is charged with interacting with the divine on behalf of his people. Hence the general population saw nothing wrong with their kings choosing their preferred mode of worship. The favoured method of showing the supremacy of the Christian belief was the destruction of the holy trees of the Germans. These were trees, usually old oaks or elm trees, dedicated to the gods. Because the missionary was able to fell the tree without being slain by the god, his Christian god had to be stronger.

The pagan sacrifices, known as blót, were seasonal celebrations where gifts were offered to appropriate gods and attempts were made to forecast what the coming season would be like. Similar events were sometimes convened in times of crisis, for much the same reasons. The sacrifices, consisting of gold, weapons, animals, and even human beings, were hung on the branches of a holy tree.

The Hiberno-Scottish mission ended in 13th century. Supported by native Christians, they succeeded in Christianizing all of Germany.

Catholicism as the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire

Ecclesiastical provinces and episcopal sees in Central Europa A.D.
In medieval times, Catholicism was the only official religion within the Holy Roman Empire. (There were resident Jews, but they were not considered citizens of the empire.) Within the empire the Catholic church was a major power. Large parts of the territory were ruled by ecclesiastical lords. Three of the seven seats in the council of electors of the Holy Roman Empire were occupied by Catholic archbishops: the Arch-chancellor of Burgundy (archbishop of Trier), the Arch-chancellor of Italy (archbishop of Cologne), and the Arch-chancellor of Germany (archbishop of Mainz).

The Protestant Reformation

Burghers and monarchs were united in their frustration at the Catholic church not paying any taxes to secular states while itself collecting taxes from subjects and sending the revenues disproportionately to Italy. Martin Luther denounced the Pope for involvement in politics. Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms justified the confiscation of church property and the crushing of the Great Peasant Revolt of 1525 by the German nobles. This explains the attraction of some territorial princes to Lutheranism. Along with confiscated Catholic church property, ecclesiastical (Catholic) dominions became the personal property of the holder of the formerly religious office, for the right to rule was attached to this office.

On September 25, 1555, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and the forces of the Schmalkaldic League signed the Peace of Augsburg to officially end the religious wars between the Catholics and the Protestants. This treaty made legalized the partitioning of the Holy Roman Empire into Catholic and Protestant territories. Under the treaty, the religion of the ruler (either Lutheranism or Catholicism) determined the religion of his subjects. This policy is widely referred to by the Latin phrase, cuius regio, eius religio ("whose reign, his religion", or "in the prince's land, the prince's religion"). Families were given a period in which they were free to emigrate to regions where their desired religion prevailed.

The religious intolerance and tensions within the Holy Roman Empire were one of the reasons of the Thirty Years' War, which would devastate most of Germany and kill twelve million people, two thirds of the population of the empire.

Secularization of church states in the aftermath of the French Revolution

In the war of the First Coalition, revolutionary France defeated the coalition of Prussia, Austria, Spain, and Britain. One result was the cession of the Rhineland to France by the Treaty of Basel in 1795. Eight years later, in 1803, to compensate the princes of the annexed territories, a set of mediatisations was carried out, which brought about a major redistribution of territorial sovereignty within the Empire. At that time, large parts of Germany were still ruled by Catholic bishops (95.000 km² with more than three million inhabitants). In the mediatisations, the ecclesiastical states were by and large annexed to neighbouring secular principalities. Only three survived as nonsecular states: the Archbishopric of Regensburg, which was raised from a bishopric with the incorporation of the Archbishopric of Mainz, and the lands of the Teutonic Knights and Knights of Saint John.

Monasteries and abbeys lost their means of existence as they had to abandon their lands. Paradoxically, the losses in church land and property made the national or local churches in Germany (as well as in the former Holy Roman Empire, France, Switzerland, and Austria) more dependent on Rome (ultramontane). This shift in the 1850's was sustained by a more zealous clergy, the revival of old teaching orders, the emergence of Marian confraternities, new religious congragations of men and women, and the holding of popular missions.

Bismarck's Kulturkampf

In the mid-19th century, the Catholic Church was also seen as a political power, even in Protestant Prussia, exerting a strong influence on many parts of life. However, from the Catholics' point of view (especially where Catholics were the majority as in the Rhineland Province, the Saar, Alsace and Loraine, and Salesia), Catholics often felt intimidated by self-consciously Protestant rulers.

Catholicism and the Third Reich

Before Adolf Hitler - raised as an Austrian Catholic though loathing many features of his church - rose to power, the Catholic church was in opposition to Nazism, because its ideology was deemed incompatible with Christian morals. Most Catholics and their bishops also expected their priests to promote the Centre Party's interests. In addition, the majority of Catholic-sponsored newspapers also supported the Centre Party over the National Socialist Party, except in Munich where some Catholics, both lay and clerics (and anti-Semitic), supported the latter, and even on occasion (in the early 1920's) attacked a leading bishop for his defense of Jews.

Catholicism in the German Democratic Republicmarker

After World War II the Catholics in the zone occupied by the Soviet army found themselves under a militantly atheist government. Many parishes were cut off from their dioceses in the western part of Germany.

The present situation of Catholicism in Germany

Nowadays, the two Bundesländer where Catholics constitute the majority of the German population are Bavariamarker (south) (with as per 31 Dec 2006, 57.2 % of the Bavarian population being Catholics), and the smallish Saarlandmarker (west) (with 64.9% Catholics again as of 31 Dec 2006). Catholicism is also predominant, and historically of cultural and political influence, in the Rheinland part of Nordrhein-Westfalenmarker. Besides these Bundesländer there are areas of lesser significance of Catholic majority.

The state supports both the Catholic and Protestant churches, with each church making up about a third of the population. The state collects taxes for the churches and there is religious education in the schools, taught by teachers who have to be approved by the churches. Church taxes are "automatic paycheck deductions" taken from all registered church members, "regardless of how often members attend services."

Catholicism in Germany today faces several challenges.

  • Traditionally, there were areas with Catholic majorities and areas of Protestant majorities (Protestant 34%, Roman Catholic 34%). The mobility of modern society began to mix the population. Interconfessional married couples face the problem of not being able to share the same communion.

  • Modern society is changing old structures. Exclusively Catholic environments are disintegrating, though not as much in traditonal areas like Bavaria. The number of Catholics who attend church every Sunday throughout the year has decreased (from 22% in 1990 to 14% in 2006) and some have left the church altogether or been forced to leave because they didn't want to pay the church tax. Thus one of the biggest challenges facing the church is to retain the registered, tax paying members (regardless of how often they attend services) to fund parishes and church agencies, especially its international relief organizations like Adveniat. (See Willkommen zum Adveniat-Blog, Adveniat Media Portal, etc.) German Catholics, however, are divided over the issue of a compulsory Church tax. Under the tax an additional eight to nine per cent of personal income tax is deducted at source by the state from registered church goers (of Catholic and Protestant communities). Although the tax provides the German Church with an exact membership count, a net income of 5.6 billion euros (in 2008), and has made the German Church one of the wealthiest in the world, it forces out or excommunicates Catholics who wish to retain membership but don't want to pay the tax. Many Catholics favour leaving the system intact because it pays the salaries of thousands of church employees and contributes to the work of aid agencies such as Caritas, among others. Other Catholics say members shouldn't have to be forced out of the church or excommunicated simply because they don't want to pay or can't afford to pay the church tax.

Pope Benedict XVI

The current Pope Benedict XVI, former Josef, Cardinal Ratzinger is a German (from Bavariamarker). Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in her nine page address at the Bavarian Catholic Academy's conference on "Political Action based on Christian Responsibility," noted that Benedict XVI's new encyclical Caritas in Veritate points to the way forward in the current economic crisis.

Other Notable German Catholics (past and present)

Konrad Adenauer, Franz Josef Jung, Christine of Stommeln, Albrecht Durer, Edith Stein, Bruno of Cologne, Franz von Papen, Albertus Magnus, Walter Kasper, Ludwig van Beethoven, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Adalbert , Franz, Duke of Bavaria, Christoph Probst, Margareta Ebner, Helmut Kohl, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, Clemens Brentano, Henry Suso, Hildegard of Bingen, Ludwig Windthorst among others.


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