The facts here are very much dependent on the reality that in Germany and Austria such things can be *tracked* because the churches are supported financially by the state, and the state collects "Kirchensteuer", or church tax, from everyone who does not formally declare to the state that they are not a member of any religious denomination that is supported by state funding. It's therefore easier to guess at how many have left, and when, than it is in many other countries because it is a matter of public record.
Austrians Leaving Catholic Church
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: September 24, 2004
Filed at 2:50 p.m. ET
VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Austrians disgusted by a summer of scandal involving child pornography at a seminary and a prominent priest accused of sexual abuse are leaving the Roman Catholic church in significant numbers, church leaders said Friday.
Applications to withdraw from parishes in the Archdiocese of Vienna rose by 36 percent in July and by another 40 percent in August, it said. As of Aug. 31, 10,709 people had left the church, it said.
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Austria's top churchman, said he couldn't blame people for wanting out after the discovery in July of 40,000 lurid images -- including child pornography -- on computers at the seminary just west of Vienna.
Earlier this month, a second scandal hit Austria's church when Catholic officials disclosed they were investigating allegations that one of the country's best-known priests molested teenagers in the 1980s.
``We've had these unending icy rains the entire summer: more and more scandals, negative headlines, and from many people, cries of `I've had enough!''' Schoenborn wrote in a commentary for this Sunday's edition of a Vienna church newspaper.
The cardinal appealed to Austrians to remain faithful to their parishes.
Austria's scandals have dealt a fresh blow to a church already stung by widespread allegations of priest abuse in the United States. Last year, the Archdiocese of Boston agreed to pay $85 million to settle lawsuits filed by more than 500 victims of clergy sex abuse.
In overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Austria, people are automatically registered as church members when they are baptized as infants. To get their names off the rolls, they must formally apply to the government and pay any state church taxes they may owe.
Before the sex scandals hit, unhappiness with the church tax -- which averages about $350 a year -- was a key reason why people left.
Archdiocese spokesman Erich Leitenberger said Friday that departures were up nearly 11 percent for the year, and that for the church, ``every withdrawal is one too many.''
The Vatican has appointed a special investigator, Austrian Bishop Klaus Kueng, to look into the seminary pornography scandal and report back to Pope John Paul II. Police are conducting a separate criminal investigation.
Last month, Kueng shut down the seminary in St. Poelten, where trainee priests also had snapped photos of each other fondling and kissing one another.
Police and church officials, meanwhile, are investigating allegations that a prominent priest, the Rev. August Paterno, molested at least 10 youths two decades ago. Paterno, well-known for having ghostwritten a nationally televised series on religion, has maintained his innocence. He retired last week.
Helmut Schueller, the Vienna Archdiocese's ombudsman for victims of sexual abuse, conceded that some believers feel betrayed and that the Austrian church's credibility is at stake.
``The faithful have the right to expect those who are in positions of authority in the church to be controlled,'' he told The Tablet, an independent Catholic magazine in Britain.