German Catholics leave in droves: report

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Paedophile priest scandals in Germany contributed to a 40-percent rise in the number of Catholics leaving the Church last year, a report said Thursday, five months before a visit by the pope.

Based on figures from 24 out of Germany's 27 dioceses, 180,000 Catholics terminated their membership, more than 50,000 more than in 2009, the Die Zeit weekly's religious supplement Christ und Welt said.

"The rise ... is partly due to a loss in trust suffered by the Church, particularly because of the abuse cases," Cologne's vicar general Dominik Schwaderlapp told the paper.

"This is painful for us because obviously lots of people have chosen to cancel their Church membership as a personal protest and to show their horror at this scandal."

For the first time in post-war Germany, the Protestant Church suffered a smaller drop in members -- just under 150,000 -- than the Catholic Church, the paper added.

Germans normally pay a Church tithe as part of their income tax but they may opt out if they relinquish their membership.

Since early 2010 and in common with other countries, Germany has been hit by revelations that hundreds of children were physically and sexually abused in institutions, all but a handful run by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Church has said it failed to investigate properly claims of abuse and that in some cases there was a cover-up, with paedophile priests simply moved elsewhere instead of being disciplined and reported to the police.

It has also faced accusations of foot-dragging on reparations for victims, most of whom suffered their abuse several decades ago, too long ago for criminal charges to be brought.

Pope Benedict XVI is due to visit his native Germany from September 22 to 25, 60 years after he was ordained as a priest, in his first state trip since his election as pontiff became a great source in national pride in 2005.

© 2011 AFP

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