News from Europe

Record exodus of Catholics from the Church in Switzerland


In a statement after their virtual plenary assembly on the 2nd of December, the Swiss bishops acknowledged new figures showing that last year saw the highest annual number of “church exits” on record.


The statistics, compiled by the Swiss Institute for Pastoral Sociology in St. Gallen, showed that older people were also leaving the Church.

“The bishops believe that the pandemic could accelerate this development in the coming months,” the statement said.

“The trend is worrying and will bring about changes in the medium to long term. Nevertheless, the bishops affirm that the Church as the Body of Christ is much more than a collection of facts and figures.”

The new figures, released on the 19th of November, revealed that the Catholic Church lost 31,772 members in 2019, equivalent to 1.1% of the total membership of the Catholic Church in Switzerland.

This marked a 25% increase on the previous year when 25,366 people left.

Researchers noted sharp differences in the departure rates of the country’s twenty-six cantons, or member states of the Swiss Confederation. 

“The cantons of Geneva, Valais, Neuchâtel and Vaud have practically no departures, a fact that can be explained by the different church tax systems. In the cantons of French-speaking Switzerland, the motive of leaving the Church to save taxes is not applicable,” wrote Urs Winter-Pfändler, scientific project manager at the Swiss Institute for Pastoral Sociology.

He said, if the French-speaking cantons were excluded, then the average exit rate in the country would be similar to that of Germany and Austria, which have also seen rising numbers leaving the Church.

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