Austria: The Church at Risk of Obliteration

January 27, 2021

A significant number of “church departures,” although in decline compared to 2019, means fewer Catholics praciticng their faith. Austria continues – albeit in a slow fashion - an inexorable movement toward secularization.

The latest official statistics from the Church of Austria, released on January 13, 2021, show a worrying slump, albeit slower than in 2019.

The number of Catholics continues to decline: as of December 31, 2020, there were 4.91 million Catholics in Austria, in a country of 8.9 million inhabitants. Which represents 55% of the population.

In 2019, there were 4.98 million Catholics, which corresponds to a decrease of about 1.5%. 20 years ago, Catholics still represented 73.6% of Austrians.

The decrease in 2019 is explained on the one hand by a relatively lower number of “departures from the Church,” more or less formulated apostasies: 58,535 faithful asked in 2020 that they no longer be considered as Catholics, compared to 67,794 the previous year.

But the decrease in the numbers of faithful is also the result of the evolution of the demographic curve, i.e., the ratio of baptisms and deaths, always unfavorable to the rejuvenation of the Church.

The data concerning the sacraments—also published on January 13—relate to the year 2019, that is to say before the Sars-CoV-2 crisis: their collection in each diocese requires a longer period of time.

In addition, we will have to wait until next year to know the real impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the Church in Austria.

Anyway, before the onset of the pandemic in the country, the number of baptisms was down: 44,977 in 2019, against 47,312 in 2018. The marriage curve, meanwhile, also took nosedive from 11,155 in 2018, to 9,842.

Even church burials are on the decline: 51,334 in 2019 against 52,484 the previous year.

Likewise, religious practice continues to decline: on the two official counting Sundays in Austria, there were between 497,000 and 533,000 faithful in 2019, against 502,000 and 554,000 the previous year.

On the other hand, the Church revenues have tended to increase, and the budgets of the dioceses to be balanced: little consolation, because the money may well be the muscle war, but still it takes troops to be able to carry it out.