For the second year in a row, the numbers of people leaving the church have risen sharply in Switzerland, suggesting a trend that does not seem to be abating any time soon. The figures are provided by the Swiss Institute of Pastoral Sociology (SPI), a research establishment supported by the Catholic Church in Switzerland.
And so, 31,772 people left the Catholic Church in 2019, which is a “record” for a year. There was an increase of almost 25% from 2018, which saw 25,366 releases. This figure already represented an increase of more than 25% compared to the number of departures in 2017, which reached 19,893.
The exit rate is 1.1% on average for the whole of Switzerland, but with large cantonal differences. Thus, the cantons of Geneva, Valais, Neuchâtel, and Vaud hardly record any departures from the Church. Probably due to the fact that in these French-speaking cantons, leaving the Church does not entail a reduction in ecclesiastical taxes.
If these cantons are excluded, the average exit rate is 1.4%, a figure similar to that recorded in neighboring countries (Germany: 1.2% and Austria: 1.3%), where the number of departures has also increased in recent years.
According to the SPI analyst, the reasons for this development would be: the discussion on the Society of Saint Pius X (!) And the first information on the scandal of (sexual) abuse, for the 2010s.
Successive reports of abuse have shaken confidence in the Catholic Church. In addition, Catholic sexual morality, the access of divorced and remarried people to communion, or the position of women within the Catholic Church, which are the subject of public debate, lead to a sharp increase in departures from the Church.
What is the profile of those leaving the Church? Numerous studies on church departures paint this picture: men, singles, and young people (often at the start of their professional life) are more likely to leave the Church.
However, the increase in the proportion of those between the ages of 51 and 60 years leaving the Church is alarming. It seems that the phenomenon of leaving the church is more and more widely accepted and socially acceptable.
The notion of “member of the Church” is also changing. Among Reform Evangelicals the trend is similar to that which strikes the Catholic Church. In 2019, they lost 26,198 people, which is an increase of 18% from 2018.
The reformed had around two million members at the end of 2019 (end of 2018: 2.15 million). In comparison, around 3.1 million Catholics lived in Switzerland at the end of 2019 (end of 2018: 3.18 million), according to figures from cantonal churches and dioceses.