The Swiss Institute of Pastoral Sociology (SPI) on November 10, 2021 published a study carried out in Switzerland entitled “Evolution of the number of faithful within the Catholic Church over the past ten years and future prospects.”
The latest statistics from the Roman Catholic Church show that the rate of baptisms is decreasing and the number of departures from the Church is increasing. Until now, this effect had been mitigated by the immigration of faithful Catholics to Switzerland from other countries.
But because the tendency to want to leave the institution manifests itself among younger and younger people, the Catholic Church in Switzerland is running the risk of its members aging faster than the population as a whole, specifies the SPI.
While the absolute number of Catholics has remained stable, their percentage within the overall population is steadily decreasing. This raises many questions including that of the choice of pastoral care, and of the development of lay personnel. And also - crucial - the maintenance or not of the ecclesial buildings.
The Federal Statistical Office (FSO) specifies that between 2010 and 2019, the share of Roman Catholics and Evangelical Reformed fell (respectively by 4 and 5 percentage points), unlike that of Muslims or communities from Islam (+1 point).
The share of Jewish communities did not change, while that of people without religious affiliation increased by 9 points. The FSO mentions that Switzerland had 8.7 million inhabitants in 2020, including 2.2 million foreigners.
Baptisms in decline
In Switzerland, in the vast majority of cases, baptism is dispensed to young children. The rate of baptisms has declined over the years in all dioceses.
The much more brutal drop recorded between 2019 and 2020 is mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic: in 2020, 11,968 baptisms (- 32% compared to 2019) were counted. It should also be noted that in French-speaking Switzerland, the Catholic Church has suffered a significantly greater decrease than in German-speaking Switzerland.
Church departures remain high
In 2020, 31,410 people left the Catholic Church, almost as many as the record of 31,772 recorded in 2019. In Switzerland the rate of exits stands at 1.1%. Note that the cantons of Geneva, Valais, Neuchâtel, and Vaud which do not have ecclesiastical corporations under civil law (or compulsory ecclesiastical tax) do not record departures from the Church.
Compared to the number of exits, the number of entries or returns has been at a low level for years. In 2020, 735 people joined the Catholic Church, compared to 885 people in 2019. The ratio between entries and exits stands at 1 to 42.
All cantons reported a decline in the relative share of Catholics in the overall resident population. The total number of Catholic faithful at the end of 2020 stood at around 3 million people.
Likewise, the relative share of members of the Evangelical Reformed Church in the population has also declined over the past decades, and its membership at the end of 2020 stood at around 2 million members.
A Church in need of piety
Already on November 26, 2019, the Swiss Institute of Pastoral Sociology noted in its annual study that beyond the migratory phenomenon - which is declining slightly - two decisive factors explain the variations in the number of members: entries within the Church and departures from the institution, as well as the behavior of Catholic parents vis-à-vis baptism.
The annual report underlined that it is at the level of the piety of the faithful and the behavior of the latter towards baptism that ecclesial leaders could have the most means of action.
Indeed, according to the 2019 report, after the long-time observation of a great weakness in the number of priestly ordinations and sacramental confessions, and the observation of a regular decline in church marriages, a decline in baptisms has also been observed in recent years.
This leads in the more or less long term to an increasing erosion of the number of faithful. When we know that behind the numbers of departures from the Church, there are more young people than older people, it is clear that membership of the Catholic Church has fallen more sharply among the new generations.
So, in conclusion, the following questions need to be asked, in the jargon characteristic of sociologists: “Should the churches be profiled on the basis of a rather close link with tradition or be distinguished from society as an alternative community?”
“Or, rather, should they, in the name of trust in a living tradition open to the future, place themselves at the service of society and seek its closeness? Because it is only in closeness to people that she will also be able to discern what is fundamentally her tradition?”
- These convoluted questions from the Swiss Institute of Pastoral Sociology clearly show that, 60 years after the Second Vatican Council, the aggiornamento desired by the latter, far from promoting the development of the Church, has only caused a doctrinal decline and pastoral bankruptcy. The numbers say it all.