In 1982 the British rock group The Clash released its hit song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” The question can also be applied to the relationship between the faithful and the Church. In fact, here we are dealing with a relationship in crisis: what used to be considered unthinkable or a rare exception, today constitutes for many only a small step, either after years of estrangement, or because of a spontaneous, often hasty decision, fostered perhaps by negative media. People are leaving the Church, and in some countries they are doing so en masse.
The motivations for leaving are varied; it does not always have to be conflicts with priests, scandals related to individual experiences, or the sexual abuse crisis that make the Church appear unconvincing in its claims. Many people leave without difficulty, simply saying, “I no longer need the Church to pray, to connect with God.” It is important to recognize that those who leave are by no means “apostates,” agnostics or atheists. Many consider faith today to be a “private affair.” And as one’s belief status is no longer publicly visible, it has no consequences either.
In Germany alone, 522,821 people left the Catholic Church in 2022, an unprecedented number. In the same year there were 3,753 re-entrants and 1,447 new entrants, that is, people returning to the Church or deciding to be baptized as adults. But the number of those leaving in 2022 represents a dramatic decline. Connection with the Church is becoming rarer. It is worrisome that it is considered “obsolete” and is referred to as such.