“Contemporary historians … right now, have failed to find a single historical example of a society that became secularised and maintained its birth rate over subsequent centuries,” the former UK chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, recently argued.

“Falling fertility has coincided so closely with massive secularization that we must at least ask whether the two phenomena are related, even if not in a neat one-to-one relationship”, the scholar Philip Jenkins also said.

This is also true apparently for Germany.

The Ratzinger-Schülerkreis is the circle made up of 41 former alumni of Pope Benedict XVI (born Joseph Ratzinger), who meet once a year with their former professor to discuss a specific topic. This year Pope Benedict has chosen the “spiritual crisis of Europe.” The guest of honor was the American jurist Joseph Weiler, who coined the expression “Christophobia” and defended the crucifix in Italian schools at the EU’s highest tribunal.


As Pope, Benedict understood the cultural and religious crisis of Europe, and the former German professor sees his native country as a litmus test for the future of Europe’s Christianity.

In Germany, where President Joachim Gauck was a Protestant pastor and Chancellor Angela Merkel is the daughter of a clergyman, in the country of liberal theologians — such as Hans Küng, Uta Ranke-Heinemann and Eugen Drewermann, who have fueled intense criticism of the Vatican hierarchy regarding ecclesiastical celibacy, birth control, the role of women, and sacraments for the divorced — Christianity is rattling.

In 1963, there were 400 new priests ordained in Germany. In 1993, there were 238 new priests ordained. In 2013, the number fell to 98. In 2015, the number fell to a historic low of 58. This was revealed by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany’s largest national subscription daily newspaper, published in majority-Catholic Bavaria: “The Catholic Church in Germany is facing a dramatic shortage of priests. Never before as today have so few men in Germany become Catholic priests.”

The German dioceses plan to respond to this crisis by merging parishes, closing churches and hiring priests from Africa. The Catholic Church in Germany has already closed 515 churches in the past decade, while the Evangelical Church closed 340. The number of parishes has decreased from 13,300 in 1995 to 10,800 in 2015.

What was once the Catholic St. Peter’s Church in Mönchengladbach, Germany, is now an indoor rock-climbing facility — one of several known as a “climbing church” (Kletterkirche). Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

The agony of German Catholicism is also demonstrated by the faithful who “escape.”

Germans have been leaving the Catholic Church in droves. In 2015, 181,925 Germans formally chose apostasy. By comparison, only 2,685 people have converted to Catholicism. The number of baby baptisms has also decreased by one third, from 260,000 baptized in 1995 to 167,000 in 2015. The situation is even more dismal for weddings. Twenty years ago, 86,456 couples married in a church. Last year, the number dropped by almost half: in a nation of 80 million people, only 44,298 couples sworn eternal love in a church. The proportion of people who attend church has declined from 18.6% in 1995 to 10.4% in 2015.

This trend is called “the New Atheism” (“der neue Atheismus“). According to Detlef Pollack, a professor of religious sociology at the University of Münster, only 4% of east German Protestants regularly attend church today, compared to 15% in the 1950s. A recent study conducted by University of Chicago professor Tom W. Smith revealed that citizens of the former German Democratic Republic have, by far, “the world’s highest rate of atheism.”

This tendency is becoming the norm in Germany. Andreas Püttmann, a researcher at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, called it “Gesellschaft ohne Gott” (“society without God“) in his book by the same title. “The long-term trend shows an epochal implosion,” Püttmann writes in the book.

A few weeks ago, in the Marienkirche Church, in the middle of Alexanderplatz in Berlin, an evangelical pastor celebrated Germany’s first gay wedding before an altar. The author Peter Hahne, in his book “Enough Amusement! The End of the Fun Society” (“Schluss mit lustig! Das Ende der Spaßgesellschaft“) wondered if Germany “can still be called a Christian country, or whether it would not be more accurate to say that Germany is a predominantly atheist country with religious minorities.”

The fall of German Christianity leaves an emptiness that seems likely to be filled by a more multicultural and Islamic society. That is why Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, just called for the creation of a “German Islam.” Merkel’s powerful ally linked the rise of a German Islam with the national demographic disaster. “Demographic change is one of our great challenges,” said Schäuble. Germany today houses Europe’s largest Muslim community.

The latest annual report of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration explains that, due to the decline in the number of Christians in a period of mass immigration from Islamic countries, “Germany has become demographically a multi-religious country.” Christians in Germany, Die Welt reports, will become a minority in 20 years.

Religious decline is usually followed by a demographic one. The London-based think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, just shed light on the “Europe’s demographic timebomb.” In the report, “From empty pews to empty cradles,” three American scholars, Eli Berman, Laurence Iannaccone, Giuseppe Ragusa, explain that in many European countries, the sudden drop in religious practice has determined a demographic suicide.

It is not only a question of religious faith, but also of optimism about the future.

If the current fertility rates persist, Germany is set to decline from a 2002 peak of 82 million people, to 74.5 million by 2050. Greece, with a loss of 29% of its the population, would decrease from 11 million to fewer than 7 million inhabitants. Poland, suffering a decline of 25%, would pass from 38 million to 29 million.

The projections indicate that Germany will experience more than 64 million deaths during the next half century, and fewer than 40 million births. The falling birth rate will remove a piece of Germany larger than the former communist East Germany. It will result in a demographic loss which would be the equivalent to the population of Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne and Frankfurt combined.

It is a new situation. Since 1972, Germany has not seen a single year in which the number of newborns has exceeded the number of deaths. It was then that families began to go out of fashion in West Germany. Now there is a talk of many small communities in Germany that could become ghost towns.

In 2003, at the peak of the US war against Iraq, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeldcriticized the German and French opposition to the military campaign as a symptom of “old Europe”. Rumsfeld would later say:

“Some people were sensitive about my comment because they thought it was a pejorative way of highlighting demographic realities. Apparently they felt it pointed a white light at a weakness in Europe — an aging population. Europe has come some distance since World War II in becoming Europe.”

Germany’s decline today is, in fact, also a military one. The German military (Bundeswehr)during the Cold War was the first line of defense against a Soviet invasion; now the army is decaying. The German army just spent 428 million euros on various operations relating to migrants during the past year. It has been the costliest mission within German borders that the army of the Federal Republic of Germany has ever undertaken.

While Ukrainian troops were battling pro-Russian separatists on the eastern borders of Europe, a German battalion took part in a NATO exercise in Norway. The Germans had no weapons and used broomsticks as simulated guns. The Bundeswehr today has helicopters that cannot fly and tanks that cannot shoot. This is a cultural decision.

In the decades after World War II, the Germans have turned into hard-core pacifists, enjoying their role on the sidelines of global conflicts. The Bundeswehr was then turned into a humanitarian organization. To quote journalist and author Henryk Broder, “pacifism has become a German lifestyle” — not only for Germany’s leadership but for the society as well.

Already today, one in 20 Germans — one fifth of the population — is over 80 years old. By 2050, it will be one in six. Europe’s largest and richest nation is becoming a country for old men. A quarter of German men said “no” to children. It is such a terrible irony that Nazi Germany, which devastated the continent in its search of Lebensraum (“living space”), is now a nation for decrepit, disarmed and secularized men. And soon, Islamized as well.

To quote Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s Minister of Defense (and a mother of seven): if Germany does not reverse its plummeting birthrate, “we will have to turn out the light.”

Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.