A record number of Catholics formally disaffiliated from the Church in Switzerland in 2022, according to new figures published this week.
The 2022 figure represents a 1.3% drop in registered Church membership, reducing the number of registered Catholics to 2.89 million out of a population of 8.7 million.
The SPI predicted that new annual records would continue to be set, driven by the abuse crisis that engulfed the Swiss Church in September.
The Swiss bishops’ conference announced Sept. 10 that the Vatican had authorized a preliminary canonical investigation into accusations against several bishops.
“The reputation of the Catholic Church has deteriorated in recent weeks and months,” the SPI said. “The report on the history of sexual abuse in the environment of the Roman Catholic Church in Switzerland and its reception by the media and the public have largely undermined trust in the Church.”
“There is talk of a systematic concealment of cases, the protection of aggressors rather than victims, and other accusations still hover. All of this undermines the credibility of the Church and we can expect the number of people leaving the Church to continue to increase.”
Figures show that 1,080 people entered the Catholic Church in Switzerland in 2022. Although this is a rise from 2021, when 910 entered, it means that for every person who enters the Church, 32 leave.
The institute noted considerable regional variations in the number of departures.
Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Confederation, is composed of 26 cantons. The SPI said there were almost no departures recorded in the western cantons of Geneva, Valais, Neuchâtel, and Vaud. It suggested this was because affiliation is not linked to a requirement to pay church tax as it is in other cantons.
Church tax rates vary across the country. In the capital, Bern, it is 20.7% of income tax for Catholics.
In cantons that levy a church tax, Catholics can only avoid paying by submitting a written request to their home parish asking to leave the Church.
The canton with the highest number of departures in 2022 was Basel-Stadt, on the northern border with France and Germany, where 3% of Catholics left. The next highest were the northern cantons of Aargau and Solothurn, with 2.7% and 2.2% respectively.
The three cantons are close to Germany, which also set a new record for annual departures from the Catholic Church in 2022. According to figures released in June, 522,821 people formally left last year.
Austria, which also borders Switzerland, recorded a new high in 2022 as well, with 90,975 Catholics formally leaving in 2022.
The 1.3% fall in Swiss Catholic membership is less than the 2.4% drop in Germany and 1.9% decline in Austria.
A record number of people also left the Protestant churches in Switzerland in 2022. According to the SPI, 30,102 people departed last year, bringing total membership down to 1.92 million.
Together, the Catholic Church and the national Protestant Church in Switzerland lost almost 65,000 members in 2022.
The SonntagsBlick newspaper reported that several cantons had seen an upsurge in departures from the Catholic Church following the publication of the landmark abuse study in September. It said that in Basel-Stadt, 140 people had left in around two weeks, when the typical rate is around 50 a month.
The SPI concluded that the Church should prioritize regaining lost trust.
“The path may be difficult, because trust is not created simply with the help of a professional public relations campaign but through a succession of small, constant and continuous tasks,” it said.
“Trust is built step by step, ensuring that ecclesial collaborators and the Church as a whole are perceived as being attentive, reliable, authentic, supportive, and spiritually credible.”