A parish priest has apologised for publishing the names of people who decided to leave the Church.
Nicolaas Janssens revealed in a newspaper published by his parish who quit their membership last year. An expert on the protection of personal data and citizen rights told the Kurier today (Thurs) that those who found themselves on the list had good chances for success in a possible lawsuit. She stressed that there “is no public interest” in the names of the people who left the Catholic Church in 2011.
Janssens, who heads the parish of Sitzendorf an der Schmida in the province of Lower Austria, admitted today that he “did not act sensitively”. The clergyman said: “I did not mean to offend anybody.”
The parish priest told the Kurier he had already written to every person he exposed in the local newspaper to apologise. Janssens added that he also planned to publish an apology in the next edition of the clerical paper. He said his initial intention was to “provide comprehensive statistics” on how many people left and joined his parish in the past year.
It is understood that leading clergymen have no plans to sanction Janssens for his decision to name apostates in a recent edition of the local parish’s newspaper. The episode could nevertheless lead to a further intensification of the public debate about the Austrian Church’s standing in society.
Liberal members of the Church criticise its leaders for having overly conservative views. They demand an end to ignorance of the various significant changes in society of the 21st century to avoid the Church’s demise. Some observers believe that the chances for a new strong reform movement of Catholics were never as high as these days due to leading clergymen’s decision-making and widespread reluctance towards the large number of cases of sexual and physical abuse at boarding schools run by the Church and other clerical institutions.
The Catholic Church said earlier this month that 58,603 people cancelled their memberships in 2011. This is a decrease of 32 per cent compared to the previous year when the Austrian Church had lost more members than ever before since the war.
Experts think that the Austrian Roman Catholic Church would not manage to avoid the number of cancelled memberships remain rather high in the coming years, also due to mounting disinterest in the Church’s activities and ideals among young people. At the same time, other denominations such as Austria’s Muslim community are getting increasingly popular.
The interior ministry said earlier this week that the share Muslims had in the Austrian society could rise to 16 per cent until 2051. The domestic Islamic denomination will have 1.6 million members in that year, according to research by the ministry’s integration issues department. Only 0.3 per cent of Austrians were Muslims in 1971. More than six per cent – or 515,000 people – are members of the denomination at the moment, according to official figures.
Austria’s Catholic Church counted 5.4 million members last year. A spokesman for the Conference of Bishops said the Church apparently managed to win back the trust of many people since it suffered a weaker decrease of membership figures in 2011 than in 2010. He added that it would be “utterly inappropriate” to assume everything was fine again at the institution.