Germany's economic slowdown and resulting cost-cutting measures are reaching all parts of society, including the Catholic Church. Several dioceses admit they're facing a financial crisis of unprecedented proportions.
Aachen's cathedral may have to cut opening hours to save money
Several dioceses in Germany are looking for ways to tighten the belt even further as funds dry up and parishes become too expensive to run. The Archdiocese of Berlin, as well as dioceses in Hamburg and Trier, have all announced drastic cuts. Aachen, one of Germany's bigger dioceses, is now the latest to join the list of churches struggling to make ends meet.
The Bishop of Aachen, Heinrich Mussinghoff, said on Wednesday that the economic changes for the Catholic community in Aachen are coming "faster and more thoroughly than ever before in the church's history in Germany."
"We can't continue to offer our full spectrum of programs, and a lot of our facilities and services will have to go," Mussinghoff said. A third of the diocese's staff -- around 220 jobs -- will be cut as part of the savings plans aimed at stopping up a gaping hole in the church's coffers. The opening hours of the Aachen Cathedral -- one of the oldest in Germany and a major tourist attraction -- may also have to be shortened.
Mussinghoff's diocese alone has to save €60 million ($74 million) a year in structural costs by 2008. Even with the savings, Aachen is facing an initial financing gap of €58 million.
Church tax declining
All of Germany's Catholic dioceses are feeling the pinch. Not only are more people dropping out of the church, but increased unemployment has also meant that parishes are collecting less of the nation-wide church tax, which is their main source of funding.
The church has little choice but to undergo what it calls a "consolidation process." The number of parishes in each diocese will be reduced, and the number of full-time ministerial and administrative jobs decreased by around 20 percent, meaning those remaining in the church's employment will have to cover larger geographical areas.
Another savings option that hasn't been ruled out yet is the sale of church buildings. Should Germany follow in the footsteps of countries such as Britain, it's likely that some churches could undergo a radical conversion.
All across Britain, derelict churches are being bought up by corporate chains and turned into superpubs with space for hundreds of drinkers.