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160,000 German Catholics left the Church last year

Altar servers swing incense burners as they cross the Hohenzollernbruecke bridge towards the Cologne cathedral (Getty Images)

About 160,000 Catholics left the Church in Germany last year, new figures show.

The number represents an improvement on 2015, when 180,000 faithful left the Church – or opted out of paying a church tax compulsory for members. Nearly a third, or 23 million, people in Germany are Catholic.

Fr Hans Langendörfer, bishops’ conference secretary, said: “We should not forget our real mission in the figures … to joyfully proclaim the Gospel.”

In a recent interview, Cardinal Gerhard Müller commented on the decline, saying: “Active participation is very much diminished, also the transmission of the Faith not as a theory but as an encounter with Jesus Christ has waned. Religious vocations the same.”