Polls reflect this sentiment. A March survey showed that only 24 percent of Germans expressed trust in Pope Benedict, compared with 38 percent in January. Overall trust in the Roman Catholic Church was even lower, at 17 percent in March compared with 29 percent in January, the poll showed. And according to the Forsa Institute's April poll of more than 1,000 German Catholics, 23 percent of all church members are considering leaving.
The greatest disillusionment is felt among youths, the poll found, with more than one-third of Catholics aged 18 to 29 considering leaving the church.
Initially, church participation soared when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict in 2005. One press headline read, “We are Pope.” Euphoric rallies of a million youths in Cologne,Germany, and a 2008 youth meeting with Benedict in Australia suggested a pending “Benedict generation.” The pope was expected to capture young imaginations, and young Germans thought Benedict would erase old stigmas associated with Germany's past.
But that was then.
“In 2005, there could have been a Benedict generation, but we are not that convinced of Benedict anymore. It’s not because of the sex scandal … he’s just moved himself off our radar,” says Niklas Ebel, a Catholic theology student in Tubingen, Germany. “We want a church that is more open, self-critical, and lively – that means a message of participation that reaches people.”