Austria's Religious Landscape
At the end of the 20th century, about 74% of Austria's population were registered as Roman Catholic, while about 5% considered themselves Protestants. Catholicism has gradually declined in Austria over the past decades. As of January 2010, the percentage of catholics in Austria was 65.1%.
Austrian Christians are obliged to pay a mandatory membership fee (calculated by income—about 1%) to their church; this payment is called "Kirchenbeitrag" ("Ecclesiastical/Church contribution"). In 2001, about 12% of the population declared that they have no religion. Of the remaining people, around 340,000 are registered as members of various Muslim communities, mainly due to the influx from Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo. About 180,000 are members of Eastern Orthodox Churches (mostly Serbs), more than 20,000 are active Jehovah's Witnesses, and about 8,100 are Jewish.
The Austrian Jewish Community of 1938—Vienna alone counted more than 200,000—was reduced to around 4,500 during the Second World War, with approximately 65,000 Jewish Austrians killed in the Holocaust and 130,000 emigrating. The large majority of the current Jewish population are post-war immigrants, particularly from eastern Europe and central Asia (including Bukharan Jews). Buddhism was legally recognised as a religion in Austria in 1983.
According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005,
54% of Austrian citizens responded that "they believe there is a God".
34% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force".
8% answered that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force".
While northern and central Germany was the origin of the Reformation, Austria and Bavaria were the heart of the Counter-Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the absolute monarchy of Habsburg imposed a strict regime to restore Catholicism's power and influence among Austrians. For a long time, the Habsburgs viewed themselves as the vanguard of Catholicism and all other confessions and religions were repressed.
In 1781, in the era of Austrian enlightenment, Emperor Joseph II issued a Patent of Tolerance for Austria that allowed other confessions a limited freedom of worship. Religious freedom was declared a constitutional right in Cisleithania after the Austro-Hungarian Ausgleich in 1867 thus paying tribute to the fact that the monarchy was home of numerous religions beside Roman Catholicism such as Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Russian, and Bulgarian Orthodox Christians (Austria neighboured the Ottoman Empire for centuries), Calvinist, Lutheran Protestants and Jews. In 1912, after the annexation of Bosnia Herzegovina in 1908, Islam was officially recognised in Austria.
Austria remains largely influenced by Catholicism. Catholicism was treated much like a state religion by Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg. Although Catholic (and Protestant) leaders initially welcomed the Germans in 1938 during the Anschluss of Austria into Germany, Austrian Catholicism stopped its support of Nazism later on and many former religious public figures became involved with the resistance during the Third Reich. After the end of World War II in 1945, a stricter secularism was imposed in Austria, and religious influence on politics declined.
The Austrian State guarantees the following rights to legally recognised churches and religious communities:
- Public worship
- Exclusivity (legal protection of name, exclusive pastoral responsibility for members)
- Status as a public-law corporation
- Autonomous organisation and administration of "internal" affairs
- Protection of institutions, foundations and funds against secularisation
- Establishment of denominational private schools
- Provision of religious instruction at public schools
- At present, 13 churches and religious communities are legally recognised in Austria. Legal recognition makes a church or religious community a legal entity under public law whose standing is that of a public-law corporation.