VIENNA, AUSTRIAThe number of people discontinuing their tax payments to Austria's Catholic Church increased in 1998.

More than 33,400 Catholics discontinued their “church tax” payments between January and November 1998, a rise of 15 percent over the previous year, according to data presented at a recent Bishops' conference meeting.

Austrian citizens can pay one to two percent of income tax in the form of a membership subscription to the Catholic or Protestant churches. They are legally required to continue paying unless they announce their departure from either church.

Meanwhile, only one in five Austrians said they felt linked to any church in a mid-December poll by the Linz-based Market agency, compared to 50 percent in a survey four years ago.

The survey suggested “personal religiousness” was increasing, with 35 percent of citizens declaring belief in God influenced their “personal life,” compared to 23 percent in 1994.

But Christoph Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna has testified that more adults are also joining the Austrian church each year than was the case a decade ago. This shows people are still looking to the church for something,” said an archdiocesan spokes-woman.