Wednesday, September 26, 2012


The following is from the National Catholic Reporter and it is about Germany where people must pay a state tax to support the Church, which I presume means they don't have an offertory collection as we do. Read on, what are your reactions?

UPDATE: German court: Catholics who don't pay religious tax must leave church
Sep. 25, 2012

By Jonathan Luxmoore, Catholic News Service

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, president of the German bishops' conference, presents a statement to the media at the opening of the bishops' fall meeting Monday in Fulda, Germany. (CNS/KNA-Bild)

WARSAW, Poland -- The German bishops' conference defended a controversial decree that said Catholics who stop paying a church membership tax cannot receive sacraments.

"There must be consequences for people who distance themselves from the church by a public act," said Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, conference president, in defending the Sept. 20 decree.

"Clearly, someone withdrawing from the church can no longer take advantage of the system like someone who remains a member," he said at a news conference Monday as the bishops began a four-day meeting in Fulda. "We are grateful Rome has given completely clear approval to our stance."

The archbishop said each departure was "painful for the church," adding that bishops feared many Catholics were unaware of the consequences and would be "open to other solutions."

"The Catholic church is committed to seeking out every lost person," said Zollitsch, whose remarks were reported by Germany's Die Welt daily.

"At issue, however, is the credibility of the church's sacramental nature. One cannot be half a member or only partly a member. Either one belongs and commits, or one renounces this," Zollitsch said.

Catholics make up 30 percent of Germany's population of 82.3 million, about the same proportion as Protestants, with 2 percent belonging to Orthodox denominations, according to government figures.

Interest in the Catholic church revived after German-born Pope Benedict XVI's April 2005 election, but church baptisms and weddings continue to decline. Church statistics show that about 13 percent of Catholics attend Mass weekly, compared with 22 percent in 1989.

Germany's Catholic priesthood and religious orders also are declining in number, according to a bishops' statement in June, despite three homecoming visits by Pope Benedict since his election.

A total of 126,488 Catholics asked to stop paying the membership tax and be removed from registers in the 27 German dioceses during 2011, according to the bishops' conference. In 2010, some 180,000 Catholics took the same step.

German newspapers said the pope's native Bavaria region had suffered the worst losses. The dioceses of Augsburg, Bamberg, Eichstatt, Passau and Wurzburg reported a 70 percent increase in departures in 2010, the height of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Introduced in the 19th century, the membership tax earns the German church about $6 billion annually, making it one of the world's wealthiest.
National Catholic Reporter

Front page of NCRSeptember 28- October 10 edition:
This issue includes our Religous Life special section, a look at a man who's infusing jazz music into Mass, and full coverage of the trial of Bishop Finn and Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Lebanon.
Subscribe now!

In its decree, the bishops' conference said the tax was designed to compensate for state seizures of church property. The decree said the right to a "civil law withdrawal" ensured "no one is led to church membership against their will."

"Conscious dissociation from the church by public act is a grave offense against the church community," the decree said.

"Whoever declares their withdrawal for whatever reason before the responsible civil authority always violates their duty to preserve a link with the church, as well as their duty to make a financial contribution so the church can fulfill its tasks."

The document added that departing Catholics could no longer receive the sacraments of penance, holy Communion, confirmation or anointing of the sick, other than when facing death, or exercise any church function, including belonging to parish councils or acting as godparents.

Marriages would granted only by a bishop's consent and unrepentant Catholics would be denied church funerals, the decree said.

A press release Sept. 20 said the decree had been approved in August by the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops. It added that parish priests would be asked to write to departing Catholics, inviting them to meet and explain their decision and have the consequences explained.

The Associated Press reported that the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig, Germany, ruled Wednesday that Catholics who opt out of paying religious taxes must automatically leave the church as well.

The bishops' decree was criticized by Germany's dissenting We are Church movement, which said in a statement Monday that a "pay to pray" policy sent "the totally wrong signal at the wrong time" when the German bishops were "laboriously trying to regain credibility" after a "decades-long cover-up of abuse scandals."

"Instead of considering the reasons why large numbers are leaving the church on the ground, this bishops' decree sends a threatening message," the statement said.

"This threatened exclusion from community life is a de facto excommunication. It contradicts the sacramental understanding of indelible church membership through baptism."

In his opening address Monday to the bishops' meeting, Zollitsch said the church needed "a long perspective, deep breath and patience" to cope with current challenges, as well as a capacity for dialogue with "social groups and circles alienated from the church."


petrus said...

This is ludicrous. It institutionalizes the Church, fuses it together with the state. When a person could opt out of the official state system, but still remain a member of the Church, then state participation was still voluntary. But fusing the Church with the state cannot bring good.

Gabby said...

I think the headline is misleading. It would be truer to say German court: "Catholics must defect from the Church if they want to avoid paying the religious tax."

If you are willing to declare yourself not Catholic to avoid paying a tax that is based on your income and that pays your Pastor's salary and helps upkeep your parish, why would you think you are entitled to anything from the Church?

Pater von Ignotus said...

Does paying a tax constitute membership in the Church? I think that's the point of discussion. At this moment, I think not. Other thoughts?

Gene said...

Germany has a long tradition of loving the Stadt Kirche. Sieg Heil...

ytc said...

PI: I think it is clear from the article that the non-payers will be deprived of the sacraments, which yes, I suppose would be a de facto exommunication as the We Are Chuchers say.

I am not sure how I feel about this. My visceral, American-bred reaction is, "Whine, this isn't fair." But my mind says that this is justice, really.

John Nolan said...

In order to cease paying the Kirchensteuer an individual must inform the state authorities that he no longer belongs to the Church, in which case why should he want the sacraments?

In England, people whose properties stand on former monastic land are liable for the upkeep of the chancel of the (Anglican) parish church, regrdless of their religious affiliation.

In France, according to a law of 1905, church buildings are the property of the state (in effect the local authority).

rcg said...

I suppose in their country it is a mind set I cannot understand. In this country there is supposed to be only one servant and it is the State. Our taxes are its wage.

This law seems the same in concept as the taxes in the USA on cigarettes. It is thought that the people who buy the cigarettes will somehow contribute more to the state health care when they fall ill.

In that same line of thinking, the basic question in the USA is why should everyone pay for the heathcare of the smokers to begin with? The same question would be why do the European states feel that they must own all the property? It is simply their system and the concept of private property has been, until recently, completely different than in the USA.

John Nolan said...

Separation of Church and State in the USA reflects the application of Enlightenment principles. The same principles when applied by the revolutionaries in France led to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790) whereby the State took control of the Church. The 1905 law was an anti-clerical measure enacted by the Third Republic, which abrogated the Concordat made with the Vatican by Bonaparte in 1801.

In England the Anglican Church is "by Law established" and has a privileged position, yet the State is not responsible for the upkeep of the medieval churches and cathedrals which are surely part of the national heritage. I would not object to a portion of my taxes being used for this; they are Catholic buildings built for Catholic worship with Catholic money, albeit occupied by heretics, although the heretics are doing a good job in looking after them for us.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

John the protection we have in the USA is that the government cannot establish a state religion nor can the government interfere in the internal affairs of the Church--religious liberty in the USA is based upon protecting religion, any religion, from the government and government intrusion. Today with President Obama, we find him redefining this principle to mean freedom of worship only and he has now mandated that our Church's private insurance companies provide for our employees (apart from the parish church) such as schools, social services, hospitals, etc, artificial birth control, abortifacients and sterilization. Of course our bishops and those of other faiths who oppose this governmental intrusion into our morals are vigorously fighting the administration on the PR front and in the courts.

Anonymous 5 said...

The first thing that should come to mind when reading this article (at least it came to mine) is a little practice known as the sale of indulgences.

Linking the means of salvation to the payment of money, even when there's no state involvement, is just a bad idea. It probably has to be done to some degree in any institutional religion, but adding a coercive element relating to the denial of the channels of grace is clearly over the line. And since the state is involved in this particular scenario, it also ties the Church to the apron-strings of the state, ultimately tending to make it dependent on state funding. At some point this could well lead to the Church preaching what the state tells it to in order to keep the cash flowing. Maybe even the Church will choose its leaders with an eye to what the state wants. This echoes another blast from the past known as the lay investiture controversy.

In fact, this whole story confirms my suspicions regarding one of the most central problems with the post VII Church: bishops are too concerned with money. A kinder, gentler Church that doesn't teach hard truths and doesn't excommunicate people for open dissent, so goes the theory, will have more people in it and thus bigger revenues, and thus it can engage in more social justice programs, among other things. My evidence (apart from the German story)? Today, generally speaking, you can profess and practice just about anything you want as a so-called Catholic without much (if any) reaction from the hierarchy. But if you break off institutionally so that revenues are flowing elsewhere, the hierarchy hammers you even though you are far closer to orthodoxy than the heretics who are paying money (cough . . . SSPX . . cough).

I thus propose A5's Law, which purports to describe one of the VII dynamics: The chance of a person's beliefs or practices being challenged theologically by the hierarchy is directly proportional to the perceived likelihood that those beliefs or practices will divert revenue away from the Church.

The first corollary to that law is that non-Catholic Christian traditions (and their revenues) can best be lured into the Church by avoiding condemnation of those traditions' heretical beliefs.

A second corollary is that "social justice" programs, and thus the money needed to engage in them, are an end in themselves and, as such, are more important than the salvation of souls, thus confusing the proper understanding of the faith/works relationship.

The German story shows a third corollary in action: defection of persons, and their money, can be prevented by sacramental coercion.

As Fr. McD hints in his reply, American collectivists would love to have the Catholic Church be nothing but a social welfare organization that must abide entirely by government regulations without muddying the waters by preaching about abortion and homosexuality and such. Thus, undue stress on Catholicism's "social justice" activities (and the money required) are highly dangerous for the Church as the teacher of faith and morals.

Pater von Ignotus said...

From our "non-establishment" perspective, the German system of having the state collect taxes that are used to support a church seems odd.

Be that as it may, declaring for TAX purposes that one is not a member of a church can not, it seems to me, be the determining factor in whether or not one IS a member of a church. Yes, Catholics are obliged to support the Church materially, but the Church does not (can not?) establish the practical means for providing such support.

From my perspective, the German bishops might have anticipated this situation and might have begun to move away from the "tax" model, but they didn't.

I don't think this action is de facto excommunication, but INTERDICT. (See CIC 1332)

Pater von Ignotus said...

Good Father - The non-establishment clause also protects the government - from choosing to become entangled with a specific religion or religion in general. When a government is aligned in a serious way with one denomination's beliefs and/or practices, that government is compromised, to greater and lesser degrees.

Anonymous 5 said...


You have a good point as to interdict. But it seems to me that what it's called mater little. The point tis no payment=no sacraments. Not good.

You also have something of a point about whose protection the religion clauses are for, but only to a point. The provenance of "separation of church and state" go back to dissenter roger Williams, who wrote in 1644 of "the hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wilderness of the world" and the danger that posed not for the world but for the church. Deists like Jefferson may have glossed that regarding protection of state from church, but I find that people most need reminding of the original sense of the phrase. The Moral Majority and the role of the evangelical element in the Republican Party have helped to obscure that original meaning. The Democrats' HHS mandate may help to re-clarify it.