UPDATE: German court: Catholics who don’t pay religious tax must leave church | National Catholic Reporter

UPDATE: German court: Catholics who don’t pay religious tax must leave church | National Catholic Reporter.

The above article on NCR adds more details to the story coming out of Germany about Catholics being refused the sacraments if they opt out of paying the Church Tax. As with all news stories, one must be cautious about believing sensational head lines. And this head-line, to our North American sensibilities, is sensational indeed. It raised my ire when I first read about it, but I kept hoping that perhaps there was some miscommunication…some cultural nuance that we were missing.

Well, recent statements by Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, president of the German Bishop’s Conference, leave no room for nuance…

Clearly, someone withdrawing from the church can no longer take advantage of the system like someone who remains a member,

The church is a ‘system’ that we ‘take advantage’ of? What happened to graces freely given and freely received? What about the institutional church taking advantage of the people she is called to serve?

“We are grateful Rome has given completely clear approval to our stance.”

What??? This kind of bullying tactic has the approval of the Vatican? This does not bode well for the “New Evangelization”. While bishops from around the world prepare to gather next month to discuss how to draw souls back to the the faith, some are intentionally alienating those who are struggling to stay in the midst of this mess. They just don’t get it!!!

The archbishop said each departure was “painful for the church,” …and “The Catholic church is committed to seeking out every lost person.”

OK, call me a skeptic…but is the pain coming from lost souls, or lost income?

“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,”

I respectfully disagree – vehemently – with the good bishop. There are many good souls in our church who struggle with certain teachings or issues. In the midst of their struggles, some stay. Some need to take a voluntary exile to ponder and rethink their faith. Some just cannot afford to give large donations to the church. Some choose not to give financial support as a protest. Through it all, many still identify themselves as Catholics. After all, the sacrament of baptism is indelible. Do not judge our faith or our commitment based on the money we give. It is not only unfair. It is offensive.

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.”

This really does have to be the kicker! Spot the hypocrisy anyone? This comment screams a lack of understanding. Yes, WE need to take a long, deep breath and have patience with these church leaders. Their actions and tone reflect an authoritative need for control and power, not a desire for dialogue. They need to take a closer look at the cause of the alienation of so many from our church. Perhaps a mirror would help in this regard.

Sigh….. Please forgive my own tone in this rant. Anger does little for dialogue. But sometimes I just need to let off some steam…

when does human life begin? – canadian parliament to vote on studying the question

Last week I wrote a post for the NCR Today blog, on a controversial motion in our Canadian parliament. Motion 312 is a private member’s motion put forward by Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Stephen Woodworth. It calls for the House of Commons to form a special committee to study the question of when human life begins. Presently, under the Criminal Code of Canada,

“A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.”

Though a pro-lifer himself, Woodworth insists that the purpose of the motion is not to reopen the abortion debate – something that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised not to do. All Woodworth wants is an “open-minded, evidence-based study” on a 400-year-old Criminal Code definition of a human being.

On Sept. 18, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement in support of Motion 312, inviting “all members of the Parliament of Canada to take into full account the sacredness of the unborn child and each human life.” Also, about 60 high-profile groups and individuals have signed The Declaration of Support for Parliamentary Study of Canada’s Legal Definition of “Human Being.”

A Catholic Register article describes the one hour debate last Friday, and the atmosphere in the House of Commons at the time. According to the article, only 30 to 35 MPs attended the debate which took place during the final hour of the House of Commons’ agenda dealing with private member’s business. The government’s chief whip, Conservative MP Gordon O’Connor, told the House in the previous hour of debate that the government would not support this motion. During the actual debate on Motion 312, O’Conner seemed to be taking notes on Conservative MPs who rose to speak in favor of the motion.

Conservative MP David Anderson defended the motion, “We need to recognize that a majority of Canadians believe that human life begins long before a person is born. We can understand that if the evidence establishes that a child does in fact become a human being before the moment of complete birth, then subsection 223(1) has some major problems and it is actually a law that dehumanizes and excludes a whole class of human beings from legal protection.” (Today, Immigration Minister and a prominent Cabinet Minister, Jason Kenney, announced that he will vote in favor of the motion.)

NDP MP Irene Mathyssen’s argument described the view of most who oppose the motion, “The member for Kitchener Centre’s desire to open up this debate has an end goal of changing the legislation to enable the fetus to be declared a human being…We are all very aware that such a change in the definition will place Canada directly on the regressive path to banning abortions.”

The vote is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

(More thoughts to come….)

german bishops – no church tax, no sacraments!

Today’s NCR Morning Briefing gave a link to the following Reuter’s story German bishops get tough on Catholics who opt out of church tax.

Here in North America, we are used to supporting our churches through the Sunday collection and other voluntary donations. We can choose how much to give, or whether to give at all.

I confess that I have used the power of the purse as a form of protest. Giving a meagre amount or even withholding our collection was the only way we could voice our frustrations; the only vote we had as lay folks in the pews. Paying for the costs of our parish and its ministries was one thing. Paying for the extravagant life-style of a pastor or the legal bills of abusers was another. But, no one was checking our donation status at the door or turning us away. No one was stopping us in the communion line and refusing us the sacrament because we weren’t financially supporting the institutional church.

Things are different in some European countries. If a person claims a religious affiliation, they are charged a church tax . This money is then forwarded to their religious organization. On the one hand, it means that those with no religious affiliation are not required to financially support religions with their tax money. On the other hand, it requires a public declaration of religious affiliation and a compulsory financial contribution. (According to official statistics, church taxes brought in about 5 billion euros for the Roman Catholic Church in 2010.)

There has been a mass exodus of angry and disillusioned Catholics from the church in Germany; as in many parts of the western world. Here, we can quietly sneak out the back door and head into a time of personal exile; often with no one noticing or (sadly) even caring. In Germany, these Catholics have to make a very public statement. By asking to be taken off the tax roll, they are essentially stating they are no longer members of the church.

The bishops of Germany are now cracking down. They have declared that those who do not pay church taxes will not have access to the sacraments, or religious burials. They cannot work in the church or its institutions or be active in church-sponsored associations such as charity groups or choirs. They cannot be godparents for Catholic children and must get a bishop’s permission to marry a Catholic in a church ceremony.

“This decree makes clear that one cannot partly leave the Church,” a statement from the bishops conference said. “It is not possible to separate the spiritual community of the Church from the institutional Church.”

For the German bishops, you are either in or out. And, being ‘in’ requires financial payment.

The Synod of Bishops are meeting next month in Rome to discuss the new evangelization; how to revitalize the Catholic faith in countries where many have left the church. The new evangelization requires open dialogue, compassion, a reading of the signs of the times, and reaching people where they are. It requires looking anew at how we preach the good news of Jesus. It requires a mutual desire for inner conversion, getting to the root of the spiritual dimensions of our faith.

To deny Catholics access to their church and her sacramental life because they refuse to financially support the institutional church does not encourage those who have left to return. The German bishops are presenting the institutional church as a heavy-handed bully focused on money. They need to ponder more deeply the concept of evangelization.