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.

11 thoughts on “german bishops – no church tax, no sacraments!

  1. I recall learning that the first rule for people in power is to perpetuate that power… not necessarily to justify it according to any moral or legal precepts — just to keep it, and then to pass it along to others like themselves. We both know the loving power and responsibility that comes with being parents, and good parents welcome it and treat that power with the respect and good judgment it deserves. I’m not seeing that sense of stewardship here, and apparently neither are you!

    With statements like “it is not possible to separate the spiritual community of the Church from the institutional Church,” it becomes a whole lot more possible for me to do just that, for I feel that capital-A Authority, and the command to bow and shrink before those in that authority, and have no desire to do so, and a deeper desire to act contrary to such a command.

    Thanks again for your energy and insight, and for bringing ideas to your readers that we might otherwise have missed.


    Kurt Weber

    1. Well said Kurt…and thank you! It seems that the bishops are the ones who are causing the separation in thinking and missing the spiritual piece in this picture. Their focus on the institutional church is surely turning many good souls away. Your image of the wise parent is spot on!

  2. This sounds like “Pay to Play” which is most often attributed to corrupt civic governments. I agree with Isabella that these bishops are heavy-handed bullies. I believe this bullying is directly related to “clericalism”, the leadership style of both lay and clerical administrators in the Church. I hope that once we clean up the child abuse and misuse of money issues that we take on the bullies. Many of us have experienced bullying in the Church on a personal level; only when what it reaches a grand scale like with the German bishops does it get the attention it deserves.
    As with my other criticisms of the Church I do not make this one as an outsider looking in. This is a family matter and I am on the inside looking in. I stay and will not be silent when the dark and toxic side of the Church obstructs us from becoming the “People of God”. I agree with Joan Chittister, OSB who recently said: “To be a real leader, by all means make a difference. Rebel, rebel, rebel – for all our sakes, rebel. For if the people will lead, eventually the leaders will follow.” As for me, I will not leave the Church to the lowest common denominator, such as these German bishops.
    Ray McCracken

  3. Sr. Joan speaks much truth! The question is….how do we rebel in an effective way? Speaking out is surely the first step. Our silence is too often equated with acquiescence. Thanks, Ray!

  4. The term simony is being batted about on the net regarding this story. It’s not as if I needed another reminder why I am not a “european American” as institutions like to profile people like me. I suspect that like many American converts I stick to the basics. The Church in Germany resembles the Catholic Inc. or the RC Church of What’s Happening Now that is dominated by politicized theology and demands for a civic virtue whose terms and conditions are subject to change without notice. How can Rome have anything to do with this except justify it as diversity?

    1. Hi Graham,
      I’ve been reading some reactions online, too. Most have been coming from folks in North America, to whom this form of taxation seems strange indeed, and overly intrusive. Here in Canada, we have such strong privacy and anti-discriminatory laws that employees would never be allowed to ask your religious affiliation.

      Thanks for joining the discussion!

  5. Isabella, I think we continue to speak out and at every turn name and condemn the unspeakable wrongs that happen on a daily basis in the Church. It is the role of “prophet” and it will have its’ affect into the future.
    Here is what Richard Rohr says about prophets: “In the Jewish Scriptures, the priests are invariably competing with the prophets and the prophets are critiquing the priests, and this tells me it must be a necessary and creative tension. Maybe both sides get refined because of it. Today, in our church, we have mostly priestly concerns—or as Jeremiah put it, “the sanctuary, the sanctuary, the sanctuary” (Jeremiah 7:4)—and little concern for immigrants, health care for the poor, the acceptance of the marginalized, or even minimal peacemaking. The patterns never seem to change, since the “priests” control the home front and the “prophets” work at the edges.”
    Ray McCracken

    1. It’s sad that there has to be such a dichotomy. We have become accustomed to the concept of contemplative apostolics….the need for prayer and action to form a seamless unity in our lives. Creative tension is good. But, perhaps we need more prophetic priests….and priestly prophets…hmmmmm…..

  6. Hi Isabelle: Do you have a direct e-mail? I tried to send you a small attachment about a book “Joseph builds a new home” Curtis L Biggar

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