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.