Catholics criticize ‘church tax’ in Germany

Catholics criticize ‘church tax’ in Germany

Catholics criticize ‘church tax’ in Germany

A decree from German bishops is criticized by the Catholics in the country. EPA photo

Liberal and conservative Roman Catholic activists have criticized the country’s bishops for declaring that believers who refuse to pay religious taxes will not be able to receive the sacrament, become godparents, or work in Church institutions.

The German bishops issued a decree last week, warning Catholics who stop paying the tax that they would be excluded from all religious activities, also including working in a Church job or taking part in parish activities. The decree is part of an attempt to stem the steady flow of people who opt out of paying religious taxes. It declares that such individuals have committed a “grave lapse” and effectively left the church.

“‘Pay and pray’ is a completely wrong signal at the wrong time,” the reformist movement We Are Church said Sept. 24. The decree “shows the great fear of the German bishops and the Vatican about further serious losses in church tax revenue.” The group said many German Catholics chose not to pay religious taxes because they disagreed with the church’s actions, not because they had lost their faith.
It said the decision undermined the bishops’ own efforts to regain credibility among believers who had become disenchanted by the fact that the Catholic Church covered up child abuse by priests for decades.

A conservative group called the Union of Associations Loyal to the Pope questioned why Catholics who stop paying the tax would be punished but those it called heretics could stay in its ranks. “Sacraments are for sale - whoever pays the church tax can receive the sacraments,” it said in a statement.

A century-old agreement with the state adds up to nine percent to the income tax bill of Germany’s 25 million registered Roman Catholics, earning the Church more than $5.2 billion annually. The same tax applies to Protestants and Jews. Churches use the income to pay employees’ salaries and fund social work such as care for the elderly. They themselves are not taxed by the state, but instead pay an administrative fee for the collection of the religious tax.