Hundreds of thousands of German Christians are leaving Protestant and Catholic churches in the country to avoid paying a controversial tax levied by the government there, the Telegraph reports:
Up to 200,000 Germans are believed to have filed official declarations last year renouncing their membership of the Protestant church, the highest number in almost two decades. A similar number are thought to have left the Catholic Church.
Church members in Germany are required by law to pay tax to fund church activities, which is collected by the government.
Under German law, anyone who was baptised as a child is automatically a member of the church and obliged to pay the tax, charged as a percentage of their income, regardless of their beliefs or whether they attend church services.
The tax does provide benefits to those that pay it, including access to parochial schools and day care facilities.
A decision to extend the 8 or 9 per cent charge to capital gains income, or the profit earned from selling an asset, appears to have sparked the sharp decline in church membership.
The new tax regulation was “just the straw that broke the camel’s back for people who were already thinking of leaving”, Ruth Levin, spokesman for the Protestant church in Disnlaken, told Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
While in the past those leaving the church have often been young adults renouncing their parents’ beliefs, over the past year many are reported to have been pensioners fearing a raid on their savings income.
The decision to leave the church is more than just a formality. Although those who decide to leave cannot be excommunicated or prevented from taking part in church services, they can legally be denied certain rites, from a religious burial to access to the best state-funded schools.
Catholics who renounce their church membership are barred from confession and communion, and from the anointing of the sick, unless they are on the point of death.
Read the Telegraph‘s full report here.