Thousands Leave German Churches to Avoid Tax

Regensburg-Cathedr_2349326bHundreds 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.

22 comments

  1. This Church tax seems to be particularly corrupting of German Christians be they Catholic or Protestant, Clergy (to include bishops) and laity. I hear bishops and priests are paid by the state and quite handsomely. I wonder if Pope Francis likes this idea or would prefer the German Church to be a poor Church and rely on donations and tithes rather than on the government to subsidize the clergy’s high salaries?
    From my American perspective, if the German government stopped its subsidy to the Churches, good riddance and may it encourage Catholics and Protestant to return to the Church and sacrifice for her with their time, talent and treasure.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #1:
      Father Allen:

      You couldn’t be more right.

      1. The German Bishops initially tried to impose excommunication on those who refused to pay the Church Tax.

      2. The PCILT ruled that this was NOT a formal act of defection.

      3. Then the German Bishops decided to deny Communion, Absolution, Annointing, and other Rites to those who refused to pay the Church tax.

      My question is, what other group do we deny Absolution to without an Excommunication or Interdict attached? Name one, besides the unrepentent who walk into the confessional. — Though I doubt that is as much of a problem as it used to be, considering how many virtually never go to Confession.

      The real irony here is these same Bishops are the ones who are fighting so hard for the divorced and “remarried” to receive Communion — just as long as they pay their Church Tax, I am sure……

      Further to this irony is that dogmatically, we are freed from the constrictions of the Old Law regarding tithing. While we have a moral and financial obligation to support the works of the Church according to our ability, the strict percentage tithe was abrogated by Christ himself.

      Yet, the German Bishops would like to impose a strict percentage tithe as administered by the state.

      I wonder who the self-absorbed promethean neopelagians are in this case — yearning for a percentage tithe, which predates the New Law.

  2. I am not hostile to the tax considering that I was raised an evangelical and have always been shocked by the lack of stewardship among Catholics in general. I have also experienced situations that came very close to being and sure looked like selling sacraments as if the Protestant Reformation had not happened or really had any issues. Those stipends etc that prevail in some regions in the USA are far more serious in my eyes than a tax.

    1. @Tony Phillips – comment #4:
      +1! cool
      In terms of the stipend comment above, I don’t think these are required of the givers, but only recommended, at least in our diocese and in my parish. People can request Masses without paying a stipend although we accept stipends and suggest a $5 gift/donation (Atlanta is $10) or whatever a person desires to offer, more or less or nothing. In terms of baptism and weddings, no stipend is requested, but gifts are normally made either to the priest/deacon or the parish. This is a free-will, or if you will a “love offering” as it is called in the Protestant south. It is up to the priest either to keep it or donate it as he sees fit.

  3. German bishops make €96,000-€138,000 a year. How Pope Francis squares this with his desire for a poor Church for the poor, I do not know. I imagine the salary is not including other perks. Of course, bishops also do not have families they need to support.

    Interesting people are leaving the Protestant denominations to avoid the tax, even though they give Communion to remarried divorcees, have women clergy, things many claim the Catholic Church needs to get on board with in order to maintain/grow membership.

  4. One cannot disconnect the German Bishop’s position on Communion from the divorced and “remarried” from this issue of the tax.

    The policies they have implemented with respect to the tax create an incredible cognitive dissonance with respect to giving Communion to those in a state of perpetual adultery.

    1. @Todd Orbitz – comment #7:
      Yes, one can. If could very well be that the German bishops believe that access to eucharist would be of great benefit to their divorced and civilly-remarried people. Unless you have proof that the German bishops’ motives are financial–proof, not your own cynical opinion–should you really assume the worst? Is that not calumny?

      1. @David Philippart – comment #10:

        The existence of financial incentives, and a pattern of behaviour which matches, can not be ignored. The German Bishops are only human.

        However, the real impact on the Church tax in Germany seem to be more in the constituencies which Bishops are forced to pay attention to. In say the US, the constituencies which matter are people who come to a Catholic Church or could possibly be encouraged to do so.

        In Germany, the constituencies which matter are expanded to include what would otherwise be cultural or census Catholics, as upsetting them creates a real hit to the ability of the German Church to do good works (which of course need funding).

        And the views of this group of people, who do not and are not going to actually hold the Catholic faith, conform to modern western secular (rather than Catholic) values. And thus, inevitably, the German bishops are always trying to placate modern western secular mores, rather than promoting an agenda based in the Gospel.

        It is a devil of a situation the German Bishops have ended up in, and very hard for them to resist. We should not think we would do any better in their facts and circumstances.

        But this is the wisdom of a poor Church for the poor – It frees us from the corrupting influence which the promise of money always represents, particularly when we only have good intentions.

      2. @David Philippart – comment #10:
        1. Calumny is defined by the Catechism in the following way:

        2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 He becomes guilty:

        – of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

        2. Calumny has a three part test. I would argue I have not made remarks contrary to the truth, nor given occasion for false judgements. With that said, I also would find my statement seriously harming their reputation at all, as they would either dismiss me, or give credence to my charges by engaging me. I invite either response.

        3. However, since you seem to want to inquire as to whether I have committed an ecclesiastical crime, I would amend my statement to say:

        One cannot disconnect the German Bishop’s position on Communion from the divorced and “remarried” from this issue of the tax, without being accused of being disingenuous and intellectually deformed.

  5. Damian Thompson recently wrote about the wealth of the German Catholic church and its support for divorced/remarrieds receiving communion. I’m *for* letting divorced/remarrieds reieeve communion, but still the article was interesting …

    “Mass attendance in Germany has fallen from 22 to 11 per cent since 1989 – and that decline would be sharper if it weren’t for Polish immigrants. How does the church exercise such influence? Answer: it receives £4.6 billion a year from Germany’s church tax. Its charity Caritas employs 560,000 staff – the country’s second largest employer after Volkswagen. These vast budgets create a mindset in which German bishops feel entitled to dictate pastoral practice …”
    http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/damian-thompson/2014/12/communion-for-divorced-catholics-the-german-bishops-twisting-pope-franciss-arm/

    Just the other day, the pope said the sacraments were free …. http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/01/23/pope_francis_to_rota_salvation_of_souls_is_highest_law/1119570

  6. One of the big issues to be resolved when East and West Germany officially unified in 1990 was what to do about the Church tax, which had been part of the culture of the West. Given that the church in the East (particularly the Protestant church) was a leading force for reform under communism, the notion in the East of the state collecting money on behalf of the church ran completely counter to the culture of the West.

    The treaty of unification extended the church tax to the East, but from what I understand, the clash of the two church cultures (officially recognized and supported in the West; more independent of the state in the East) is something that the church struggles with.

  7. To understand Church-State relationship in Germany, we need to go back to the history of Germany before unification, and the secularization (taking over) of what were independent states run by churches until the 19th century. It’s a complex situation.
    Remember that in Britain, the Church of England is the state-established church; under Henry VIII the state took over the monasteries and a lot of property. In the process they also destroyed the base for many social services the monasteries had provided for those in need. By law, no Roman Catholic can become monarch, who is by law head of the Church of England. Only since 2013 may a monarch marry a Roman Catholic without losing right to the throne.
    In Ireland, the minority Church of Ireland (Anglican) was the established church until 1870. At disestablishment, the Church of Ireland received substantial compensation from the then British government in lieu of the state support and tithes which the church had been receiving.
    However odd the relationship in Germany may seem by the standards of other countries today, we cannot simplistically castigate the situation without knowing how it arose.

  8. 8% or 9% is a pretty steep tax. I wouldn’t want any entity to take away an additional 8% of my income. On the other hand, I might be willing to freely donate 8% of my income to a cause I consider worthy. The difference between being taxed and freely giving seems morally significant to me.

    Does anyone know the background on why the loophole on taxing capital gains was closed? That it would injure the churches seems foreseeable; I’m wondering if that was part of the motivation.

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #14:
      The current German capital gains (aka: Abgeltungsteuer) was intruduced in 2009, setting a strict 25% tax on capital gains on all financial instruments after 31 December 2008. (Real estate is exempt if owned over 10 years.)

      But the Solidaritätszuschlag tax for the eastern states and the Kirchensteuer (church tax) increase the effective rate to about 28%. The first $801 euro are exempt, but that’s it.

  9. A thought-provoking article on the First Things blog today may have some confluence with Germans disaffiliating from churches in droves. The blog post recounts the achievements of Abraham Kuyper in the Netherlands in building up Reformed Christianity in that country a century ago. The author notes that the heroic acts of Dutch citizens in hiding Jewish families during the Nazi occupation sprang from their Christian faith. Yet, the author reports, that staunchness of faith seems to have begun to wane by the end of the 1960s, and may be only a pale specter today.

    The author then reflects, “Explanations for this tragedy are not easily come by. The mystery of unbelief has puzzled theologians and laypeople for centuries. Why do some people believe and not others? Why do so many Christians, after spending their early lives in the Church receiving proper teaching, leave their childhood faith behind? Obviously only God can see into the heart. It is perhaps small comfort to observe that the Netherlands was part of a much larger trend that saw secularization sweep away the remaining vestiges of belief throughout western Europe and the Canadian province of Québec. As late as 1957 Michael Fogarty discerned the presence of a swath of territory of high religious observance extending from the Low Countries to the Venetian coast of Italy. But the following decade saw this European “bible belt” disappear as an unprecedented wave of prosperity would combine with the spiritual exhaustion that had set in after two world wars to produce a nihilistic consumerism largely indifferent, if not altogether hostile, to the traditional faiths. If fewer Dutch people attend church, the same can be said of their French, German, Swiss and Italian counterparts. ”

    The entire article is here:

    http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/02/when-we-turn-inward

  10. I wonder if there are tax brackets, deductions for dependents, exemptions, and so forth in the German system that take into account peoples’ ability to pay. 8-9% is a very significant percentage of income…
    It would be a horrible thing if people had to choose between their standing in the church and their ability to make ends meet.
    And wherever one stands on the divorced/remarried communion issue, there is a disturbing mixed message here. As long as it’s a moral issue, discussion and exceptions are ok – but as soon as the issue is money, the church turns cold, silent, and exclusive.

  11. I wonder if one of the reasons so many people “leave” is that they never experienced a close relationship with Christ. Many bishops and priests and parents–the principal authorities of their childhood–emphasized rules and the administration of sacraments and the church’s temporalities. They were baptized into God’s priestly people but never appropriated it for themselves. They also failed to grasp that all the baptized–including the ordained–were initiated for a mission. If you don’t know what that mission is why belong?

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