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Constantine is alive and living in Germany

Or at least Constantinianism:

PARIS (Reuters)- Germany's Roman Catholic bishops have decreed that people who opt out of a "church tax" should not be given sacraments and religious burials, getting tougher on worshippers who choose not to pay.Alarmed by a wave of dissenting Catholics quitting the faith, the bishops issued a decree on Thursday declaring such defection "a serious lapse" and listed a wide range of church activities from which they must be excluded.Germans officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a religious tax of 8 or 9 percent of their annual tax bill. They can avoid this by declaring to their local tax office that they are leaving their faith community.The annual total of church leavers, usually around 120,000, rocketed to 181,193 two years ago as revelations about decades of sexual abuse of children by priests shamed the hierarchy and prompted an apology from German-born Pope Benedict."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."

Okay, I'm down with that last sentiment. But the "healthy secularist" American in me, and maybe some little strand of Tea Party DNA, recoils from not just the altar-and-throne system but also its use as a spiritual cudgel. Are the defections from the church and the church tax perhaps interrelated?Or am I wrong here? Aufklrung welcome.

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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"Show me the money."I hope that intelligent German Catholics will invite their fear-mongering, money-grubbing hierarchs to [fill in the blank]."Catholics who leave can no longer receive sacraments, except for a special blessing before death, the decree states."Keep your stinkin' "special blessing". I don't think God's gonna' give a damn one way or the other!

This runs counter to my instincts. The whole taxation system seems very strange to me.As a thought experiment, though, is this an apt parallel? A college student who refuses to pay tuition because he dislikes the administration is expelled from the school and barred from attending classes. I think there is widespread agreement that this is a just outcome. How is what the bishops are doing any different?

Time to reform the German tax code?

how about a cry of "taxation without representation?" Do they have a lay or at least mixed panel r viewing this "tax," things would be different if so perhaps????

Jim, I think it doesn't work on a couple of points. One is that this is a system set up and administered by the government. If the church set this up and one signed up for it, or not, well, that's different. But I think the theology and ecclesiology are not quite right -- or I'm just guessing because I don't know. But levying a set rate for a church tax and making it a condition of full access to the sacraments seems wrong. This gets into the larger issue of the idea of the offering, which implies (I think) voluntary donation and sacrifice. The other cultural issue is about donations and tithing etc. Protestants have a much more highly developed sense of giving, perhaps stemming from their sense of ownership and of the congregational aspect of the church. Catholicism is a more centralized model, to be sure. Some say that dissuades giving. Catholics are the 47 percent, you might say. There is also the physical aspect of donating money. I recently signed up for the "greener" automatic donation at my parish, but I still like to throw a few mites in the basket because I feel that action is so important. Well, actually I want my daughter to learn that it's important, and above all I don't want my fellow parishioners to think I'm a skinflint. So I wrap up the dollar bill really tight and pray they'll think it's a $20...

Who gets the proceeds of the Church tax? And, how would they know who on the communion line didn't pay the tax? And how do you enforce it against an infant being baptised, they don't have any money. And confessionals are anonymous. This seems like a decree people could pretty comfortably ignore.

Irene, I think you need to produce paper proof that you are on the rolls for some of those things. Alot of the money goes to charity, as well as upkeep of churches (in Italy priests are paid by the state at least in part I believe, maybe Germany?) and a big chunk goes to support the Vatican. The German church is the biggest donor to the Holy See after the American church.

"How is what the bishops are doing any different?"Are you equating the church tax with tuition, i.e., a fee for service?If you pay you can pray?

David, two points:1) A mark of a cult is difficulty in leaving. A cult uses all sorts of means to keep people from breaking free: shunning, threatening, etc. 2) In the great Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries, the Canadian characters use religious words as curse words. "Tabernac", e.g. And the point is made about how old people who were devout all their lives now HATE the church, because of its betrayal of them with the sexual abuse/cover-up. People who would never have thought they would be buried without a funeral mass, now leave the obsequies to funeral homes. No religious involvement. I don't know if that's true or not, but it rings true in the books, set in Quebec. The latest one is set in a monastery. Theme: Gregorian chant. Another great one by Louise Penny.

I'm dumbfounded by this action of the German bishops. Is this part of the "New Evangelization?" People have long gotten angry with some part of the church. The pastoral move is to seek to reconcile with them. Instead this move amounts to a personal interdict. If this is consistent with good pastoring, then I'm a monkey's uncle.I can make no sense whatsoever of Jim P.'s analogy.

I attended mass in the Salzburg Cathedral (Austria has the same church tax as Germany) and at the time of the collection I put in 10 euros. A woman to my right did a double take. After mass she spoke to me, firs in German and then when I looked blank, in English. She explained that she was surprised to see such a "large" offering. They all pay the tax so the actual collections are token contributions. These churches depend heavily on the tax. Without it they'd be in deep doo-doo. And you know that the Vatican is used to getting major donations from Germany, as well.

This coming Sunday's first reading is a fitting description of this refusal of Christian burials to some who have refused to pay taxes out of anger at the sexual abuse scandal: The wicked say:"Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;he [..] reproaches us for transgressions of the law.[...] Let us put the just one to the test.[...]Let us condemn him to a shameful death."These were their thoughts, but they erred;for their wickedness blinded them.

Canon law doesn't recognize someone to have left Catholicism unless they publically repudiate the faith (as Jehovah's Witnesses must, in writing, for example).Further, Catholics have a right to the sacraments. This too is enshrined in Canon law.It must be the case, therefore, that canonically speaking, those who opt out of the tax are doing so by means of formally and officially declaring themselves no longer Catholic. Therefore, as unpalatable as it may be, what the bishops are doing is only spelling out the consequences of this public and official repudiation of Catholic faith.Whether one renounces Catholicism because of religious reasons or because of moral objections or because of not liking the way things are run doesn't really change the fact that you've renounced it.It seems to me the German bishops are treating their people as if they are responsible adults, and their word matters. The way in which this story is told is to present the matter as pay or go. I suspect the reporting is biased. I very much doubt that the German bishops have succumbed to the sin of simony, and are selling the sacraments. issue was forced on to the agenda by the refusal of a prominent Catholic academic to pay the tax. Hartmut Zapp, a retired canon lawyer, was taken to court but claimed his religious rights. "What bothers me is that a member of the church of Christ loses his soul because of a declaration before a state authority," he said. unwilling to pay can fill in a form at a state office. German bishops interpret this as a conscious break with the church but the Vatican said this step was not evidence of a clear schism and grounds for excommunication. In a compromise with the Vatican, bishops will ask priests to write to anyone planning to leave, warning of the consequences and inviting them to meet. If the reaction of the believer . . . can be attributed to a schismatical, heretical or apostatical act, the bishops write, appropriate measures will be taken.

Hierarchs cutting off their nose to save their face. Is that justice or what?!?Pretty soon the Catholic German people may get the idea of who needs this hierarchy after all?

Apparently Zapp argued he could leave the church as Krperschaft without thereby leaving the Religionsgemeinschaft. This argument had some success in court, and this may have alarmed Benedict XVI in swinging in on the bishops' side, whereas previously the Vatican resisted them on this point.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich says the Church can live without the Kirchensteuer. last year's papal visit, Archbishop Robert Zollisch assured the flock that Benedict XVI did not call for abolition of the tax.

Here is another case (Andreas Janker) -- in which again we see that Rome resisted the idea that not paying takes sufficed to make one an ex-member of the Catholic community.

The Church in Germany is in a tumultuous state, similar to Austria's. This is one small item. With apologies for a very crudely translated summary, here's part of one biased view in June from We Are Church Germany, when 2011 statistics came out. * From 2010 to 2011, church attendance down from 12.6 to 12.3%, and priests, parishes, and funerals down 2% * Baptisms in 2011 = 2/3 number of burials * Other Problems: -- Augsburg: Protests against the "pastoral planning 2025" by Bishop Dr. Zdarsa;-- Munich: Disappointment with the contempt of diocesan Future Forum by Cardinal Marx; -- Hildesheim: Banned from performing Pastor Helmut Schller of the Austrian priest initiative by Bishop Trelle;-- Regensburg: Naming Catholic reform groups as "parasitic elements" by Bishop Mller; -- The slow start-up initiated by the bishops of the 2010 "dialogue process", quickly downgraded to a non-binding "interview process" and - especially in the dioceses - very slowly progressing;-- Current debate about the re-admission of divorced Married to the sacraments Pope Benedict XVI in Milan again issued a denial. Prospects are unclear.

"It must be the case, therefore, that canonically speaking, those who opt out of the tax are doing so by means of formally and officially declaring themselves no longer Catholic. "Therefore, as unpalatable as it may be, what the bishops are doing is only spelling out the consequences of this public and official repudiation of Catholic faith."Rita, are you not confusing church with faith? I left the Church of Rome, for example, by notifying my pastor in writing of my decision. I made it clear, however, that I was not renouncing my basic Catholic faith. I now describe myself as "Catholic in faith, if no longer Roman by formal affiliation". I no longer attend church services at my former parish or anywhere else. I am one of those Catholics who (for now, anyway) has gone nowhere.***************"As a thought experiment, though, is this an apt parallel? A college student who refuses to pay tuition because he dislikes the administration is expelled from the school and barred from attending classes. I think there is widespread agreement that this is a just outcome. How is what the bishops are doing any different?"Good question, Jim.No tuition payment = Ineligible for receipt of educational services.No church tax paid = Ineligible for receipt of religious services.Your question reminded me of Luke 10:1-12:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy [-two] others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. 2 He said to them, The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. 3 Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. 4 Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. 5 Into whatever house you enter, first say, Peace to this household. 6 If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another. 8 Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, 9 cure the sick in it and say to them, The kingdom of God is at hand for you.'10 Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, 11 The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. 12 I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.Jesus says, "Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment."On the surface, it would seem that Jesus expects listeners to provide food, drink, and shelter for those who preach, teach, and heal in his name. What should happen, however, if the listeners accept the Christian message but do not see the link between the teaching, on the one hand, and the behavior of the "laborer", on the other hand? What to do if the listeners see hypocrisy, irresponsibility, lack of leadership? In his commentary on Matthew 16:19, scripture scholar Raymond Brown writes:"Is it the power to forgive/not forgive sins (as in John 20:23) or to teach what must be observed, with the result that Peter is the chief rabbi? That this section follows a warning against the teaching of the Pharisees and Saducees [Mt 16:5-12] may tilt the odds in favor of the latter, and notice that in [Mt] 23:13 the scribes and Pharisees are criticized for locking the kingdom of heaven to human beings." Brown reminds us that Jesus later tells Peter, Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way [Mt 16:23] ((AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT, ABRC/Doubleday, 1997).As I see it, if Jesus didn't hesitate to challenge and criticize various religious authorities, and if subsequent Christian communities essentially chose their leadership, and if this communal participation was acknowledged as legitimate by several popes, should Catholics today "pay" religious leaders in whose selection the laity had no role, no voice, especially when these leaders behave in ways at odds with the gospel message and ancient Christian practice?In Matthew 23:1-7, we might have a proper solution to the German situation:1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 saying, The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. 3 Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry] and lay them on peoples shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. 5 All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. 6 They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, 7 greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation Rabbi. If religious leaders' ministry is that of Jesus, then it involves preaching, teaching, and healing. Primitive practice would add governing since Jesus did not establish any institutional structures, mechanisms, etc. With governance comes accountability to Jesus and the People of God. In the absence of any decision making role in the institutional church, the only corrective mechanism available to the laity is the opening and closing of the pocketbook. Let the official teachers preach, but do not follow their example. And do not subsidize their example.Education is a service.Preaching is a ministry.Ultimately, they are not the same.

"Rita, are you not confusing church with faith?"Joe J.,This is precisely the point that the German bishops seem to be making, from the admittedly sketchy and arbitrary reportage I have seen so far: There is no legitimate way to divorce Catholic faith from the Church, leaving one but not the other. The Catholic faith doesn't float free of the Church. (The real question, in this instance, seems to be what does taxation have to do with, uh, anything.)While I have some sympathy with your point of view, which parallels the thought of some of the reformers, in fairness I think we have to allow that for bishops to say that the Catholic faith is integrally joined to the Church's hierarchy and institutions is a clearly defined, orthodox position. It should not surprise anybody. The Reformation challenged this point, of course, but it has never been conceded.

Rita: Your analysis fails to take into account the motive of a Catholic who opts out of the tax. Without that information, the bishops of Germany seem to be overstepping their authority rather egregiously.

"Further, Catholics have a right to the sacraments. This too is enshrined in Canon law."Rita --The bishops have an obligation according to canon law to provide priests to provide the sacraments. But although churches are closing for lack of priests, the bishops refuse to allow laicized priest (REAL PRIESTS) to say Mass and administer the sacraments, and they refuse to ordain married men, which was acceptable to Jesus Himself.Canon law is, in fact, one big fag joke. Forget it. It is irrelevant.

Oops -- should be" one big fat joke".

Joe J" I am one of those Catholics who (for now, anyway) has gone nowhere."One cannot be much of a Christian in any meaningful sense without being in a worshiping community. Sorry. It just doesn't work. We all want a perfect church with no fuss and no muss. Won't find that this side of heave (where mercifully, there will be no institutional church just the communion of saints). Join another Christian body of believers? Well, that's another whole kettle of fish. But a solitary Christian is an oxymoron. And for someone who has gone "nowhere," I have rarely seen someone more interested in the insider baseball politics of the Catholic Church than you (or maybe me). Sorry, Charlie. You can't call yourself a Catholic in any meaningful (though maybe in strictly canonical way) if you are never at the Sunday Eucharist. I know these words may sound harsh but having read your 100's of your posts, I know you are no stranger to tough words

Ann Olivier,I am not sure if you are familiar with the name Ladislas Orsy, SJ. If you are not, I suggest you do a bit of homework and find out who he is and his work. I have fairly strong feeling that he might disagree with your statement: "Canon law is, in fact, one big fat joke. Forget it. It is irrelevant." Just a simple suggestion on the first night of autumn.AA

How would my Uncle Ben, an ordinary decent Catholic who has had a few run-ins with his local clergy read the decision by the German bishops? My guess is that it would go something like this:You bishops have something (the sacraments) that we people need. We have something you want and to some extent need, namely money. Now you say: "No money, no sacraments." Of course, this is not the whole story. But it sure is going to be part of the story for more than a few people. How do the bishops persuade the Uncle Bens of this world that there is some other way of reading what they have done? I think that the German bishops have bungled both substantively and tactically. Citing Canon Law to my Uncle Ben is a sure fire way to make him head for the hills.I repeat:What would the Good Shepherd do? Say that since you haven't played ball you're throuwn off the team?

An addendum to my previous comment: Or suppose Uncle Ben says:"O.k., I need the sacraments. You have them. I guess I'll just have to pay up." What a great way to build community!

Hi, folks, as I say, the whole taxation thing seems very strange - it is strange (and probably not right) for the government to *compel* tithing. (I guess this is a conservative's reaction - it's an unjust tax :-))All I know about the situation is what I've read in David G's post. Based on that, my take is the same as Rita's - that refusal to pay the tax is taken as tantamount to a public declaration that one is no longer a member of the church.That Catholics have a right to the sacraments certainly seems a salient point. It's shocking to me that the German bishops would withhold them, which seems to be the case here, yes? On the other hand, American bishops also draw a line in the sand and say, "these groups of people may not receive the sacraments." So it's not as if lines aren't being drawn by church authorities all over the world; it's a question of where they get drawn, and whether or not they're drawn justly, I guess.It also seems to me that, in tandem with a right to the sacraments, there is a duty to support the church. Certainly, that is a duty that far too many Catholics shirk, either by giving nothing at all or by giving in a miserly fashion. (And pastors know who is which in this respect, as the envelope system allows them to track it). I've never really considered what the consequences of a failure to provide support to the church should be. Apparently, the German bishops think it should be severe. Too severe, in my view.I really think that our model in the US of voluntary support, which really does rely on the new evangelization for financial sustenance, is better.

The point here is: If you are baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church, had your marriage according to the canon laws of the Church, even had your children baptized, confirmed, and brought up with the teachings of the Catholic Church, how can you be denied a Catholic burial because you have not paid the government tax that is given to the Church and had have had to declare that you are not Catholic anymore? Something is wrong here.

Give me separation of church and state any day.

According to the Univ. of Mannheim, you are not required to pay the tax if you belong to the Anglican Church or the Orthodox Church. Taxpayers registered as belonging to Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed Protestant, and some Protestant Free Churches must pay. In 2004, a proposal was made to give taxpayers a break on their church tax in hopes of reducing the large numbers then abandoning churches, some presumably to save on taxes. As far as I know, nothing has been effective in slowing the continuous, growing outflow.,,1168497,00.html

"Rita: Your analysis fails to take into account the motive of a Catholic who opts out of the tax. Without that information, the bishops of Germany seem to be overstepping their authority rather egregiously."Grant (and others),My comment is based on the hypothesis that the person has renounced their membership in the Catholic Church. If it's only a matter of not paying a tax, this is all out the window. So recall that I made this hypothesis depend on something other than the tax, which, frankly, is the only way that I can see them getting this past canon law. I was speaking of the situation in objective terms, in an effort to understand what might be going on. I really don't think its likely that the German bishops are selling the sacraments. On the subjective side, you ask, what about the motive of the person who renounces their membership in the Church? From the point of view of pastoral care, you are right. This does indeed matter. I would only add that we have seen no primary sources here. What did the bishops actually say? What other types of solutions were proposed? Are they just being mean? I honestly don't know, and I don't think we've got the whole story. But I cannot imagine that the German bishops have it in mind to send a lot of people to their graves without the sacraments because they are piqued over problems with fundraising. Which brings me to Ann's comment. The right to the sacraments includes the right to have them conferred by the proper authority; I think your example of "withholding Eucharist" by not allowing resigned priests to celebrate Mass is loaded with assumptions that aren't shared by the hierarchy. The absence of Eucharist doesn't mean that canon law is a joke. It means that the right to the sacraments is framed by the conditions of possibility of offering them validly. I totally agree that the hierarchy should be bending over backwards to solve the problem of the priest shortage and that they aren't. But that doesn't make canon law or sacramental discipline therefore a joke. Catholics in Korea waited for generations under persecution to celebrate Eucharist; they practiced baptism, which they could do in the absence of a priest. This was no joke either. It's a really sad comment that hardly anybody here finds it even slightly implausible that the German bishops are out for money, and will withhold sacraments to get it.

AA ==Yes, I've heard of Orsay. In spite of his erudition, I doubt he could convince me that any legal system whose commands may be legally ignored or adjusted at the sole discretion of the law-giver is anything but a bad joke. And that goes for both the legislative and judicial branches of "the system". The pope does what he wants to do, as do the hierarchs to whom he delegates his veto authority.

Does anyone know what the tax rate is? Somewhere in my memory the figure of 8% of annual income is stirring around. But that seems so out of bounds, I wonder if it can possibly be true.

Rita -- Primary sources are available from the German Bishops Conference. It has issued a press release about its General Decree on leaving the Church with links to the Decree and the Pastoral Letter to the departing person. The law becomes effective Sept 24, 2012. It is explicit that a partial exit cannot occur. Trans: "It is not possible to separate a "spiritual community church" [from] the "institutional church." Only one exit from the "institution" is not possible." Except in the state of Bremen, the actual resignation is made before a civil authority. In Bremen, an ecclesiastical authority. A long list is quite specific about all that one may no longer have and do after leaving in addition to sacraments -- roles, functions, council memberships, votes, godparenthood, etc. The bishops are very serious about seeing that you don't get what you don't pay for.Carolyn -- 8-9% is the number I have consistently seen.

Consider the people in those countries of the world where they yield to pressure and find themselves publicly declaring that they are no longer Catholic, to avoid various penalties and various degrees of persecution, while still continuing to practice their faith in secret. Should they also be denied the sacraments?

From Reuters out of Germany:"Germans officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a religious tax of 8 or 9 percent of their annual tax bill. They can avoid this by declaring to their local tax office that they are leaving their faith community.That's more like it - it's a percent of one's annual tax bill, not gross income. Still, what a disastrous approach to financing churches.Gerelyn, i find it highly probable German bishops would withhold the sacraments in order to get more money. Put those laity in their place all right.I attended a day's workshop with Orsy; he is no one's fool.

Laity are going to have to do the Catholic burials anyway, I did the 'whole' thing, led vigil and graveside.. except for the Mass done at the usual weekday 9am Mass time for some of my relations. . the priest shortage is real. Bishop Tobin in Providence RI writes in a national column that he doesn't want family remembrances at the Mass.. except for the clergy and maybe the top 10% of the diocese. maybe extra fat checks will need to be slipped to the parish so that the 'kids' can say nice things about grandma after communion. .

David Gibson (4.56 pm}"There is also the physical aspect of donating money. I recently signed up for the greener automatic donation at my parish, but I still like to throw a few mites in the basket because I feel that action is so important.Well, actually I want my daughter to learn that its important, and above all I dont want my fellow parishioners to think Im a skinflint. So I wrap up the dollar bill really tight and pray theyll think its a $20"Many churches in England encourage regular Direct Debit payments from one's current account. This raises the matter of visible example. At an Anglican church where I worship most Sundays they have a system for DD contributors of taking a small ticket as they go in to the service which states that this represents their automatically mandated offering. This ticket is then put in the Offertory bowl. Those who do not contribute by DD can either put in open cash or take a small envelope into which they put their offering. If they are Income Tax-payers, they are encouraged to designate this as "Gift Aid" which necessitates providing personal details for the Inland Revenue who then repay the tax paid on that amount (25%) to the specific Church.Seems a good system to me. Anyone in desperately straightened circumstances could take an envelope and put in a few small coins without embarrassment. This system is not used in my Catholic church.Do German Christians who earn too little to pay Income Tax have to pay church tax on their benefit payments?

What a hell of a mess Germany is :-( Something strikes me as particularly unChristian about the bishops' move, but I am also always struck at Mass by the people who don't put anything in the basket too. The clergy has a real gripe there, it seems to me. (Is it any wonder Rand said the churches sacrificed justice to mercy?) And what about the patent fact that some of the people are officially taking themselves off the Church rolls. They aren't being by default for not paying up before -- they are choosing to remove themselves. Here, if a church continued to list a person who officially quit the church as a member of a church, I bet the church could be sued. Sure, the whole system of the government collecting dues, so to speak is a bad one, But I don't think starving my pastor out is a solution either. In justice, we do owe them a living.But what about the bishops who don't produce the priests we laity have a right to when there are priests available? Are they really outside of the Church because they don't do their duty? Is there such a thing as being rather Catholic? Somewhat? Mostly?

Oh my, I have no qualms at all passing the basket right by me without putting anything in. Whatever I have available goes to SNAP, VOTF and Bishop-Accountability.Perhaps one's skin thickens after being yelled at by church-goers defending complicit bishops.Sacrificing mightily for some years to give a five-figure amount (when that was even possible) and not receiving any thank-you acknowledgements from pastors helps too. I feel more than paid up. The sense of entitlement was remarkable.

"Sacrificing mightily for some years to give a five-figure amount (when that was even possible) and not receiving any thank-you acknowledgements from pastors helps too."I feel that way about my parish and archdiocesan donations too. Those are my largest church donations and they seem kind of taken for granted. My husband made a modest donation to SNAP and he received the acknowledgement letter with a little personalized note on it (I kept holding it up to different kids of light, trying to figure out if it was really handwritten or machine-generated made to look handwritten;I'm that unaccustomed to getting any real acknowledgement).And when the LCWR had their troubles, I made a donation and along with a thank you note, they sent me a really cool DVD about women religious in America.Maybe parishes and dioceses don't feel the need to say thanks because in a sense it's us supporting ourselves?

Just FYI, my post link to the full Reuters story, by Tom Heneghen, which you can read for more info. I simply gave an excerpt. Tom is a longtime religion writer who has lived in Europe for decades and speaks fluent German. I suspect his story is a pretty good account of what is going on, judging of what I can make from the link to the original German documents. But other sources are welcome. In any case, while I am in full solidarity with Rita's point about the unity with the institutional church, I still cannot get my head around using a state tax to determine whether one can have access to the sacraments. If you disagree with this taxation system -- which I well might if I lived there -- you cannot even conscientiously object without being deprived of the sacraments. How can that be just?

"My comment is based on the hypothesis that the person has renounced their membership in the Catholic Church. If its only a matter of not paying a tax, this is all out the window. So recall that I made this hypothesis depend on something other than the tax, which, frankly, is the only way that I can see them getting this past canon law. I was speaking of the situation in objective terms, in an effort to understand what might be going on. I really dont think its likely that the German bishops are selling the sacraments."Rita: You're also assuming that the German bishops wouldn't do anything like this without consulting canon lawyers. I wouldn't make that assumption. And I doubt any canonist worth his weight would agree that a Catholic's decision not to pay this tax was sufficient to warrant excommunication. The only offenses that bring about automatic excommunication are: apostasy, heresy, or entering into schism; profaning the Eucharist, physically attacking the pope; absolving an accomplice in the sin of adultery; consecrating a bishop illicitly; violating the seal of confession; and getting an abortion.I suppose a canonist might in desperationg make the argument that opting out of this tax amounts to apostasy, but that is ridiculous on its face.

Hi Grant,Let's clarify what is happening here. Your comment suggests that people go before a judge and say "I refuse to pay the church tax."But from what I've read here, that does not describe what happens.Rather, people go before a judge and make a formal statement that "I am no longer a member of the Catholic Church." In the way you've framed it, this statement "I am no longer a Catholic" seems not to exist, or to be unable to be taken seriously. Have I missed something here?Personally, I do think that if people go before a judge and renounce their membership in the Catholic Church, the Church ought to accept that, and not treat them like babies who didn't really mean it. Is it OK to lie about your faith in court, to obtain tax breaks? OK, then, let's say the person has spoken the truth. He or she is no longer a Catholic. What you are then proposing is that the sacraments and ministries of the Church which are normally limited to Catholics should be extended to all. That's a position that is possible to take. All that I am pointing out is that this doesn't square with Church teaching, and so one should not be surprised if the bishops don't embrace it.There are a lot of people who indeed want a church with no boundaries. A totally spiritual concept. No obligations either. That's a position that has been argued. Christ gave all for all, and the Church should have no outside or inside. Sacraments are for everyone at any time, no matter what. It's a point of view. It's just not the point of view upheld by the hierarchy. That's my point.I completely agree that contributions to church should be voluntary and not imposed by the state. The German system is in need of reform, as I see it. Yes, I would agree. But it will only be reformed if the faithful Catholics do not stand up in court to renounce their faith, but rather protest against the tax per se -- as some have done.

I think Catholics should do a better job of supporting our Church, but isn't this system a little like selling indulgences? Don't we frown on pay to play?

David G.You have put your finger on a key point here, I believe:"If you disagree with this taxation system which I well might if I lived there you cannot even conscientiously object without being deprived of the sacraments. How can that be just?"Conscientious objection should be allowed.

Irene, that's exactly my point about simony.Do you think that's what is happening?

Practical wisdom tailors the application of laws to fit individual circumstances. (Cf. Aristotle and Aquinas). How does this action of the German hierarchy allow for the exercise of practical wisdom?Pity the poor good pastors on the ground trying to explain all this to grieving people, to harried folk who don't have the time or training to parse the niceties of who is and who isn't worthy to go to confession, to receive the Anointing of the Sick, to have a Christian burial.And all this was approved by Rome?If nothing else, this action shows how deeply the remove (so-called elevation) of the hierarchy above the faithful has taken hold of some significant part of the hierarchy. And does Jesus not weep for His poor people?

Rita- I don't know the bishops' motivations just as I don't know the motives of the people who declared they were no longer Catholic for tax purposes. But I do think we can be generous when we decide whether our fellow Catholics have renounced their faith. Someone who publicly declares they are no longer Catholic simply because they don't want to pay that tax, if they still regularly attend mass and otherwise meet their Christian obligations, for me, they're still cCatholic. They're tax frauds, not apostates. And withholding the sacraments is not the way to get them back into the fold, I think. So, I guess the bishops' response just does not seem to be a very strategic way to address the problem that has them concerned.

An accurate translation of the Bishops Conference complete press release, Decree, and Pastoral letter (link at 9/22/12 12:35am), totalling a handful of pages, answers many questions raised above on actual background, rationale, specific canon laws, and process. The leaving of the Church in the circumstances under discussion is considered a grave offense against the Christian community. The Community obligation to uphold the Church is referred to Canon Laws 209 and 222. The circumstances are essentially dependent on German history and law (and constitution) and can't be compared with familiar US context. Recent events in Germany have included 100s of protesting German-speaking theologians, a Reform Catholic Week competing with the Church's official Catholic Week, alliance with the Austrian Pastor's Initiative next door, and heavy outflows of members. Desparate-appearing action by the bishops would not be surprising in their situation.

Jack- your 9/21 link takes me to a German press release. When I go to the English part of the site, I can't seem to find the press release.

Bernard D. -- Re "approved by Rome": The Bishops Conference press release says the material was approved by them. The German word for what the Congregation for the Bishops did next is "rekognosziert". That deserves a knowledgable, nuanced translation, beyond my capacity, of what precisely it means and implies in terms of the Vatican view and the authority to be associated with the documents. Rita -- I am not aware of an English version from the Bishops Conference. The press release of interest is in German on their home page entitled "20.09.2012: ALLGEMEINES DEKRET DER DEUTSCHEN BISCHOFSKONFERENZ ZUM KIRCHENAUSTRITT" as well as at the link at 9/22/12 12:35am.

Many here have approached this decision of the bishops from the American perspective which accepts as normative clear lines between affairs of church and state. The same people, no doubt, would be shocked to learn that in many countries, including those in which faith practice may be minimal, the state pays clergy, permits religious teaching in schools, and assists in paying upkeep of churches. These funds come from taxes which many people approve to one extent or another. In Germany, you can get out from under this burden by renouncing your membership in the church. It's very straightforward and needn't arouse the kind of animus towards the bishops shown here. I happen to be a priest. If I renounce my membership in the church I won't be looking for sacraments--unless I repent of my renunciation. The bishops action is, no doubt, aimed at discouraging the faithful from taking this renunciation of membership lightly. As we know, German priests will continue to dispense communion to whoever says "amen" in response to "the Body of Christ".

Apologies. Note at 1:25pm meant for Irene, not Rita.

Canon law doesnt recognize someone to have left Catholicism unless they publically repudiate the faith (as Jehovahs Witnesses must, in writing, for example).My recollection is that that was changed under Benedict so that there is no longer any procedure for leaving the church - because of the complications that created in evaluating the validity of marriages. I am still in Europe so I can't give a citation right now. I think the bishops would have to argue that by exempting themselves from the church tax people have incurred the censure of excommunication, but I don't know where that would be found in Canon Law.

I have no problem with the government collecting taxes and then giving the proceeds to churches. They do similar with Catholic schools in the province of Ontario. Catholic schools are publicly funded and we can select which board we wish to support and taxation is allocated accordingly. BTW, you pay education taxes whether you have children in school or not.We almost sent our daughter to a public high school as there was a program that was available at the public board that was not available at the Catholic board.If we opted for this, that would not imply that I was not supporting the Catholic church or Catholic education necessarily. So, my position is yes the government should offer this service (collecting VOLUNTARY taxes and providing these to the specific denomination.However, it is a stretch for the Bishops to assume that because someone does not exercise this option, that is tantamount to renouncing the faith. It smacks of simony and we all know where Dante placed this sin.

John Hayes -- Benedict XVI's Motu Proprio Omnium in Mentem (26 Oct 2009) deleted several Code references to leaving by a formal act because of theological and canonical difficulties in defining it in practice, quite specifically with respect to marriages. Might the present case get more complicated since the formal act of leaving is purely a civil matter carried out under civil law before civil authority (except in Bremen)? Sounds like meat for more law suits like the ones mentioned above.

"One cannot be much of a Christian in any meaningful sense without being in a worshiping community. "So much for anchorites, stylites ( and reclusive hermits, I guess.

"But I do think we can be generous when we decide whether our fellow Catholics have renounced their faith."Irene, the decision is not ours to make, generously or not. People are standing up before judges and saying it themselves. Jack Feehily has it just right:The bishops action is, no doubt, aimed at discouraging the faithful from taking this renunciation of membership lightly. As we know, German priests will continue to dispense communion to whoever says amen in response to the Body of Christ.

Jack Barry, thank you for the references.

Who "owns" the sacraments? The Church qua People of God? The Church qua clergy? I guess the ones that call the shots assume sole proprietorship, i.e., sacramental corporate sole.Note that I said "sole," not soul.

"My recollection is that that was changed under Benedict so that there is no longer any procedure for leaving the church."Oh, so the church (the clergy) decides how -- if? -- one can leave the church. Really? I guess that is consistent with the idea of infant baptism: someone else decides that you will be a Catholic. Not your choice. So someone else decides if and how you can leave the church. Not your choice.This church is becoming more peculiar by the moment. No wonder so many walk away shaking their heads.

Your son or grandson will come around, David. If you lived in Germany, you'd be on board.

The German bishops are simply following the example of Jesus, who never did anything for anybody until they payed up front. As when he healed the leper: "That'll be twenty dollars, please."

The German Bishops Conference issues a 40-page annual report which gives a view of their church's failing state. The 2010 edition in available in English: "Facts and Figures 2010/2011". Comparison of page 20 in reports on 2010 and 2011 shows nearly all numbers of health decreasing except for the number of those leaving. 2011 was among the highest for departures since 2000 except for the +50% spike in 2010, triggered by abuse disclosures, noted in the Heneghan quote above. One out of eight attends religious services. Burials amount to 1% of the total and are 50% greater than Baptisms. In 2010, the number of Renunciations was 16 times the total of Renewals/Returns and New Members. The church tax discussion ought to be put into context, which is sad.

As we know, German priests will continue to dispense communion to whoever says amen in response to the Body of Christ.I don't know that, and in fact, it is the heart of the matter, isn't it?Where did you see that bishops are not including the Eucharist among the sacraments from which people will be excluded?

A very detailed discussion of church tax is provided by the Conference in German. It stems from the post-Napoleonic era and the well-known Reichsdeputationshauptschluss. It is "enshrined in the Constitution". It differs from other taxes, here and there. The Conference says the church is predominantly funded by the church tax. The money is contributed by church members for their particular church, identified when they register. The mechanism of collection is via the state income tax process, which transmits to a church the money received on its behalf. This saves the church the cost of setting up its own collection process and also gives it a precise census. For the church, the church tax income is predictable compared to the uncertainty of donations. The scheme is fair because one's church tax is scaled to one's income tax (9% of the latter in most states). The recent Decree includes Canon Law as part of its rationale. "Can. 222 1. The Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for the works of the apostolate and of charity, and for the decent support of ministers" Notwithstanding the firm church and state legal foundations, the impression remains that the latest Decree obliges people to pay the church tax if they want sacraments, etc. The absence of the word "excommunication" in the Decree has been noted, but the new legal consequences of leaving appear to be very similar. Connections to the New Evangelization are obscure.

Rita and John W. Feehily have it right. This is not about the tax, to which one may reasonably object. This is about the condition for being exempted from the tax namely, that one publicly renounce one's membership in the church. If one's motive for such renunciation is what it ought to be, then the question of whether one will still be allowed to receive the sacraments won't come up: quitting the church means quitting the sacraments. If one's motive is to protest against a system that uses the power of the state to compel material support for one's religious community, then one should refuse to pay the tax while also refusing to renounce one's membership in the church. This pair of refusals may lead to penalties, which one should accept, even as one campaigns against the system. If one's motive is simply to save some money by taking advantage of a legal loophole, then one misunderstands the meaning and importance of a public statement. Martyrs have gone to their deaths because they wouldn't sign a formal renunciation of the church. You're going to offer one to save a little money?

Money is the mother's milk of organizational Catholicism. The ONLY effective protest that the laity have is to withhold their money. In Germany and Austria, one must officially resign from the church in order to get out of the church tax. Ergo ....Thank goodness we in the US don't have to do that. We can just withhold our contributions at will and direct them somewhere where they will not feed the beast, i.e., Catholic Charities, Catholic schools, St VdeP, collections for Sisters' retirement, and on and on and on.If the truth be known, a large number of Catholics are doing just that. Wait until Cordileone is enthroned in San Francisco to see a noticeable decrease in parish contribution and, in particular, to the Archdiocesan Annual Appeal. My parish has refused to contribute to the AAA for about 15 years because of the way the California Catholic Bishops have supported such things as Proposition 8 and earlier untoward initiatives. We have negotiated a deal to make a direct contribution to Catholic schools of our choice. That's the ONLY way the money will leave parishioners wallets at AAA time.

Maybe this is a picture of the Germans (and Austrians) celebrating being no longer subject to the church tax:

Claire -- In the General Decree of the Bishops Conference, the first of a long list of sanctions against a resigned person specifies that sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and Confirmation, the Annointing of the Sick - except in danger of death - may not be received. There may be an argument to be made about whether "may" means "must" or "should". Other sanctions say "can not". Your question at 9/23/12 1102am assumes agreement betweens priests in practice and bishops. That has certainly not been going on in Austria, and, I believe, Germany with respect to communion for remarried divorced. There's no reason to expect this new development to induce any closer cooperation. John Feehily's conclusion reflects practice already established to some extent in the face of unaccepted rules.

Actually, in 2009 Pope Benedict XVI changed canon law to excise the language about a Catholic removing himself from the church by formal act. Read all about it: canon lawyer I corresponded with believes the canon regarding simony indeed applies.

Jack = =About the priests and this development == i told my pastor about it yesterday. He was shocked. I can't imagine his refusing the Sacraments. That's what he seems to live for, God bless him.We need some new theology about the practices surrounding the Sacraments. The old venial/moral sin dichotomy is part of the problem, I think. In the case of the German bishops v. the German Catholics, there seems to be right and wrong on both sides. Or maybe both sides are caught in morally impossible situations, i.e., situations for which there is no good solution. in which both action and inaction would be wrong.

Anthony, I'm familiar with your arguments offered 9/21 @ 8:30 pm:+ "One cannot be much of a Christian in any meaningful sense without being in a Christian community. Sorry. It just doesn't work."Oh, but it *does* work: I no longer support a self-serving hierarchy running roughshod over Vatican II and refusing to be transparent in its behavior and accountable to the rest of us. One can only hope the days of mandated "pray, pay, obey" are drawing to a close. "Meaningful sense"? Jesus, I recall, had followers, but he didn't set up any institution with laws, official ministries, etc. Simply put, I find no meaning in the institution as operating today. Yes, it would be nice to belong to a "Christian community", but I was raised in the Catholic tradition, and I can only hope that someday an inclusive Catholic community will open in my area (women presbyters would be a plus in Louisville, KY).+ "We all want a perfect church..."Speak for yourself, Anthony. I want a *functional* church that values the gospel example of Jesus. + "But a solitary Christian is an oxymoron."Tell that to a Catholic prisoner isolated in a totalitarian prison cell. See also Jim McCrea's comment posted 9/22 at 4:47 pm.+ "And for someone who has gone 'nowhere', I have rarely seen someone more interested in the insider basefall politics of the Catholic Church than you..."I got the "nowhere" phraseology, if I recall, from a NCROnline editorial. (I want to make clear that I did not suggest this phraseology to the writer who apparently had plenty of other examples justifying its use.) Yes, I'm very much interested in the church in which I was baptized in 1948. I'm open about my situation, but I know there are plenty of other Catholic bloggers who fit my particulars but have not publicly said so. If I did not care about the deplorable state of the Church of Rome, you would not be familiar with my name.+ "You can't call yourself a Catholic in any meaningful...way..."This statement is pure crap.+ "I know these words may sound harsh..."No, they sound misinformed about adult Catholics who do not necessarily share your point of view, Anthony.

Jack: I see. German Catholics who don't want to pay church tax sign a form saying that they are leaving the church, but they don't really mean it. Bishops answer by a decree saying that they are excluded from the sacraments, but they don't really mean it either. Those who take those words seriously are shocked (the ones by the people seemingly renouncing their faith, the others by the bishops seemingly practicing simony), but in fact, it's all one and the same: purely pro forma announcements. So the excommunication belongs to the same unreality as the renouncement of the faith.Actually, that makes a lot of sense in a weird way. There is even a certain psychological justice to that unreal drama.In the US, of course, the meanings would be quite different...

I have some sympathy for Catholics who don't want to financially support their diocese if they don't like how the diocese is spending the money. And I also have some sympathy for people who feel they would rather not be subject to government sanctions if they refuse to pay the Church tax. So I would be okay with someone who states in writing for tax purposes that they are no longer Catholic (or to put it more harshly "renounces their religion"), as long as they continue to go to Mass and they financially support Catholic religious organizations to the best of their ability. Yes, it's dishonest of them to lie about their status, but I don't see why it should be required that people should suffer somehow if they refuse to pay this tax. (I'm starting to sound like a tea partier).A better use of the leadership's time would be to take away the reason why people don't want to contribute rather than punish them for failing to do so.

At the rate this aufregung (brouhaha) is going, lying to a tax clerk looks likely to catch the attention of the Graviora Delicta Committee. That is especially unfortunate at a time when taxing the exempt Roman Catholic Church is being proposed enthusiastically in Spain, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe. A wise, shrewd bishop would stay very far away from anything relatable in any imaginable way to taxes this year.

It's easy for us to pull to pieces Germany's church system (even if it works for them). Compared to the American church, the German Catholic Church is full of blemishes and for that reason we need NOT be distrustful of our evaluation and review. We're the best! Besides, our church's episcopal and diocesan ladders are the only ladders high enough to touch heaven's vestibule. Lucky we American Catholics! We have all the answers and know what's best for the global church! (And heaven forbid, if German Catholics critique American Catholics and their church, not only in point of honesty, but in point of ability.)

James Chichetto: I hardly think the American way is the answer to all problems, inside or outside the church, and Germany and Europe have traditions that are useful and noteworthy.But this one clearly does not "work for them."Moreover, it apparently violates canon law and sacramental theology by making an arbitrary payment a condition for receiving the sacraments. I haven't heard a response yet to those objections.

This is a perfect example of the arbitrariness of canon "law":. Canon law did not stipulate that "i refuse to pay my religion tax" shall mean in Vaticanese "I renounce the Faith". And yet the German bishops -- without any prior warning, with absolutely no promulgation of the "law" prior to their own action! -- felt free to excommunicate hundreds of thousands of people tout court. The traditional teaching of the Church has been that a law must be promulgated for it to be a law at all. Obviously, this does not apply to canon :law".

"German Catholics who dont want to pay church tax sign a form saying that they are leaving the church, but they dont really mean it. Bishops answer by a decree saying that they are excluded from the sacraments, but they dont really mean it either."As we've discussed here many times, the communion ministers don't know who is in communion and who isn't. It's the responsibility of the person presenting herself to do the right thing. I expect that a person who formally and publicly announces, "I am not in communion with the Catholic Church", whether as a tax avoidance strategy or for any other reason, and then presents himself for communion, while understanding the church's discipline around this, is committing a serious sin.

Multiple issues are intertwined, probably inextricably. Central Europe has a long tradition of dramatic religious conflict. Considering the present state and dynamics of the Catholic Church in Germany, this looks like just one more. The German bishops may have reduced a conflict with the Vatican. Their lead-footed Decree appears unlikely to help in countering their continually shrinking membership and funding. Some details have been reported in Die Welt. This topic has involved a conflict between German bishops and the Vatican for years. The German bishops' particular law had been viewed as in conflict with Church Universal Law. The Zapp case Claire (9/21 5:58pm) and Joseph O'Leary mention (9/21/12 ~6pm) was one trigger. The present German General Decree is seen as an attempt at internal compromise. Its success is questioned. Recent Vatican participants reported included not only the Cong. for the Bishops noted in the Conference press release but also CDF, Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and the Pope. At issue there appears to be the church-appropriate consequences of a civil bureaucratic act of stating one's religious affiliation to German civil tax collection authorities, who calculate and collect the church's "church tax" funds for the church. The bishops' reasons for liking the system were noted at 9/23/12 12:03pm. The General Decree declares the absolute inseparability of spiritual church and institutional church (which includes Canon-law-mandated payment). You're on, Ann O. The omission of explicit "excommunication" in the Decree and imposition of (church) "legal consequences" instead is seen as a reflection of the church internal compromise. So is the new requirement for a Pastoral Letter to a resigning individual, which specifies the long list of sanctions and invites an interview for clarification and possible reversal of the resignation. No end is visible.

Matthew - precisely.

Some German views on the General Decree are available in a scathing 9/24 press release from We are Church Germany. A few highlights are reported in HuffPost. Among many questions and comments, the release makes the claim that formal departure is often not done because of deep questions of faith. Rather, it is because of church morals such as decades of coverup of the abuse scandal and structural issues such as mandatory celibacy and women's issues, for examples. legitimacy and interpretation of the Decree are questioned. Issues go beyond access to sacraments to include such matters as automatic termination of divorced and remarried employees. A core problem mentioned, as in most Austrian and German reform-oriented statements I have seen, is the critical shortage of priests, the overloading of those that remain, and the resulting unavailability of sacraments and pastoral services to the Faithful. The new Decree adds to priests tasks by requiring the Pastoral Letter to be sent to departing people and an interview and followup if necessary.

All I know about the General Decree I've learned from Jack Berry's comments.For present purposes, let's assume that his comments are correct and present the core of the Genreal Decree.Here's one reaction. I take it that the Church exists to be a sacramental sign of God's unconditional love for us. I ask: How does this General Decree contribute to the fulfillment of the Church's fundamental reason for being? So far as I can see, it is antithetical to that objective. Please do not tell me about the provisions of canon law. As Ann has pointed out, there are tons of problems with thinking of canon law and the way it is established and modified as meeting any reasonable requirements of properly established and administered law. Nor am I persuaded that resisting the terms of this General Decree clearly constitute grounds for classifying them as serious sins. Jack Berry's 9/24/12 7:10 pm post show why such talk is irresponsible.

I can't imagine any bishops anywhere talking to Jews, Lutherans or other Protestants, or Muslims or the SSPXers, the way the German bishops, backed by Rome, are talking to the German people.

I wonder whose idea this was. Doesn't sound like Cardinal Schoenborn, though they seem to be among those who approved of the law. Which German bishop(s) thought this up? Was this submitted for approval to the new head of the CDF?

Oops -- should be -- "though he seems to be among those who approved of the law".

"I can't imagine...."I am sure there is more to this than meets the eye. Church leaders might see the sacraments and other spiritual benefits as compensation for taxation or tithing. This line of reasoning is somehwere in their thinking, their theology, their customs. (In an atheistic state like former E. Germany, however, the equivalent for sacraments [no sacaraments] was no church taxation.) Also, if taxes weren't laid by the church, the church might not be able to discharge her obligations (in a vast network of charities, schools, etc.). I am sure they have their own way of defining their terms and adhering to their definitions when talking about the above, something we don't/can't share with them owing to our different cultures, tax policies, customs, tarditions. On top of that is the legal basis for this habit (daing back to German Basic Law) which is historically rooted in pre-Christian Germanic practice. In all this I am sure there are at least three or four sides that can conceivivably be taken (including the side taken by some Jewish congregations that choose to collect taxes themselves to save collection fees that the gov. would charge otherwise.) According to one site, the tax would amount to 800 euros a year for a person making 50,000 euros. (The church tax is 8% of the income-tax of 20%, thus 10,000 euros of 50,000. 8% of 10,000 euros is 800 euros a year -- for the church.) That is less than a hundred euros a month for the church.)

Ann O. -- This problem is limited to the German church, German Conference of Bishops, and Vatican. Cardinal Schoenborn, Archbishop of Vienna, is burdened with the Austrian problem du jour, which is more complicated. Cdl. Gerhard Ludwig Mller, prefect of CDF since July, is past bishop of Regensburg and should be intimately familiar with the German situation. He is particularly remembered for having dismissed German reform groups as "parasitic elements". The question of who played what roles in the Vatican over time and had "competence", here meaning official interest and authority, is being raised by some critics. (A sign of smart PR -- The We are Church 9/24 press release is almost all in German, naturally enough. Strangely, the first three words of its title are in English: "Pay and pray! Neither "pay" nor "pray" appears in my German dictionary. Whose attention do you suppose they wanted to get?)

Rita, I thought I had posted a reply to your comments of 09/21 @ 7:46 pm. If I did, perhaps my reply was lost in the etherzone. Anyway...Many years ago, my cathedral pastor distinguised between the faith and the church. He likened the faith to a precious crown jewel, and the church to a musty old container ever in need of renewal. The bishops can pronounce all they wish about "the Catholic faith [being] integrally joined to the Church's hierarchy and institutions", but the reality is anything but. We have genuine Catholics in other Catholic communities and communions, e.g., the Old Catholic Church, the Polish National Catholic Church, etc. who are in schism with Rome but nonetheless profess the Catholic faith taught in Roman Catholic institutions. The danger today appears to be "creeping infallibility", i.e., the view that every utterance from pope and/or curia is infallible doctrine. Catholics holding such an approach believe that dissent from any such pronouncement is heresy or even, worse, apostasy. Such Catholics also conflate *discipline* with *doctrine*, e.g., the matter of women's ordination. JPII did nothing to discourage this tendency, and B16 seems to be following in his predecessor's footsteps.I describe myself as "Catholic in faith, no longer Roman by affiliation". As far as I am concerned, by notifying my pastor in writing of my decision to leave the Church but not renounce my basic Catholic faith, I am in de facto schism but not a heretic or apostate. I think --- now especially --- we need to keep in mind the critical distinction between faith and church.

About the laity trying to separate itself from "the institutional Church":The more I read about the Curia and its de facto place in governing the Church, the clearer it becomes that the Curial bureaucracy -- contrary to Church teaching -- considers itself to possess the authority of the whole hierarchy, even as it relegates the non-curial bishops to the status of altar boys, as one American bishop once put it. And what a gigantic heresy that is!!We as members of the Church should not, indeed cannot separate ourselves from the bishops, but the Curia is not the hierarchy. What a pity that Vatican II didn't get to consider the status of the Curia within the Church.

Would it not be wonderful if the USCCB instructed the Curia to "go take a flyin' leap"???For now, money talks.Catholics still in the fold must make its absence talk louder.

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