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Not so quiet on the German front

The German bishops begin their fall meeting today with the "pay-to-pray" church tax controversy to be high on the agenda.Tom Heneghan of Reuters has an update, noting that the hierarchy has done at least one good thing with the move: it has unified left and right in the church:

Liberal and conservative Roman Catholic activists in Germany criticised a decree that came into effect on Monday to deny sacraments and religious burials to people who opt out of a church tax.The German bishops issued the decree last week warning Catholics who stop paying the tax they would be excluded from all religious activities, also including working in a church job, becoming a godparent or taking part in parish activities.Pay and pray is a completely wrong signal at the wrong time, the reformist movement We Are Church said on Monday. The decree shows the great fear of the German bishops and the Vatican about further serious losses in church tax revenue.A conservative group called the Union of Associations Loyal to the Pope asked why Catholics who stop paying the tax would be punished but those it called heretics could stay in its ranks.So sacraments are for sale whoever pays the church tax can receive the sacraments, it said in a statement, saying the link the decree created goes beyond the sale of indulgences that (Martin) Luther denounced at the start of the Reformation.

Heneghan goes on to provide more details about the background and the stakes in this debate:

The German bishops had long told Catholics they would be excommunicated from the Church if they officially declared they were leaving it.But the Vatican ruled in 2006 that a simple declaration to a tax office that one was leaving the Church was not enough to justify excommunication, Romes stiffest punishment. The church leaver must also declare this to a priest, it said.That prompted retired canon law professor Hartmut Zapp to file a legal case against the German Church, saying it could not excommunicate him for leaving simply to avoid paying the tax if the Vatican did not agree he deserved that punishment.After contradictory lower court rulings, Zapps case will go on Wednesday before the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. A ruling in his favour could throw into doubt Germanys whole church tax system, which was introduced in the 19th century.The bishops decree, described as excommunication lite by the German media, could however undercut Zapps case because the exclusions it listed were not described as a formal excommunication.

A fine mess, seems to me.UPDATE: Via CNS, the leader of the German hierarchy explains and defends as the bishops start their fall meeting:

"There must be consequences for people who distance themselves from the church by a public act," said Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, conference president, in defending the Sept. 20 decree."Clearly, someone withdrawing from the church can no longer take advantage of the system like someone who remains a member," he said at a Sept. 24 news conference as the bishops began a four-day meeting in Fulda. "We are grateful Rome has given completely clear approval to our stance."The archbishop said each departure was "painful for the church," adding that bishops feared many Catholics were unaware of the consequences and would be "open to other solutions.""The Catholic church is committed to seeking out every lost person," said Archbishop Zollitsch, whose remarks were reported by Germany's Die Welt daily."At issue, however, is the credibility of the church's sacramental nature. One cannot be half a member or only partly a member. Either one belongs and commits, or one renounces this," Archbishop Zollitsch said.

I dunno. This talk of "taking advantage of the system" doesn't strike me as ecclesiologically sound, and we are still talking about an arbitrary financial contribution as the trip wire for being in communion, or not.Moreover, Joseph Ratzinger himself has spoken at several points (I believe citing Augustine) of the church being made up of members who have varying degrees of involvement in the life of the church but who remain members nonetheless. Ratzinger's German confreres seem to be focusing on an either/or, "in-or-you're-out" model.

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I don't think funerals should be withheld. Funerals and burials are for the survivors; the departed probably doesn't care much one way or the other. If I were a priest, I would give a church funeral to anyone who was even nominally, tenuously Catholic if a devout family member requested it.

Agree, Irene!If a family wants a Catholic funeral, burial, requiem mass, etc. for a member, the Church should provide it. Hoods, mobsters, mafiosi, etc. are buried by the Church without question. Now they balk at burying tax resisters? And what about the indelible marks left by the sacraments of baptism and confirmation? Do the new teachings mean a person who opts out of paying religion taxes gets those marks expunged/eradicated?

My questions:If all religions in this country lost their exemptions from taxes, how much revenue would our government realize?If that amount were distributed to all taxpayers, how many Americans would gladly accept their share?

Interesting reminiscence of Vatican Council II by Robert Nogosek, who was present in Rome, in which he says "Dei Verbum places the reform of the church under the person and message of Jesus Christ, proclaimed to be the object of faith to be nourished by the proclamation of Gods word. Jesus is the divine self-disclosure to the human family, recorded in the sacred scriptures and now presented as the table of the word alongside the table of the Eucharist. Dei Verbum accorded with Lumen gentiums recognition that membership in the church follows from valid baptism, rather than from communion with papal authority."http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=13593Doesn't seem to match up with bishops telling Catholics that they are excluded from church life if they don't pay.

Granted, the whole German church tax system seems odd to Americans, and probably seems odd even to Europeans in this day and age. But, having said that, I can't understand how someone can say, "I quit, I'm gone, I'm outta here, goodbye forever, but if you excommunicate me you will do me an injustice and hurt my feelings."Like most Catholic parishes, mine hosts funerals in which momma is laid to rest by children who haven't set foot inside a Catholic church since their Confirmation. We do funerals very well, and usually they stop playing with their phones and start paying attention even before the homily, although it is odd to see the sobbing bereaved hit the phone for their messages even as momma is being rolled down the aisle for the last time. When it's all over, they thank everyone in sight graciously and say momma would have been happy. But usually they can't forebear adding that they are beyond all of this foolishness themselves. Now as the parishioner who paid for all the trappings that went into their beautiful farewell to momma, I find that last jab annoying. If I were a bishop, hearing it all the time, I'd be sore tempted to excommunicate someone. I probably wouldn't be able to resist the temptation, actually.

This is certainly not "thinking with the church", but rather thinking by the hierarchy. And isn't money most important to them? Can we agree that they are the Scribes and Pharisees? Meanwhile the people in Spain, of all countries, go seeking garbage to eat. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/world/europe/hunger-on-the-rise-in-spa... the Cathedral of Seville stands as a 'symbol of ...."http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archbishop's_Palace,_Seville

"I dont think funerals should be withheld. Funerals and burials are for the survivors"Irene, I agree that funerals shouldn't be withheld. You're right that they're for the survivors; they're also for the deceased, as it provides an opportunity for the rest of us to pray for her. If that person has severed the connection with the church, that seems to be an even stronger reason to pray for her.

"What is past is prologue."Watch for some modern day Martin Luther to nail new theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. [This time it is more likely to happen on the internet or Facebook!] It is astonishing that Roman hierarchs are back to essentially selling indulgences. I guess, old habits die hard?!?I believe we may have reached the point of driving the moneychangers from the temple precincts because once again the hierarchs have made God's house a den of thieves. Maybe this will be the spark that ignites a fire of reform and renewal that will spread across the western church? Maybe this time hierarchs will only serve to immolate themselves and not incite tribal and regional conflict? Maybe this time Christians can do this reform without the bloody carnage of centuries of religious wars?It seems to Me that this latest gambit by hierarchs to ensure their "revenue stream" soundS like something we'd expect from the mullahs and Taliban, not coming from the supposed apostles of the Prince of Peace?

Before we congratulate ourselves too much on our superior American system, we should remember that the American Church is increasingly beholden to big donors whose interests run mostly with conservative, even reactionary causes. Be careful what you wish for. If the German system were to disappear overnight, with the general public being totally unaccustomed to filling the collection plate by choice, three guesses who is going to fill the gap, during a recession. Consider the Union of Associations Loyal to the Pope who have complained above that "heretics" are staying in the ranks by paying the tax. Want to strengthen their hand? The German bishops have actually had some independence from Rome and some more guts to assert it than the American bishops have in recent years.

"Dei Verbum accorded with Lumen gentiums recognition that membership in the church follows from valid baptism, rather than from communion with papal authority."I don't believe this gives the full picture of reality, though. Baptism is a sacrament of initiation, but it does not encompass the whole of Christian discipleship, nor the whole of sacramental life. Supporting the church, in some way, shape or form - and in my view, it doesn't even need to be monetary; stewardship is richer than that - is a part of discipleship.

The German bishops sent back the Roman-revised funeral rites as "unusable" and they are being rewritten. American bishops would never have done such a thing.The German bishops protested against changing the words of the Missal to say that Christ died for many, rather than for all. They were told no by the Pope, but at least they stood up and protested. The Americans rolled over and played dead. The German bishops are not beating down hard on We Are Church, they are not censuring the theologians who signed the public petition in favor of progressive causes in the Church. I bring all this up because I think people are demonizing them here. The reality is much more complex.

Rita --You're right about the German bishops. Some have recently shown some courage in asserting their own proper authority and in being able to tolerate some criticism. In the U. S. this week one bishop actually said publicly that he thinks it's perhaps time for the ordination of women deacons. So maybe the times are changing even within the bishops' old boy club. So I should stop complaining about "the bishops" as if they're just one big homogeneous mass of toadies. Their opinions are starting to vary, and a few have even started to voice dissenting views, so there is a glimmer of hope for reform.But the German bishops behind this latest initiative seem unaware that the laity has some things that need to be listened to. It's time for those bishops to make common cause with the laity, not alienate them. The struggle with Rome is just beginning (as I see it, anyway).

Rita makes an excellent point. While Germany is Europe's wealthiest Catholic Church there are 25 million Catholics compared to the 75 million Catholics in the US. The numbers make up the difference money wise for the US church. As for the independence of the German bishops it may have to do more with the declining number of Catholics in Europe which keeps the European bishops on their toes. The American Catholic church is declining. Witness all those Indian and African priests making up for the unwillingness of American Catholics to join those ranks. The reason the Catholic bishops feel more secure is that religions are outwardly respected more in the US. As far as I am concerned that just means that there are more hypocrites in the US. Studies show that the morality of Catholics and Protestants are not in accordance with the gospel. Religion, at least in politics and in the media is still in. It will be interesting when that comes crashing down. Maybe the American bishops will become as humble as the German bishops. Perhaps wealthy Catholic Germans don't use the church to exert power the way American Catholics due because the Church does not have the cachet that the American church has. The American Catholics are pretty fed up. It will be interesting what wealthy conservative Catholics will do when it becomes clear that they are betting on the wrong horse. The power vacuum that might ensue will hopefully be filled by the gospel.

"I think they are demonizing them here."Rita, I would agree with you. It's like finding an excuse to judge Germany's bishops for what we haven't done, while pointing out something "much higher" which we presume they don't see.How smug! We Americans forget that funeral directors include church fees in the overall cost of a funeral and that pastors expect stipends for the use of a church building (for general upkeep, maintanence of buildings, grounds) and for cantors, musicians and an organist at a church wedding. Also, that pastors are currently deleting names of parishioners who haven't contributed or showed up in years, thus cutting the latter off from the benefits of church resources, both spiritual and social. Thus we have our own way of dealing with people who have little interest in supporting the operating expenses of their local parish.

"...German bishops...seem unaware that the laity...."I doubt that. They always pay attention to the Central Committee of German Catholics that has 12 million lay Catholics. The Committee's president, Alois Gluck, recently praised the progress on the way the bishops dealt with abuse. I am sure the bishops will hear from them on this issue, too, if they haven't already heard from them. (We have nothing like that in the States -- no Catholic lay organization that big and with so much clout.)

Rita -- There are demons on all sides depending on one's viewpoint. The missal may be of minor interest to most beyond the bishops and Pope since 7 out 8 German Catholics claimed by the bishops don't attend religious services. Warring petitions are on the street. The theologians' "Church 2011" is opposed by "Pro Ecclesia" calling on the bishops to preserve the traditional church. Individual bishops have made disruptive comments suggesting at least awareness of issues such as married priests, viri probati, communion for divorced and remarried, etc. (Eng.) http://www.memorandum-freiheit.de/?page_id=518 http://www.petition-pro-ecclesia.de/ Potential participants in a dialogue promised in 2010 claim the bishops have stonewalled, delaying and turning it into a one-way interview. http://www.wir-sind-kirche.de/index.php?id=128&id_entry=4110 News from Fulda this week should be of interest, whatever it may be.

Having attended Mass in German Catholic Churches, I would say the "collection" is a pretty nominal affair. If the tax system, which indeed seems an artifact of the 19th century, goes the relatively wealthy German church will have to rethink its mission, including a good amount of development work around the world. Ditto Protestant Churches. And I wonder about the Jewish and Muslim communities? Are they part of the tax system.

I'm sorry. At the risk, of sounding like someone complaining about moochers, I have to point out again that the Germans being denied Catholic sacraments have formally stated that THEY DON'T WANT TO BE CATHOLICS! If they don't want to drive an Opel, you can't force them to buy one. If they hate opera, nobody has to place a boom box under their window and play Wagner. So whose ox is being gored?

Tom Blackburn, they have actually only stated that they don't want to pay the church tax under this system. The ones in question still want to be Catholics. The question is whether that position on the law should disqualify them from the sacraments, and whether the secular government should be the mediator of who gets to be Catholic or not. As for the taxation system, it seems intemperate to suddenly remove it. Many would suffer from the loss of revenue. And the U.S. church isn't a very good model either, since Catholics contribute so little on their own. Developing a sustainable economic system in the church would seem to go hand in hand with developing a different culture in Catholicism, of participation. That's a long-range project. One irony with this dust-up is that is could well lead to a precipitous decline in the German church's fortunes, either by a huge backlash against the taxation system or by alienating so many Catholics who perceive a kind of sacramental extortion that they opt out of the system. Same result: no money for many good things.

Tom,Some clarity. Many of those who object to the tax are not leaving. They just want to make their own decisions as to how much they contribute.

Useful information, consistent with other sources, is in the U. of Mannheim Welcome Guide: http://www.uni-mannheim.de/welcomecentre/english/guidebook/taxation/chur... "An unusual feature of taxation in Germany is state collected "Kirchensteuer" (church tax). Under certain circumstances, churches can have their tax collected for them by the tax office. In the case of the major churches, church tax (roughly 9% of income tax) is collected by the state together with income tax and automatically deducted from your monthly salary. This is the reason why you are asked to state your religion when you register at the Residents' Registration Office."If you belong to the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Reformed Protestant Church, the Jewish Community or certain Protestant Free Churches you are required to pay church tax in Germany. This does not apply, however, if you belong to the Anglican Church or the Orthodox Church."Note "their tax". This is church money from the beginning, not state or federal. (Churches also get government subsidies for various activities as in the US, although the bishops say the church tax is the predominant funding.)

There are some of us who are profoundly Catholic who see a corrupt and blind clergy/hierarchy unwilling to look at the "sins" within-----and initiate any kind of meaningful reform. Why does the institutional Church exist if not to do God's will by facilitating each of our relationship with God. What leverage do we have other than our money to get the attention of the hierarchy, when the hierarchy refuses to do its job?

Germans used to have to tell the tax people they were no longer Catholics to be excused from the tax. That must have changed? From the story I can't tell whether the declaration is gone, or if the Vatican, being located in Italy, accepts the declaration as a lie people tell the tax collector and otherwise of no consequence.What are these folks doing about the fifth "Precept of the Church" (still in the Catechism) that says they have to "provide for the needs of the church?" Do they want a free ride. Or are they seeking an American-style voluntary system in which generosity is truly meritorious, since it's unforced, and cheapskates skate freely? I'd like that system better if it really gave the faithful some leverage, but long experience shows withholding provides temporary satisfaction to the withholder but no pressure on the chancery office.You don't have to look for your checkbook on Sunday morning if you pay a Kirchenstauer. That is a plus.

Is the gospel a free gift?The problem isn't this new symptom of what has always been an unchristian way of raising $. The Protestants do this in Germany too...you can't get married in the EKD w/o paying the tax. They need to separate the church from the state and go with voluntary contributions. Otherwise, we end up denying the sacraments from certain people who refuse to pay. That's like saying the church should deny grace from a sinner.

"Otherwise, we end up denying the sacraments from certain people who refuse to pay. Thats like saying the church should deny grace from a sinner." Yes. And bury the dead is one of our corporal works of mercy.

"...and go with voluntary contributions."Before unification, the East German Lutheran Church tried this. East Germans who stayed in the church made voluntary contributions which often far exceeded what the church tax would take. However, after unification and an additional tax (a "solidarity tax") was added to their income tax to finance unification, many opted out entirely. Today people think if it is all right to leave a spouse, why can't one leave the church.A few years ago, the Lutherans met in Wittenberg to discuss less than favorable demographic trends that could mean less state funding for church operations. The person who headed the church services division, Ties Gundlach, predicted that the worse sennario showed that the Protestant church's current membership of about 25 million could shrink to 17 million by 2030. Even with this dire prediction, however, they still opted to keep the tax system. Finally, I would tend to agree with Tom Blackburn: Germans being denied receiving sacraments have formally stated that they don't want to be Catholic. Very few opt out of the tax system and still want to remain Catholic.

Notice how much the "Sacraments" are talked about in this issue. Critics rightly term the "Church of the Sacraments" as problematic. As if the very reception makes you a disciple rather than the imitation of Christ's commands. Catholics know the sacraments more than they know the beatitudes which spell out the essential gospel. Somehow the sacraments can be reconciled with war and anger while the beatitudes not so easily. Indian and African priests come here on the money train to administer the sacraments while leaving the world's poorest in their own country. Why can't the Mafia be buried in the church when the hierarchy see the sacraments more as matter and form rather than discipleship.

I wonder about the Jewish and Muslim communities? Are they part of the tax system.

From wikipedia, Religion in Germany:

Since 1949 the German constitution guarantees freedom of faith and religion. It also states that no one may be discriminated against due to their faith or religious opinions. A state church does not exist in Germany.[17] Religious communities that are of considerable size and stability and are loyal to the constitution can be recognised as "Krperschaften ffentlichen Rechtes" (statutory corporation). This gives them certain privileges, for example being able to give religious instruction in state schools (as enshrined in the German constitution, though some states are exempt from this) and having membership fees collected (for a fee) by the German revenue department as Church tax. It is a surcharge amounting to between 8 or 9% of the income tax. The status mainly applies to the Roman Catholic Church, the mainline Protestant EKD, and Jewish communities. There have been numerous discussions of allowing other religious groups like Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims into this system as well. The Muslim efforts were hampered by the Muslims' own disorganised state in Germany, with many small rivalling organisations and no central leadership, which does not fit well into a legal frame that was originally created with well-organized, large Christian churches in mind.

A good reminder of how culturally different Germany and the rest of Europe are from the trans-Atlantic West.

Thanks, David Smith. That is helpful. A while ago, before his death, film producer and author, Alfred Kazin, noted that it is only those who have no culture and no belief in culture who resent differences among peoples and nations and the exploration of the human imagination and spirit. When I am in Germany, I think of that quote often (and how narrow-minded some American Catholics can get when critiquing other forms, customs, and expressions of global Catholicism). Fortunately, when I receive the Eucharist there (or celebrate Mass), I experience no differences. The Germans I met and know are very kind people.

Many serious and weighty arguments have been advanced on dotCom over the years in support of the redistribution of wealth, including that it is right and proper to use government as the instrument of that redistribution. It seems to me that what we're discussing in this topic is a somewhat analogous system in Germany, that uses the state's authority to force people to part with some of their wealth, whether they want to or not, to support a social good - in this case, a church. Thus we have the same mechanism - government-mandated taxes and transfer payments - in support of a somewhat what analogous social good. In this case the redistribution is to the people via the churches, rather than, say, to the people through block grants to states.If it is pointed out that the imperative to redistribute wealth has a biblical foundation - well, it could be pointed out that the imperative of disciples to support the Christian community also has a biblical foundation.It is noted here that at least some of those who repudiate Catholicism in Germany to avoid paying the tax do so because they have what they believe to be legitimate beefs with the authorities' misuse and abuse of their power, and they don't want to fund that misuse/abuse.In reply, it could be noted that some people in America object to paying taxes for equally principled reasons - that they object to what they view as the misuse/abuse of governmental authority, and they don't want to fund it. It seems to me that if one sympathizes with Germans who don't want their tax dollars to go to the hierarchy, one should also sympathize with Americans who don't want their tax dollars to bail out General Motors, or to fund Obamacare. It's pretty much the same principle at work.

What leverage do we have other than our money to get the attention of the hierarchy, when the hierarchy refuses to do its job?I think prayer is supposed to be the real leverage...

Jim Pauwels: I don't see this as the same principle at all, because it's not about the redistribution of wealth, or even money, but about what qualifies someone as a Catholic able to receive the sacraments. The church tax is the accident, so to speak.

James Chichetto, you keep taking offense on behalf of the Germans, but the criticism is not of the Germans, or Europeans, or German Catholics, or that Americans are somehow better. It's about using this tax system as a means to determine one's Catholic bona fides. That is new, I believe. I don't think that has been done before, or why would the bishops have issued their new policy?

David G. -- One reason for issuing the new policy may be referred to at the end of the Heneghan quote above. A feature widely noted in the new decree is its explicit reference to "legal consequences" of leaving and not "excommunication". These are church "legal", not state "legal" consequences, obviously, but the new term sounds civil and non-sectarian, while "excommunication" is unquestionably Catholic religious terminology. Many find the detailed list of specific consequences to be very similar, whichever title is used. The difference sounds like legalistic nitpicking, but it is apparently a part of the Vatican-bishops disagreement of recent years over appropriate punishment for leaving and might have significant implications in the Zapp civil appeal which starts tomorrow, as Tom Heneghan notes. (Wikipeida - Freedom of Religion in Germany - still says (9/25 10PM) "The Conference of the German Bishops, however, considers the declaration to "leave the church" to be a schismatic act to be punished automatically by excommunication. Note also that it is the church's status as a corporate body under public law that gives it the right to collect (via the state tax administrative system) its own church tax. Parallels to the US tax systems are misleading.)

"It seems to me that if one sympathizes with Germans who dont want their tax dollars to go to the hierarchy, one should also sympathize with Americans who dont want their tax dollars to bail out General Motors, or to fund Obamacare. Its pretty much the same principle at work."One could sympathize, but the solution is for the government to go after the tax evaders in both cases, not for the rest of us to tell them they can no longer drink the water, use the roads or receive the sacraments.

"It seems to me that if one sympathizes with Germans who dont want their tax dollars to go to the hierarchy, one should also sympathize with Americans who dont want their tax dollars to bail out General Motors, or to fund Obamacare. Its pretty much the same principle at work."Same principle with different credibility. As far as we know General Motors was a success story. Health care is a matter of justice. On the other hand the RCC does not give a good accounting of its funds. Many say the financial scandal is the nest big blowup. That will come with greater transparency or someone inside having a conscience moment.

"...as a means to determine one's Catholic bona fides."David Gibson, German Catholic leaders are simply digging a deeper well (via the tax system) before their current charities are thirsty. Possibly (when referring to taxes) they are also alluding to generosity, rendering to God through the church, almsgiving, charity as a means to determine one's Catholic bona fides. Such taxing supposes a certain faith and religious disposition of the giver. One thinks of Our Lord paying the temple tax in Mt. 18. My original point, however, was let the German church deal with its own customs, traditions, and support system. I am sure it has thought long and hard (without our American advice) about "the means to determine one's Catholic bona fides" through generosity and charity.

I read somewhere that the Vatican resisted the German bishops' policy until recently but that they have now won Vatican support, hence their new determination.

A "spiritual cudgel" ? Really? The best example of an oxymoron I've ever seen. In this spiritually diseased world, souls have become property, pederasts guide the way to salvation (all of a sudden, they're "only human"), and "God" and "faith" are reduced to labels. Sick and pathetic.

The German Bishops Conference offers a detailed 10 pages on "Church Financing" which poses and answers about 30 excellent questions ranging from church-state relations through church tax to how funds are used. http://www.dbk.de/themen/kirchenfinanzierung/ Highly recommended if you can read or translate the German. Given its scope, density of detail, and size, it does not invite easy summary. Combining it with the General Decree and Pastoral Letter available through the Conference press release shows that the bishops have a very thoroughly argued case, embedded in civil and church law, which addresses church roles, activities, and alternatives (e.g., "Why does not the church tax [go] directly to the communities?") http://www.dbk.de/presse/details/?presseid=2168&cHash=39c11c115b880e0470... Widely/wildly proliferating news articles focussing on a few headline items do not adequately describe what needs to be the starting point for relevant discussion of counterarguments. The air of desperation that seems to underlie current bishops' activity is better understood from a look at Church Statistics (in English!). http://www.dbk.de/fileadmin/redaktion/Zahlen%20und%20Fakten/Kirchliche%2...

"the solution is for the government to go after the tax evaders in both cases"I agree this is what logic would dictate.

"Jim Pauwels: I dont see this as the same principle at all, because its not about the redistribution of wealth, or even money, but about what qualifies someone as a Catholic able to receive the sacraments. The church tax is the accident, so to speak."David, I'm given to understand from what I'm reading here that the tax revenues flowing to the German church are a big deal for the German bishops. No?Catholics should be considered by the church as "qualified" to receive the sacraments unless and until they do something to disqualify themselves. Publicly and formally severing their membership in the church certainly accomplishes that. Even so, the church authorities presumably wouldn't know who has and who hasn't gone before a judge to make that declaration.

The German bishops' challenge on the home front is illuminated in their description of the population (in English!). A 2009 survey of how German Catholics referred to themselves showed _17% "believing, committed to the church", _37% "critical, with ties to the church", and almost _50% "distanced, unsure or not religious". Elsewhere, the bishops show 12.6% attending religious services (2010). http://www.dbk.de/en/katholische-kirche/ The strategy behind the new General Decree is puzzling, given what the bishops know about the Faithful. Perhaps it is aimed more toward the Vatican than to the natives (See J. O'Leary's comment, 1:50pm).

Jim P. -- Re tax evasion logic: There is no _church_tax_ to be evaded if an individual is not registered for a specific church. The German government provides the formal leaving process as part of the national commitment to ensure individual religious freedom. It is meant to provide an exit which a church cannot readily obstruct if an individual chooses to leave. Here's one man's description of how to do it. http://www.german-tax-back.com/church-tax.html

My heart goes out to the Priests, who, having given their lives over to ministering in Jesus' name, now are expected to look needy people in the eye and refuse to minister to them unless they're paid up. Talk about cognitive dissonance! It can't but be spiritually destructive to them personally, whatever it does to the church.

500 priests in Austria have solved their problem of Communion and Austrian church tax protest. The Austrian Pastors Initiative "Appeal to Disobedience" of 19 June 2011 is the formal statement to which the Pope and Cdl. Schonborn objected on Chrism Thursday, 2012. On Holy Saturday, Helmut Schuller, leader of the Pastors Initiative, rejected their calls for change and confirmed the necessity and continuation of the priests' Appeal. It says in the 2nd of its 7 actions: _____ Appeal to Disobedience_____ ""2. WE WILL not deny Communion to faithful of good will, especially remarried people, members of other Christian churches, and in some cases those who have officially left the Catholic Church.* "..."* Here we refer to those who officially leave the Church; some to avoid Church Tax as a means of protest" http://www.pfarrer-initiative.at/unge_en.pdf Helmut Schuller spoke at the German 'Alternative Katholikentag' set up by German reform groups in competition with the German Church's official Catholic Week celebration in Mannheim in May. It wouldn't be surprising if he met like-minded clergy there. http://m.thetablet.co.uk/latest-news/4155

It is circumstances like these in Germany which gives me added appreciation for the First Amendment.No matter how much the German hierarchs twist themselves into pretzels to explain this action, it still looks like they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

German history, culture, etc. notwithstanding, I can only wonder if the internet, satellite communications, etc. will facilitate a healthy German rebellion against state involvement in collecting church monies. Many (most?) Germans speak English and have access to international venues. Ideas, after all, are considered dangerous in some church quarters (read: "by the hierarchs".). Might the German laity force the government to stop collecting funds for religious bodies? Will the bishops lose their cushy fundraising arrangement with the state?Ain't over till it's over.Just the beginning???

Die Welt reports in detail on the Hartmut Zapp case settled in civil court after a 5-year dispute. Zapp, who wanted to stay in the church and not pay the church tax, lost. The Archdiocese of Freiberg is rejoicing. The new General Decree played a significant role. The Zapp case is finished, but the church tax issue is not. Both reformists and conservatives object strongly to the bishops' new decree. The article describes systems in Switzerland and italy which appear to sound better in that they either uncouple the spiritual (faith community) and institutional (public corporation) church or allow voluntariness in choosing the recipient of mandatory contributions. http://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article109476612/Katholik-scheite...

News from Austria reported in The Tablet.. Note the last sentence in particular. Hmm."The 660 parishes in the Archdiocese of Vienna are to be drastically reduced over the next 10 years to just 150.. . . "The main factors behind the restructuring are the declining number of churchgoing Catholics and the shortage of priests. Parishes in the archdiocese will in future be much larger, with three to five priests in charge, one of whom will be responsible to the archbishop. Each of these large parishes will be run jointly by priests and lay Catholics."http://www.thetablet.co.uk/latest-news/4599

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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.