I haven’t been following this interesting story, but I noted some of the use of language in reporting about the German bishops and the “church tax”. I will ramble a bit and my emphases.
From The Beeb:
German Catholics lose church rights for unpaid tax [First, the language of "rights" in the Church is problematic when it comes to juridical issues.]
Germany’s Roman Catholics are to be denied the right to Holy Communion or religious burial if they stop paying a special church tax. ["are to be denied"...? So, it is a done deal? That's it? Given that many readers don't read very much more than the first couple paragraphs,...]
A German bishops’ decree which has just come into force says anyone failing to pay the tax – an extra 8% of their income tax bill – will no longer be considered a Catholic. [I don't know the answer to this, but, if it just came into force, was there reporting about this before?]
The bishops have been alarmed by the number of Catholics leaving the Church. [Finally.]
They say such a step should be seen as a serious act against the community. [D'ya think? And it isn't great for their souls, either.]
All Germans who are officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a religious tax of 8-9% on their annual income tax bill. The levy was introduced in the 19th Century in compensation for the nationalisation of religious property.
“If your tax bill is for 10,000 euros, then 800 euros will go on top of that and your total tax combined will be 10,800 euros,” Munich tax accountant Thomas Zitzelsberger told the BBC news website.
Catholics make up around 30% of Germany’s population but the number of congregants leaving the church swelled to 181,000 in 2010, with the increase blamed on revelations of sexual abuse by German priests.
Alarmed by their declining congregations, the bishops were also pushed into action by a case involving a retired professor of church law, Hartmut Zapp, who announced in 2007 that he would no longer pay the tax but intended to remain within the Catholic faith.
The Freiburg University academic said he wanted to continue praying and receiving Holy Communion and a lengthy legal case between Prof Zapp and the church will reach the Leipzig Federal Administrative Court on Wednesday.
“This decree makes clear that one cannot partly leave the Church,” Germany’s bishops’ conference said last week, in a decision endorsed by the Vatican. [True. However, read that in the context of this reporting. Questions are raised: is paying the church tax a sine qua non for membership in the Church? No.]
Unless they pay the religious tax, Catholics will no longer be allowed receive sacraments, except before death, or work in the church and its schools or hospitals. [They won't be allowed to receive Holy Communion or go to confession? They won't be allowed to be married in the Church? They are... what... excommunicated? If a person who does not pay the Church tax comes to Communion, will there be an alarm of some sort to warn the priest off?]
Without a “sign of repentance before death, a religious burial can be refused,” [Burial is not a sacrament.] the decree states. Opting out of the tax would also bar people from acting as godparents to Catholic children. [Being a sponsor is not a sacrament.]
“This decree at this moment of time is really the wrong signal by the German bishops who know that the Catholic church is in a deep crisis,” Christian Weisner from the grassroots Catholic campaign group We are Church told the BBC. [Okay... if We Are Church are against this, I am strongly tempted to be for it... whatever it is.]
But a priest from Mannheim in south-western Germany, Father Lukas Glocker, said the tax was used to do essential good works.
“With kindergarten, with homes for elderly or unemployed, we’ve got really good things so I know we need the tax to help the German country to do good things.” [Is it the mission of the Church in the world to "do good things"? No. It might be a part of what the Church does in the world, but Christ did not say "Go forth to all nations and open kindergartens."]
While the decree severely limits active participation [I sense that the phrase "active participation" has been around for so long that it just slides into an article like this.] in the German Catholic Church, it does hold out some hope for anyone considering a return to the fold. [Imagine! Some hope remains!]
Until now, any German Catholic who stopped payment faced eventual excommunication. [?] Although the measures laid out in the decree are similar to excommunication from the church, German observers say the word is carefully avoided in the decree.
I guess I need some education/information about this. I suspect some readers will know a lot about this.
In the meantime, I remember discussions with my old pastor years about about his misgivings concerning the German “church tax” and the temptation people might attempt formal apostasy in order to get out of paying it.
NB also that the Church’s laws concerning apostasy were altered a few years ago.
If a person make a formal act of apostasy (which I think was once needed in Germany in order to avoid paying the Church tax), she – once upon a time – would have had to go though various steps before returning to the sacraments. In 2009 a document called Omnium in mentem was issued whereby the Church’s law about these formal acts was changed.
Now, the Church no longer considers it possible to defect from the faith by formal act. Therefore, there are no canonical consequences from formal defection. Were a person to film herself signing a document and then publish the photos and take out ads in the newspaper, according to the Church they would not have formally defected from the Church.
Thus, people cannot now formally defect. They can, however, still incur a censure of excommunication – a spiritual and medicinal penalty – for heresy or schism or apostasy (cf. can 1364). In order to incur any censure she would have had to understand the consequences of the act. Therefore, if she joined another church without really understanding the canonical consequences (e.g., she married a Lutheran and started going to services with her spouse and then joins the Lutheran parish…) then it is likely that no excommunication is incurred.
I suspect that this new policy we are reading about has something to do with getting into sync with Omnium in mentem.