Sloppy reporting about new “church tax” decision by bishops

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.]

‘Wrong signal’

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Phil_NL says:

    It will be painful for the German bishops, but sooner or later they will have to let go of this tax revenue.
    Of course there will be many who’d renounce their faith for some coins (In fact, for many, the value seems to approach 30 pieces of silver…) and many more who don’t. But at the end of the day, taxes are nothing else than legalised theft. They may be necessary for the survival and proper functions of the state – and spent on many thing that aren’t – and therefore be accepted and even enforced using means that would otherwise be unacceptable (jailtime, for example). But catholic kindergarten are not proper or essential functions of either state or church, and the fact that a Catholic is presented by the bishops with a choice between admission to the sacraments – regardless of the procedural details – and the axeman of the tax authorities is iniquitous. It’s nothing short of extortion, even. Crudely put, it’s ‘pay up, or go to Hell’.

    Not to mention the fact Catholics can have proper need for that money (beyond what the German tax code allows in terms of special deductables). Surely, European habits regarding charitable giving are less generous than american ones, but at least it leaves a choice. If the church has to make do with less money, it needs to adjust outlays or convince – rather than demand – people to donate more. But a tax is no gift, and I fail to see how it can procure any merit for the giver, or gratitude in the receiver. All are losers when ‘giving’ become compulsory.

    And as a parting thought, I’d say Germany has had more than enough trouble already with accusations that salvation was being sold. Something with 95 theses and a church door… and the wisdom of not giving your enemies any ammunition if it’s not needed.

  2. Legisperitus says:

    “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.”

    Does this make any sense at all? Shouldn’t it be the government paying compensation for the nationalization of religious property??

  3. Fabrizio says:

    Legisperitus, “the government”??? The government only has the money it forcibly takes from you. Or, it can print it a-la Bernanke-Obama (or a-la EU) , but it would be still taking it from you as you would still be footing the bill via debt and loss of purchasing power due to the debasing of the currency and gov’t generated inflation

  4. Choirmaster says:

    Our beloved American cliche of “separation of church and state” is lookin’ pretty sweet right about now.

    I’m learning so much about the German church. Wow. Who would have thought, after everything they should have learned starting with Luther and continuing through Hitler, that the German state would still somehow be so incestuous with the Catholic Church?

    And shame on the German hierarchy and Holy See for the following reasons:

    1. Somehow being complicit in the nationalization of their private property. I am assuming that the hierarchy went happily along with divesting themselves of their real estate in exchange for blood-money–government subsidy, as we benignly call it in America–from the German people.

    2. Allowing, or promoting, even the appearance of simony, in allowing anything related to the Sacraments, sacramentals, or the economy of grace in-general to be somehow informed or mitigated by registration and taxes-paid to Caesar! I disagree that just because, for example, a Christian burial is not a Sacrament that we can ignore the scandal of the possibility of linking it in any way whatsoever to state registration and taxes.

    3. Countenancing or actively advancing the destruction and dilution of the quality of catechism, formation, organization, Liturgy, and education offered by the Church, resulting in a poor grasp of the basic principles of Christian religion to the point that they can only manage the decline by employing the violent leverage of the state.

    What would have happened already in the U.S.A. if the federal government was the registrar and treasurer of the Catholic Church? This issue should be a warning call to the Church in any nation where it is thus owned by the state!

  5. Phil_NL says:

    What Fabrizio said, but it’s also quite possible that something has been lost her in translation. “Religious property” as in real estate used for religious purposes, is a loss-making possesion. If that were to be nationalised, with the state paying for upkeep, that would be a boon for the church (financially, morally I’d argue the contrary). Compensation wouldn’t be needed. I suspect that what was actually meant is property held by religious organsiations – to include land and other revenue-yielding possesions. Depending how it was phrased in the original German (which the BBC-journalist had to use as a source) this could have been a natural mistake to make.

    Alas, tracking down that source is going to be hard, but perhaps we have some commenters here who are well-versed in German history.

  6. Speravi says:

    ??? Something must be lost in translation here.

  7. jacobi says:

    I have just returned from a short holiday in Germany.
    With one exception, St Martin’s Basilica in Koln, where I noticed two monks on their knees on the stone floor in a side altar praying in front of the Exposed Blessed Sacrament, I found it very hard to tell from the inside of churches whether or not they were Catholic, so Protestantised has the Church there become. I naturally joined the brothers – but in the adjacent pews!

    The German bishops were in the forefront of the post–Vatican II attempt to reach out by Protestantising our liturgy and the results have been disastrous.

    Yes, I have no doubt that the Church in Germany is in deep crisis and large numbers are leaving, but I suspect that is less to do with tax and more to do with the loss of Catholicity and the appalling “lowest common denominator” approach to the ancient liturgy which I remember in Germany before Vatican II.

    As the Holy Father has said, “the Church lives and falls with the liturgy”.

  8. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Legisperitus: Go figure…

    but what is this all about?

    According to German law, registered churches have the right to tax their members either by their some bureaus of their own, or via the State’s financial administration (which is paid a percentage for the service). The Catholics (and the mainline Protestants) have opted for the latter thing, and have set the value of the Church tax, to 8% (Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg) or 9% (rest). It seems to me that according to particular ecclesiastical law, the German Church does have this right, whereas of course the general Canon law knows of no such measure. (The duty to provide for the Church allows, itself, no tax, though of course the way Germans provide for the Church by way of the tax.)

    According to the constitutional freedom of religion, the Church may of course not tax anyone who does not want to be a Catholic. So, some would go to the registrations office, declare that they are leaving the Church, and henceforth are not taxed anymore. The Church somewhat recognizes this (despite insisting on the existence of the Baptismal character); this is included in the statistics the Church draws, the number of Catholics it reports to Rome, and the annual declarations of “parish life” (“60 babies have been Baptized, 70 children stepped for their first time onto the Table of the Lord, 54 youths have been confirmed by our auxiliary-bishop, 28 pairs have contracted the marriage bond, 80 persons have been called home, 15 persons have left the Church, 5 persons have rejoined the Church”, or so).

    Of course, that the State collects this tax brings along that the duty cannot (realistically) be evaded. One can evade (by a sin) one’s duty to appear in Church on a Sunday; but you cannot via the “normal” way of sinning evade the tax duty. You must appear at the reg. office and say “I have defected from the Catholic Church”. As far as I am concerned, if this is not a schismatic act and incurs an automatical excommunication then what is. Thus, you if you want to commit the (arguable) sin of tax-refusal you are forced to commit schism.

    The practice was put to discussion after the II Vatican Council (when everything was put under discussion), and the bishops chose to retain the tax (despite introducing a bit of democracy into the Finance Council, so that taxation got some representation). I’m tempted to say (and I don’t; but it must be reported, for this feeling is surely around and denying does not help) “Go figure”.

    In 1983, we got a new Code which included some ordinances depending from whether or not a certain person had formally defected from the Catholic Church. A German cannot but think that the Church-leaving as known among us was meant by the phrase. Hence it came as a surprise when the authentic interpreter said in 2006 that the Church-leaving is not yet a formal defection, unless made to a Church authority.

    I wonder what this was good for; but authentic interpretation is authentic interpretation. Anyway, some did think that Rome somehow wanted to see the Church tax done with. (A private remark of the Holy Father did go in the direction that this is in discussion between the Roman Curia and the diocesan bishops, without his own interfering. Of course this might be interpreted that this was only about the formal defection; but the Holy Father did at least nothing to destroy the image that Rome dislikes the Church tax.) This although the auth. int. did not say so; it only commented on “what is formal defection?”, not “when does any simple excommunication incur”. And if Rome wants the Church tax done with, they should order the German bishops to do away with it; but I disgress.

    It was, however, somewhat lost from memory that excommunication is also for a simple act of schism which does not include formal defection. And hence, some have been thinking that a proper way to treat (what they judge to be) mismanagment and spending for wrong aims is to withdraw the tax by “leaving the Church” (with the argument: I do not leave the Church after all). Similarly, Prof. Zapp noted to the reg. office “Hartmut Zapp. Confession: Roman-Catholic Church (Corporation under Public Law). The aforementioned Church do I hereby leave.”, understanding that he left the Corporation under Public Law only, and stayed within the Church (although the Roman Catholic Church is Corporation under Public Law, and there is not a distinct juridic person who is.)

    This movement, despite being not generally known, was fairly well known among the kind of Catholics who would read WDTPRS and German equivalents (if you know what I mean)… Omnium in mentem took away any legal effect from the formal defection (did it really also take away the concept itself?); but this has not been noted in Germany. Then somewhen, reportedly after having been asked, the SSPX also encouraged their adherents to “leave the Church” in the same sense. (As if they hadn’t enough reason to show they’re not schismatic, but I disgress.) Nevertheless, being honest, the mainstream of Church-leavers undisputedly (though, coming to think of it, maybe closer inquiry would be interesting) consists of those who do not care for their faith and just want to save the money. There is the feeling around “let’s rejoice that at least them we do not have to count among the baptism-certificate-Christians; what costs nothing is esteemed nothing”. (I decidedly dislike the term “baptism-certificate-Christian”, and rather find it interesting how many of Catholics practice their faith just as little and still uphold this tie to the Church.)

    Anyway, here we are. As it had been reported that the German episcopate wanted the Church-leavers (left) excommunicated and Rome was against that (although this, as I showed, cannot really stand), it is seen as a compromise that the word excommunication was left out of the decree, and most effects of it were rather ordained explicitly. But still the decree also does not say that the declaration of Church-leaving is not a schismatic act (which to me, as I said, is obvious).

    Extortion? “Pay or go to Hell”? (@dear Phil_NL) Well, in a sense this is true about all ordinances even the State makes, especially the tax, if the obedience owed to the State morally is the chief ground for obeying them… The German Church says (in effect) that “we may tax, and it’s not our business to make the sin of tax-withholding possible without schism”…

    What to think of that? Ask me an easier question.

    Only I feel safe to say that whether or not they are right to require, we wouldn’t be right to withhold, at least not for the price of a schismatic act. Let’s call that unfair who wish, but they do have this power.

  9. Imrahil says:

    I do think that he who has not even considered emigrating from his earthly Fatherland to avoid paying this tax — there exist some countries without Church tax, or don’t they? and in Southern Tyrol or the Belgian Eastern Cantons they even speak German! — should not (pretend to, if you will) emigrate from his Mother Church to avoid paying this tax.

  10. scotus says:

    The article does not say who it is written by but the BBC’s Religious Affairs Correspondent is Robert Piggot, somebody who fell hook, line and sinker for the story about the ‘priceless find’ of codices supposedly in a cave in Jordan. Since then the story has sunk without trace.
    Mr Piggott is well-known for his uninformed and biased reporting about anything to do with the Catholic Church.
    Another thing to note is that this is one of the news stories which the BBC has allowed people to comment on on its website. They don’t allow comments on all stories but they have done in this case.

    Having said all that it does seem somewhat unfair that you have to make compulsory contributions to the Church in Germany. Everywhere else, apart from Austria(?), the Church relies on voluntary donations.

    Also as a frequent visitor to Germany, I cannot agree with jacobi about it being very hard to tell from the inside whether or not a church is Catholic. Maybe that was his experience but I have been visiting Germany for the past 13 years and have never had this problem.

    Incidentally, in July I attended Novus Ordus Mass in Sankt Goar on the Rhine and the priest had the congregation signing the Gloria and the Creed in Latin (Missa de Angelis). And the congregation had no difficulty whatsoever in joining in. It was wonderful.

  11. Scott W. says:

    I won’t pretend I know anything about the German situation, but I will point out that many American dioceses have things that are taxes in all but name at the parish level. That is, if you have a second collection for a bishop’s appeal program, and your parish comes up short for their target, they still have to come up with the money.

  12. Charles E Flynn says:

    Wikipedia: Church Tax.

    Note the pre-Christian origin:

    “The church tax is historically rooted in the pre-Christian Germanic custom where the chief of the tribe was directly responsible for the maintenance of priests and religious cults.”

  13. Imrahil says:

    I do wonder where Wikipedia got that from. The Church tax is rather more rooted in the tithe (which the Church enacted in the Middle Ages), which it even rather equals in rate. The said pre-Germanic custom, if anything, would rather induce the State to pay, as probably was indeed often enough also the case onto the 1802 secularization, and definitely the first decades after it (which was the pretext the whole secularization was justified with). The Church tax went away from that model, making only the adherents pay.

    About the Church revenues before 1802 I know nothing, but it’s a hugely complicated, because organically grown, thing (as is everything in the Old Empire law). Probably they had, at least somewhere, still some tithes, but the bulk of revenues probably came from real estate, manorial farming, and the running of dukedoms. Most of the first and all of the latter two were appropriated by the secular states in 1802, the dukedoms to compensate them for losses to France (though Prussia got much more than they lost, but they were Protestant).

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    I know absolutely nothing about the situation in Germany, but isn’t connecting money to the sacraments or sacramentals in any sort of absolute way something that has gotten the Church into trouble in the past? How is this much different than the indulgence problem in the 15th and 16th centuries?

    Even St. Paul did not have the Chutzpah to demand payment of money…or else. St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians is a long discourse on voluntary giving. St. Paul goes out of his way to state that the Church in Macedonia gave out of love.

    While it is incumbent upon people to support their local Church, it is also a sin to impose such a burden upon the poor. Paying 8% for a poor person is not exactly the same as paying 8% for a wealthy person. Someone who is in a minimum wage job in the U. S. would come close to starving if they had to pay such a tax or be denied the title of Catholic. I am really at a loss to understand this.

    If people are leaving the Church dear Bishops, then use the old tried methods of prayer and fasting (your prayers and fasting) and conversion of life to get them to return. Do you think St. Francis DeSales converted 10,000 people by imposing a tax?

    I am really at a loss to understand this. Should a person who is willing to die for the faith be de facto excommunicated because they must use their money very carefully in taking care of an ailing parent or a sick child?

    Someone help me make sense of this.

    The Chicken

  15. Supertradmum says:

    Peopl do not tithe in Germany. The Church tax is the substitute for tithing. All church goers of all denominations pay the tax. This is not new. One of the laws of the universal Church us that we are to support the Church. I assume it is a sin to break Church law. I would also assume that local ordinaries can put sanctions on the breaking of both Church Law and civil law, in this case, the same.

  16. Supertradmum says:

    Sorry errors on phone

  17. wmeyer says:

    Scott W: the Archdiocese of Atlanta is one such: each parish is assessed a portion of what the archdiocese needs for its budget, and it then becomes a debt the parish owes. It has nothing to do with parishioners tithing, apart from that being the method of collection. But if the collection from the laity falls short, then the parish must make up the shortfall. Another reason they push here for registration, I suppose.

  18. Tim Ferguson says:

    For those interested in reading the actual words of the German bishops’ conference (and who have greater proficiency in German than do I!) the text of the decree is here in the dreaded PDF format:

  19. Imrahil says:

    A correction: The Church tax is 8 (or 9) %, but not of the income, but of the income tax. The income tax, on the other hand, is a logarithmically proceeding rate from 15 % to 42 % for a normally wealthy man (~52000 €, a teacher at a first-class [there are three classes] high school after twelve years of service, unmarried without children) or 45 % for a rich man (250000 €).

    Hence, the tax is 1.2 % to 4 %.

    Of course, that is after the amount of money that is not taxed is taken off. The tax allowance (8000 €) is supposed to cover all basic necessities of life. (A welfare applicant, unmarried without children, gets some less than 4500.) Then, in case (dear @The Masked Chicken) of a caring for sick people, there are other amounts of allowance, etc. And all that is not taxed by the state is neither taken as a ground for the Church tax.

    Of course, the German tax system is a story of its own. Reportedly some 75% of tax law literature is printed in German. There’s just about an exception for everything, in both directions.

    But dear @The Masked Chicken, I guess the suggestion for those who do need the money is to apply for welfare. (Or charity.)

  20. Imrahil says:

    A welfare applicant … gets some… 4500 plus housing.

  21. Fabrizio says: Legisperitus, “the government”??? The government only has the money it forcibly takes from you. Or, it can print it a-la Bernanke-Obama (or a-la EU) , but it would be still taking it from you as you would still be footing the bill via debt and loss of purchasing power due to the debasing of the currency and gov’t generated inflation

    Guess we’d better get rid of that pesky Fifth Amendment requirement that private property not be taken for public use without just compensation.

  22. markomalley says:

    It would be nice if the great Vicenzo could do one of his works of art around this quote from Archbishop Chaput:

    We make a very serious mistake if we rely on media like the New York Times, Newsweek, CNN, or MSNBC for reliable news about religion. These news media simply don’t provide trustworthy information about religious faith—and sometimes they can’t provide it, either because of limited resources or because of their own editorial prejudices. These are secular operations focused on making a profit. They have very little sympathy for the Catholic faith, and quite a lot of aggressive skepticism toward any religious community that claims to preach and teach God’s truth.

    Sadly, all too often that will include the Catholic press, as well…but that’s a different subject altogether.

    The MSM has used this little bit of news repeatedly in their efforts to discredit the Church. If you actually read the statement at the German Bishop’s Conference website, it makes a world more sense.

  23. aragonjohn7 says:

    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.]

    : P ????

  24. Volanges says:

    I’ve run into this once. Someone who had been baptized in Canada but lived in Germany declared himself no longer Catholic to avoid paying the tax — that’s how it was done, at least until this Professor decided to stop paying the tax while wishing to remain Catholic. From the Diocese in Germany we were sent his formal defection from the Catholic Church to be recorded in his baptismal record.

  25. JacobWall says:

    It seems to me that “Sloppy reporting” is the case. I read the text from the German Bishops. My German isn’t that great anymore, but I understood a few points.

    1) The problem (as declared in their text) isn’t the tax per se; it’s the civil declaration of willingly renouncing the Church. The Bishops don’t address the fact that the Church doesn’t recognize a willing act of apostasy, but are (rightfully) concerned about the spiritual state of a person who would make such a statement, especially under formal civil declaration and wish to offer the necessary pastoral care.

    2) As measure of pastoral care, if a person is known to have made such a civil declaration, they are to be denied Penance, Eucharist, Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick until they are reconciled.

    3) An exception is made for those IN DANGER OF DEATH (i.e. if someone is dying, a priest could give penance, communion, etc. to a person who has made such a declaration)

    4) They can only be part of a Catholic marriage with special permission from the appropriate Church authority (I assume this would be considered a mixed wedding.) If they die without being reconciled, they cannot receive a Catholic burial.

    5) The states that appropriate Church authority is to extend an invitation to a person who has made such a declaration to discuss reconciliation with the Church (section 6). “The Pastoral Letter to the person making this invitation to discuss reconciliation has no suspending effect.” (i.e. it’s not a letter of excommunication; it’s a letter of invitation to discuss appropriate pastoral care.) According to the Bishops’ letter, if that person has committed schism, heresy or apostasy, the “appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.” If not, it seems to be implied that the appropriate Church authority can decide what is necessary for reconciliation.

    The letter does not dictate any requirement for reconciliation (if the Church authority determines that it is not a case of “schism, heresy or apostasy.”) It doesn’t say that the person has to begin paying the tax again or even register themselves again. I assume this would leave the door open for the priest or bishop in question to set the terms of reconciliation?

    I think before we’re too hard on the German Bishops, we need to remember that this has become a major problem; 180,000 making a civil declaration of renouncing the Church per year? Besides the fact that most of these people probably start getting some warm and fuzzy memories when a their wedding rolls around and probably feel they have the right to be married in the Church, even though they civilly renounced their faith to save a few dollars on taxes – besides this, this is a major concern for these people’s souls; the Bishops are setting out guidelines for pastoral care for a very large group of people who are renouncing the Church in their civil registration. It may not be a big deal that people are trying to make a statement about their taxes, but it is a big deal that people will so willingly denounce their Faith. I think this is entirely understandable that the Bishops want to lay out guidelines for pastor care.

    What’s the other option? “You just renounced your faith to save 0.16% of your income, or $15 a week? That’s OK. We don’t mind that you renounced your faith publicly. Come and take communion along side of these pro-abortion politicians, lesbian couples and free-masons. It’s all OK, and it’s all good.”

    I’ll admit that there’s probably a better way to go about this than the approach of the German Bishops. But I see why they are doing it and why the Vatican supports it.

  26. JacobWall says:

    There are also issues of bad translation:

    For example, one favourite line from the report is “They say such a step should be seen as a serious act against the community.” This sounds utterly ridiculous.

    The German says: “Die Erklärung des Kirchenaustritts … ist eine schwere Verfehlung
    gegenüber der kirchlichen Gemeinschaft.”

    This means, “The declaration of leaving the Church is a serious offense against the ecclesial Communion.”

    “Kirchlichen Gemeinschaft” could translate as either “Church community” or “ecclesial communion.” I’m not sure which is better here (perhaps someone with a better knowledge of German and/or Church teachings can help?) In either case, it seems they are not talking about offending your community; they are talking about committing an offense against the communion of the Holy Church. Just a little bit more serious.

  27. Gail F says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but in Germany doesn’t everyone pay a tax to his/her religion? I don’t think you can get out of paying the tax — if you leave your religion for no religion, the money goes somewhere else. But I can’t remember where I read that so it might be wrong. It seems to me to be a very German way of doing things, neat and orderly and the same for everyone. Just because we don’t do it that way in the US doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Don’t forget, some European countries still have a state religion to which the citizens automatically belong unless they leave. In such a case people do have to make formal statements that they leave, or sign transfer documents or something.

  28. Leonius says:

    Its seems to me that this would fall under simony, if you don’t pay you are denied the Eucharist. Which in effect means people must pay to receive the blessed sacrament. If this is the case then it is the Bishops who should be the ones been excommunicated, they are effectively selling the blessed sacrament for a percentage.

    Its ironic that the “enlightened” modern vat II church in Germany is still trying to do the things that brought about the reformation in that country hundreds of years ago.

  29. paenitentia says:

    Fr. Z, I respectfully disagree with your opinion that “the Church no longer considers it possible to defect from the faith by formal act. Therefore, there are no canonical consequences from formal defection.”

    Upon closer reading of the text of Omnium, nowhere is it stated or implied by the Pope that the concept of formal defection from the Church is being abrogated: he only decrees the abrogation of the positive law EXCEPTIONS to cann. 1117, 1086-1, and 1124 of CIC 1983 based upon a formal act of defection, simultaneously providing the 3 reasons why he is doing so.

    This reading of the text is confirmed when one considers the words used by the Pope: “[D]ifficilis apparuit determinatio […],” translated, “Determination [of the formal act of defection] appeared difficult.”

    In brief — and I write this as my personal opinion alone — I believe that if
    one is to respect the rights of all baptized Catholics under the Code, and
    secure for them due process under the law, one must proceed very carefully when receiving such a letter or written statement in a position of responsibility in a Diocese.

    This is because as the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts notified all
    Episcopal Conferences on 13 March 2006 ( Prot. N. 10279/2006), a formal act of defection presupposes “an act of apostasy, heresy, or schism.”

    All of the above acts constitute the most serious “crimes” which a Catholic can commit under the Code, apart from desecration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

    Again, apart from rewording some canons, the Pope only abrogated certain
    canonical effects operative in the law until Omnium. He did not touch the
    canonical “ability” (not moral right) of a Catholic to commit apostasy, heresy,
    or schism.

    I feel that it would do an injustice to a Catholic were the safeguards of cann. 1717-1728, inter alia, not adhered to even if notification was made to an ordinary under the pressure of the German tax.

    Practically speaking, if any Catholic (in Germany or elsewhere) writes a letter to his or her ordinary notifying same of decision to leave the Church, the ideal praxis would be for the document to be sent to the Diocese’s Promoter of Justice for his true canonical opinion, with him specifically considering the applicability of. cann. 1323-1325, et cet.. It would then be for the Ordinary to decide if he has received a true notitia delicti, and if so, proceed to treat and close the dossier, at least by extra-judicial process and decree.

  30. Admiral-GER says:

    @Gail F
    “Correct me if I’m wrong, but in Germany doesn’t everyone pay a tax to his/her religion? I don’t think you can get out of paying the tax — if you leave your religion for no religion, the money goes somewhere else. “

    I’d like to correct you. :-)

    Im germany: if you leave your religion and don’t sign up for a new one, then you don’t pay anything. This part of you tax report just disappears.
    The reason is, that the church tax is not a tax by the state. As it is said above (very good by Imrahil), the financial administration collects the money but that’s just for practical reasons.

    I’m not happy with the current situation, because my church tax money goes into a big pool and from that pool also organizations that are party heretic and schismatic are financed (like the german youth organization BDKJ).

    Prof. Zapp brought up a very good point when declaring that he wanted to leave the (my interpretation and poor translation now:) “German tax church” but wanted to stay in the “world church”.

  31. Juho says:

    My friend who lives in Germany is a faithful Catholic and does not pay the Church tax. His reason is that he does not want to support the ultra-liberal structures funded by these taxes. He does not want to pay rather nice salaries to “pastoral referents” and support Parish Councils that place themselves above the clergy and effectively run the parishes. In Germany, many priests must submit their sermons to the Parish Council before the weekend, and of course all “harsh” teaching is cleaned out. Instead, my friend says he gives money to the Polish mission priest he supports.

  32. Sixupman says:

    Juho, you are absolutely right.

    Mundabor’s Blog has two recent pieces upon the issue which are worth reading.

  33. Admiral-GER says:


    In Germany, many priests must submit their sermons to the Parish Council before the weekend, and of course all “harsh” teaching is cleaned out.

    That’s new to me. I live in germany an know a couple of priests and I’ve never heared about something like that. (Please note that this last sentence does not imply any statement about the quality and content of the sermons. Very often the priests clean out “harsh” teachings by themselfs.).

  34. Juho says:

    @Admiral-GER: Information about submitting sermons comes from a Polish priest who serves in Germany. Apparently it was presented to him as correcting the language but very soon he noticed that there was also a lot of political correction taking place. That, plus angry phone calls from Council members telling him not to talk about abortions, divorces etc. And then he learned from other priests that this is the way things are done in the area. But of course you do not have to know…

    The most memorable sermon I have heard in Germany was about Mary Magdalene and the Risen Christ. From the little German I understand, I heard him hoping that meditation on this fragment would bring the Church to understand that women also must be able to proclaim the Word as priests.

  35. mpolo says:

    It is worth noting that diocesan priests have the status of civil servants in Germany, and are paid by the State (out of the Church Tax). Religious priests do not receive this under normal situations.

    Many priests have in the past tried to approach people who had chosen to “opt out” of Church Tax to find out their reasons. If the reasons were not schismatic/heretical/apostate, they were informed of their duty to support the Church financially, but allowed to do that support over some other channel (direct donation to the parish or similar) than the Church Tax. I’m not sure that this is possible under the new rules.

  36. Admiral-GER says:

    @Juho: I would count the case(s) you mentions as isolated cases. The majority of the priests can write their sermons on their own without external control (reminds me of the movie “Chocolat”).

    But you are right in one thing: angry phone calls happen. Much too often. :-(

    It is, however, on the priests own decision either to talk ‘politically correct’ or to be ‘a thorn in the flesh’ of the world.

  37. Imrahil says:

    Dear @mpolo,

    well, diocesan priests are civil servants but of the Church, which, as Corporation under Public Law, has the right to have their officials in a civil servant status; but that is out of their own money (which the Church tax, of course, is).

    However, military chaplains, and I think also hospital and prison chaplains, are indeed civil servants of the State. (Because the Constitution ordains that their pastoral care is to be provided for.)

    Dear @Gail F, I think you confused that with Italy. That’s basically the case in Italy, where they have a 0.8% tax (I think on the income, so it is to be compared with the 1.2-4%, not the 8%) which is collected anyway, but can be assigned to the Church (and is, in 80% of the cases). It’s no secret that many in Germany would very much like this system.

  38. Gail F says:

    Admiral – GER: Thanks for the correction.

  39. JacobWall says:

    Everyone continues to talk as though people are being denied communion for not paying a tax. Many readers are taking this very sloppy article at face value. The fact is that people are being denied communion (among some other items) for making an official and documented declaration that they are leaving the Church! Read the letter from the bishops. Although people cannot willingly decide to leave the Church, I agree with the bishops that it is a very serious issue that people would so willingly make such a declaration.

    It instructs Church authorities to extend an invitation for reconciliation and offer the pastor care needed to restore these people to the sacraments and other roles in the Church. It does not say that paying the tax is a requirement for reconciliation. To discuss this issue accurately, people need to consider what the bishops really said, rather than a very sloppy article with mistranslations and partial, distorted reporting.

    I believe there is a good deal the German bishops should do to improve the situation; however, they are NOT selling the sacraments or roles and duties within the Church (simony); they are responding to a very large number of people who have signed a document renouncing the Church, some of whom don’t seem to feel that there’s anything serious about doing so.

  40. Ingatius says:

    There are lots of misunderstandings surrounding the question of the German church tax. I posted an article on my own blog yesterday.

    The German bishops are not actively imposing their will on Catholics who are refusing to pay the Church tax. Catholics cannot get out of the tax without publicly rejecting their faith and legally separating themelves from the Church. The Bishops are saying that Catholics separating themselves from the Church (whether it is to lower their tax bill or not) cannot expect to be able frequent the Sacraments.

    The issue of the whether or not there should be a church tax at all is a separate issue. The tax was introduced by the state as recompense for the property seized by the government in the nineteenth century. The money also goes towards to various social services which would only have to paid for by the government anyway.

  41. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Ingatius,

    I’m sorry but I’d like to correct you on a point in your blog: The Church tax is not imposed by the government. It is collected by the government (for a price); but it is imposed by the Church. The Church could at any given moment decide not to collect the tax anymore. While it is true that the rate is the same for all religious that collect the tax at all, this also is not necessary.

    The grudge against the tax which exists indeed among Catholic circles stems from the (possibly wrong) assumption that the money collected this way then serves for a compromising, participating-in-society pastoral care instead of a fight for Catholic truth, after a “we faithful Catholics must pay anyway and the others are particularly cared for and compromised for that their money inflow doesn’t fall away”.

  42. asperges says:

    The Swiss Cantons have a Kirchensteuer (religion tax) too. Such systems would be an open invitation to the Anglo-Saxon mind to register objection by opting out. No-one in the UK would countenance such a tax: it would be highly decisive and unenforceable. But this is not necessarily the attitude of Catholics (and those of other denominations) in countries where such taxes apply.

    However, the German Bishops might now come the conclusion that if this 19th century arrangement is no longer the thing it once was, they ought first to address why there is such a reduction of practising Catholics.

    If there is something wrong in the State of Denmark (to mix metaphors), look first to the source of the decay.

  43. eulogos says:

    This boggles my mind. I am a Catholic. But I give my money to the parish I choose to give it to, and to other causes I choose. I don’t give to the Campaign for Human Development, for instance. If I were in Germany, I would want to get out of this church tax also, and give the money directly to my parish, without involving the government. That would not make me not a Catholic. They make you say you are not a Catholic, or they take your money for whatever they choose to use it for? And now, if you don’t pay the money, you can’t receive the sacraments? That’s a nightmare! I don’t think the church should participate in this arrangement at all. But until it can be dismantled they certainly shouldn’t regard people who don’t pay as not Catholics, or as people who may not receive the sacraments. Also, they should sue to get their property back.
    Thank God I am an American! Not so great here, but apparently, it could be worse.
    I hope the Canadian parish did NOT record in the person’s baptismal record that he was no longer a Catholic! Not without his say so. And apparently he still considered himself a Catholic.

    So, is saying you are not a Catholic to get out of this tax, because you don’t like the way the church is spending the money, a form of renouncing the faith which a Catholic may not do? Even though the system stinks, and your money may be going for programs which you think are themselves unCatholic? I guess I would have trouble saying, or writing, the words “I am not a Catholic.” I suppose one could just look at the money as some sort of unjust recusancy tax one has to pay for the privilege of being able to declare oneself a Catholic. In that case, one could be proud to pay it.

    But it bothers me that the Church cooperates with this. It also bothers me that the Europeans here seem to regard this as something normal. “The money also goes toward various social services which would only have to be paid by the government anyway.” Well, no. If the church engages in works of charity, such as healing the sick, or teaching children, these are not “social services,” they are forms of charity, and/or part of the mission of the Church to go and teach all nations. What the Church does should be recognizably different from anything the state does, and not at all under the control of the state. Which it is hard to believe they are, when the money for them runs through the hands of the state.
    Susan Peterson

  44. JacobWall says:

    Please look at my last two comments here, as well as the comment by “Ingatius” (sic). Be careful not to take this “sloppy reporting” as Fr. Z calls it at face value. If you can read German, please read the bishops’ statement.

    The point is not that those who don’t pay the tax are cut off. The point is that there are a growing number of people who are making an official and documented declaration that they are formally leaving the Church. It’s not a simple “I’m not Catholic” that you utter under your breath and be done with it. It’s a formal documented statement, on the record.

    The document from the bishops spells out what to do if a person makes such a declaration. It instructs Church authorities not to allow such a person participate in sacraments or certain other activities unless they have cleared the issued up. Basically, it says to treat these people exactly as they have declared themselves – as someone who has renounced the Church. If I go to my priest and deliver him a letter that I am formally leaving the Catholic Church, don’t you think my priest would show concern and take measures to reconcile me/change my mind before admitting me to the sacraments? This is exactly what is happening, except on a very large scale.

    The reporting above also misses the point entirely that the letter indicates that Church authorities are to make an offer of reconciliation. It does NOT say that they need to start paying the tax in order to be reconciled.

    The bishops are right that this is a grave issue. They are right to be laying out guidelines on how to deal with people who officially declare they are leaving the Church. As Ingatius says, the existence of the tax is a separate issue which our reporter above has conveniently mixed up into the story.

  45. JacobWall says:

    Imagine this: you go to your priest with a letter in your hand, and say, “Here’s my letter signed and dated formally declaring that I am leaving the Catholic Church. Oh, but by the way, I’d like to have my wedding here next year, and I’ll be showing up for communion whenever I feel like it in the mean time.”

    How do you think your priest would respond? I’d like to think he’d do more than just let it slide. I’d like to think he’d put some restrictions on you and offer you steps towards reconciliation.

  46. jflare says:

    I think it fairly unlikely that this story really present sloppy reporting. If anything, it sounds very much alike to what I learned to expect from the German people and government. I recall hearing about a “church tax” all the way back in 2003.

    In all seriousness, this is one reason I will never willingly live in Europe! I saw many a beautiful place there, but the governments have waaaaay too much ability to levy taxes.

    If the German bishops have worries about the populace leaving the Church, they might consider returning to orthodoxy or traditional teaching. Levying an additional tax will not change the people’s disgust for clerical BS. If anything, this may simply lead many to formally leave the Church at a political level, but still attend Mass, if only for adoration.
    I can’t imagine they can really enforce this, unless they post people outside the doors of every parish.

  47. Imrahil says:

    Dear @jflare,

    but the kind of Catholic that comes to Mass for adoration has heavy problems with “leaving the Church at a political level”… you know, that conscience thing.

    I’m not everywhere d’accord with C. S. Lewis, but he is right in that you sometimes can see this just in the amount of work they put into excusing themselves. And those some that do leave the Church for Catholic reasons, as opposed to negligence or (which also happens) a real decision of conscience not to be Catholic anymore, they put a heavy amount of work into excusing themselves.

  48. kpd says:

    Too much is still unknown to offer any type of opinion, although, there are certain things in the article that just doesn’t quite make sense. Father Z, could you possibly inquire of Dr. Edward Peters about what this is all about. At the very least is seems there might be a conflict between canon law, i.e. a Catholic’s right to receive the Sacraments and whatever law is being referred to in the articel.

  49. jflare says:

    I think you might misunderstand my point.
    When I refer to “leaving the Church at a political level”, I refer in particular to the methods that apparently already stand in many parts of Europe by which a person declares themselves to be a member of a faith community or not. I don’t mean that someone should cease attending Mass. I’m commenting that it seems to me to make sense that faithful people could readily disenroll themselves from the Catholic faith in the form of what the government recognizes, but attend Mass routinely and contribute to the Church the same way people have always done: By contributions at Mass.

    Various persons have already referred to how, in order to be recognized as Catholics by the Church, citizens of one nation or another must pay a visit to some form of local government office and fill out a form. I notice that this method stands as a government-induced means of discerning the nature of alleged belief in the nation; it does not appear to me to actually have any impact at all on a person’s spiritual discernment or ability to aid the Church.
    I’ve always been rather stunned to know that the Church tolerated this at all, really. I think it stands far closer to abuse of power than anything else.
    Evidently the various peoples of Europe don’t see it that way.

    Thanks be to God I live here in the United States.

  50. Imrahil says:

    Apparently I understood you rightly as far as the interpretation of leaving the Church at a political level goes.

    But these methods that stand, you must declare that you are not a Catholic. Can a Catholic do this? And face an at the very least virtual excommunication (and I personally still think also a real excommunication). Can a Catholic endure this? All this against the precise will of the bishops. Can a Catholic, etc.? Also, while voluntary contributions are fine as far as they go, the particular legislator has ordered this tax. Can a Catholic, then, disobey? And does not the alternative theory, “in my inside I still belong to the Church contrary to outward appearance”, smack a little bit of Protestantism*? (Note that the conservative Church-leavers in Germany, including even the SSPX, never argue against the tax as such, and quite positively uphold that the Church can demand such a tax. They see themselves in an extraordinary situation because of misspending and adversity to tradition…)

    Very well, and sorry for bringing up that example, but back then in the Roman Empire, in the pagan days, you were off just fine when you left the Church in a political level. They had these government-offices then too, only against the Church’s will and not with it, and you were quite out of trouble when you left the Church in a political level. You might have to do that little incense sacrifice which about everyone, including the Emperor, understood as a mere symbolical manifestation of civil obedience. You might, if the official was in bad mood, perhaps have had to spit on an image of Christ; but after all that’s only what your declaration said, or wasn’t it? You could, except during the hardest persecutions, just afterwards return to the Church (they already had Church buildings then) and spend time in adoration. That was not the government’s business, every religion was tolerated in Rome. (If happy to take a seat in the greater cosmos of all religions, that is.)

    On the other hand, there are of course advantages also to the European mode of taxing. Just as a point of patriotism perhaps, but at least that ensures that voluntary givings are just that, voluntary, and that the feeling of a bad conscience where you never know when it is satisfied does practically not exist. Is it nothing that the income tax itself was introduced at Catholics’ instigation in Germany (i. e. the Center Party)? And why should not the government discern what is the nature of the people’s beliefs? That’s necessary information even for bare science, statistics, and government policy. (Persecution? Once the government does have a grudge against you, your life isn’t nice anymore anyway. Once they would want to find it out, they’d find a way and a quick one too.)

    Also, it is not true that the people have always contributed by contributions at Mass. That is, yes they have, but is has for many centuries been a minor part in the Church’s finances. In pre-Revolutionary France, it was the Church that contributed voluntarily to the King’s budget (because it had the tithe, sort of an income tax, and the King then had not).

  51. jflare says:

    Your comments highlight key disputes: How do we handle the relationship between Church and State?
    I contend that we do NOT handle it by means of giving larger tax revenues to a governing agency. We handle it by understanding the difference between genuine charity and civil government.
    I’m not the least surprised to hear that the German Church, SSPX, or whomever have long accepted the existence of a Church tax. I notice that such concerns DO all come from Europe, where the general frame of mind tends toward being far more collectivized than ours in the United States.
    They’re welcome to it.

    If you would highlight the chummy Church/State relationship before the French Revolution, I would highlight the notion that this same relationship helped spark the degree of animosity of the Revolution; the peasants grew over-weary of abusive uses of Church authority to demand money.
    Most efforts at raising taxes to “help the poor” have insistently highlighted the suffering of those without. Notice though, that such efforts almost never admit to the general inability of the State to alleviate the real causes of suffering, namely a lack of moral virtue and charity towards others.

    If you wish to argue that one might consider it a patriotic duty, a moral duty, or some other kind of duty, to support the Church by means of taxes, I argue that State and Church each have separate roles in society and that we do not need government intervention to cause the Church to function. In fact, when the Church and State DO interact to the level you suggest, the Church’s ability to provoke a moral sentiment or live out such beliefs has generally been compromised far more than it has been aided.

    As to a particular legislator, Christ did not tell us that we could or should give more money to government in order to fulfill our moral obligations. He DID say that we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, give to God what is God’s. Caesar did not have any particular concern for charity; God did, does, and always will.
    He didn’t say that we should give to God by means of a tax agent. Given that Matthew HAD been a tax collector, you would think he would’ve pointed straight to him if he thought otherwise.

  52. Imrahil says:

    We do not need government intervention to cause the Church to function.

    Correct. Nor is this the European state of affairs. The Church tax is collected in the name of the Church, for the Church, and at the request of the Church; the state merely fills in as tax collector because he has the men for the job, and is fairly paid for doing so.

    That said, I do consider a chummy (if the word says what Google says it says) state/Church relationship, as it, for example, exists perhaps in the County of Freyung-Grafenau, Diocese of Passau, Bavaria, 90% Catholics, where both mayor and Catholic pastor, but no Protestant minister, would be publicly present with greeting words and (the latter) perhaps a prayer at every major social event, and so on, the desirable state of affairs.

    As to the animosity in the French Revolution, I believe the most accurate description is that it did not exist. The first steps of the Revolution (formation of the National Assembly, etc., “to put the Constitution of the Kingdom on a firm ground) were, according to our history schoolbook, accompanied by a decree to sing a Te Deum at the next Sunday Mass. It was only when they discussed where to get some money they needed that (of all men) the Bishop of Autun, Talleyrand, suggested that the Church could be finely depropriated (viz., robbed). The chummy Church/State relationship did, I admit, contain in France many rights of the King to appoint bishops which could be tolerated in a Catholic single person but not in a headless multitude of the citizens of any religion; hence, among other things, the Civil Constitution struggle and afterwards a real animosity from the part of the revolutionaries. But the animosity never reached out to the Catholic populace, in so far as I’m informed; sure, it would naturally spread to previous Catholics after their defection (today, a French rap singeress uses “un peu de gout d’Église” as insult), but at the time of the Revolution, the Vendée was the more authentic expression of the populace’s stand.

    Of any major abuses in the Church’s authority I do not know; there was a famine and, yes, an uprise of the peasants, but actually this was a different revolution, which was fought down by Kingdom and Revolution together, and the peasants (who had wanted their manorial ground rents put down) were directed to buy their own farms if they could.

    Christ did not tell us to pay the tax; but our archbishop tells us to pay the tax. (For that matter, the Lord didn’t say either that we could not give our money to God by means of a tax agent, if there happened to be such a tax and that is our intention in giving it.)

    As an aside and a matter of fact which just came to me, well, I’m not sure about Tiberius although it was the motto of all emperors to distribute bread and games; Caesar himself however, who is not the one Our Lord meant primarily but still who originated the name, went to the point of multiple breach of Constitution to see some charitable reforms done. (A major motive for conquering Gallia, and then Rome itself, was to prolong his immunity for fear of a trial.)

    And while certainly recognizing the greatness of the United States (not only their achievements in World War II and the Cold War, but also that they are one of the most affable, hospitable and charitable peoples that grace the Earth), still… traces of Catholicism are rather to be found in Europe. America was founded Protestant; and indeed from a Catholic who believes in a corpus mysticum you would expect a more collectivist outlook, than, say, from a Protestant who studies his Bible alone. Sure, collectivism is evil insofar as it destroys personal freedom. But while there are certainly dangerous European tendencies, they are not directly in collectivism. A European of today does certainly not want to give up his personality for the greater thing of nationality or internationality. On the other hand, the European does have the attitude often described by Hilaire Belloc of longing for, hyperbolically said, comfortable servitude; there is indeed permeating desire of the entrants of professional life to become a lifelong civil servant or, if that is not possible, maybe lifelong employee of a big company (as opposed to entrepreneur, journeyman in a small firm, master, artist, scientist, etc.), but that is not for any directly collectivist reason.

    Coming back to topic, that the Church as such has a the right and duty to provide organized charity (which needs money), see Deus caritas est 32; that there is a proper role of the State even here, see Deus caritas est 30b. All that costs money; and the focus on an institutional (as opposed to ad-hoc private) charity does seem to suggest a tax to me (because voluntary givings are not directly institutional), although I admit that that doesn’t exclude fundraising.

  53. JacobWall says:

    Have you read the bishops’ statement?

    Again, this is not about the tax. It’s about people officially declaring on the record, “I am leaving the Catholic Church.” For example, the letter does not say anything about a Catholic chooses to practice civil disobedience and not pay their required taxes; in this case I guess they would have legal trouble with the German government. However, this letter from the bishops does not address the case of not paying the tax. It addresses only the case of a Catholic who formally states in writing that they are leaving the Church.

    As Imrahil asked, “does not the alternative theory, ‘in my inside I still belong to the Church contrary to outward appearance’,” (and I would add “contrary to my formal and recorded declaration that I am leaving the Church,”) “smack a little bit of Protestantism*?”

    I would say so. In fact, this way of thinking can very quickly lead us to say, “Why do I need a priest, a certificate or even another Christian to ascertain that I am part of the Church?” Because we as Catholics believe the Church is visible and one. We must be one with the Church, visibly and officially.

    As far as I can tell, the bishops’ letter allows for people who declare that they are leaving the Church (perhaps with good intentions, but in ignorance) but in all other senses remain loyal to Her and Her teachings. I assume such a person would take up their priest’s invitation to reconciliation, and would work hard to cooperate with their priest to find an acceptable resolution. Again, the letter does not stipulate that those renouncing the Church have to begin paying the tax again to be reconciled.

    On the other hand, I suppose if a given priest were to speak with such a person, and that person flatly refused or ignored the invitation, or began to spew out all sorts of attacks on the hierarchy, that they are modernist heretics and not the real Church, etc. I suppose the priest would (rightly) determine that this person is indeed in their heart intending to break from the Church and would (rightly) feel obligated to apply some disciplinary measure. But I’m just guessing. Perhaps a priest out there could confirm or refute that they would be concerned by such a reaction, and feel that some sort of limitations would be necessary?

    Whether the tax should exist or not is another issue; above I have seen good arguments on both ways. Having a “Church tax” doesn’t seem to be a question of the Faith, but rather one of logistics. However, the real question at hand is different:

    “If a person formally and of their own will and initiation declares on record, ‘I am leaving the Church,’ should that person be denied sacraments & participation in Church roles until they have satisfied a priest that they are not in schism, apostasy or heresy?”

    It seems to me that this is a question of Faith. It seems to me that the bishops are just in saying “Yes.”

  54. JacobWall says:

    For the record, I am not supporting or opposing the German Church Tax. Having read the comments above, I’m don’t feel strongly either way. However, let’s just consider some very basic questions:

    Would it be right for a German Catholic to urge their bishops to oppose the tax? – I don’t see a problem with that. As people have argued, it could be a good idea.
    Would it be right for a German Catholic to urge their bishops change their stance on certain issues to preserve Tradition better? – That would often be a good idea, done within the proper context.
    Is it right for a German Catholic, in reaction to slow, non-existent or negative results from the above efforts to make a formal declaration and renounce and leave the Church? – I don’t think so. Even if the bishops don’t do what’s best, or even if they are outright wrong, renouncing the Church is a sin.

  55. jflare says:

    Imrahil, JacobWall,
    So you know, I don’t speak German, so I have no way of knowing what the letter said without someone translating. As a result, I must rely on the article provided in English.

    So, taking several quotes from the article as a whole, I get the distinct impression that the German bishops literally intend to declare that, if one refuses to pay an extra tax to the German government, one will be considered to have formally declared oneself to be no longer Catholic. Put simply, that sounds mighty extreme to me.

    Certainly one COULD declare that they believe what a particular faith tradition believes. But even then, I’m not convinced that declaring one’s faith–or failing to do so–on a government form provides any proof of faith that’s worth anything. One could arguably be held accountable to a standard set forth by the document, but even this wouldn’t prove one way or another that someone held to a belief.

    Declaring that failing to pay a tax will constitute a public declaration that one no longer lives Catholic faith..that’s pretty darn extreme, I think.

    As to whether Europe demonstrates a greater degree of Catholicity than does America, well, aside from the fact that I DO find such a charge to be pretty offensive, I’d comment that differences in culture and view of life do not make one more holy and the other less.

    I think America’s founding as a Protestant nation does, indeed, have particular unfortunate consequences. I think though, it also offers particular advantages. It’s difficult to explain why or how, but at the very worst, we’re less likely to be stuck with something like this when our bishops..don’t see life quite the way the rest of us see it.

  56. JacobWall says:

    “I must rely on the article provided in English. So, taking several quotes from the article as a whole, …” It’s impossible that you could “take several quotes” since the whole article includes only one single, very short quotation from the bishops’ statement (“sign of repentance before death, a religious burial can be refused.”) The rest is all very free “adaptation” on the part of the reporter.

    Is this how you always get your news on the Church? If so, I’m sad to say your views of the Church will be very distorted. It’s like saying, “I can’t read the Vatican documents in Latin, so I’ll read Dan Brown to find out about them.” You should know that the press is very eager and quick to distort what the Church says to its own purposes, and you should know better than accepting trash journalism at face value. Not understanding German is excusable (I certainly wouldn’t expect most people to be able to read German), but taking this trashy article at face value is outright ridiculous.

    About 20 comments back I offered a summary of the text. I’ll see if I can come up with a translation later today.

  57. jflare says:

    I never said I quoted the bishops, JacobWall, I said I quoted the article. I’ll acknowledge that it’s possible that the editors didn’t offer all up the pertinent details. Reporters here in the US have a nasty habit of desperately distorting what the Church says too.
    On the other hand, I notice that, if the editors DID leave out critical details related to people formally renouncing their faith, I can’t think this would merely be sloppy reporting.

    Such an omission would surely leave them wide open to a VERY costly lawsuit!

    Not to mention the possibility of harming their credibility as a news organization.
    I just pulled up the link to the article, this came from the BBC.
    I don’t pretend to know a tremendous lot about them, but I think it unlikely that they’re going to pull a National Enquirer stunt. At very least, the editorial staff would be likely to suffer some personnel changes if they got it wrong by that much.

    I guess we’ll wait and see.

  58. JacobWall says:

    Translation of the German Bishops’ Decree. (It’s no WDTPRS translation, but I did my best. My German’s not what it used to be.)

    General Decree of the Conference of German Bishops Concerning Leaving the Church

    I. Due to the secularization of Church property, the German
    States were committed to (provide for) the material benefits for the Churches. In the 19th Century this commitment was reversed and Church tax was introduced. Through their payments believers themselves were now making the contributions for the duties of the Church. In order to enforce and ensure the validity of the fundamental right of religious freedom, (namely) that no one would be obligated to be a member of the Church against his will, the possibility of making a civil declaration of “leaving the Church” was created.
    The declaration of leaving the Church before a competent civil authority represents a deliberate and knowing disassociation from the Church as a public act and is a serious offense towards the communion of Church (ecclesial communion?). Anyone who declares that he is leaving the Church before a competent civil authority for any reason whatsoever thus violates the obligation to maintain communion with the Church (Can. 209 §1 [see, and against the obligation to make financial contribution so that the Church can perform its duties (Can. 222 §1, i.V.m. c. 1263 CIC).

    II. The declaration of leaving the Church, deeply concerns the Church and moves it to follow up on the person who has declared her resignation, with pastoral dedication.
    The declaration of leaving the Church brings the following legal consequences with it:

    1. The person who has left the Church
    – may not receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, confirmation and anointing of the sick – except in danger of death,
    – can hold no Church offices nor perform any functions in the Church,
    – cannot be a godparent either for baptism or confirmation,
    – cannot be a member of parish council or diocesan councils,
    – loses the active and passive voting rights in the Church,
    – cannot be a member in public Church associations.

    – page 2 –
    2. In order to have a Church wedding, people who have left the Church must obtain permission to participate in the marriage from the local Ordinary. This requires a promise to preserve the faith and raise children according to the Catholic faith.
    3. If the person who has left the Church has not shown any sign of repentance before death, a Church funeral can be refused.
    4. If the person is in the service of the Church, the consequences come into effect, as provided for in the law of Church service.
    5. If the person carries out service by means of Church authorization, this authorization must be revoked.
    6. The Church authority invites those who have declared that they are leaving the Church to a discussion concerning their full reintegration into the communion of the Church. This discussion aims at reconciliation with the Church and the return to the full exercise of the rights and duties. If, due to the reaction of the believer, who has declared that he is leaving the Church, an act of schism, heresy or apostasy is inferred, the ordinary will be sure to take the appropriate measures. The Pastoral Letter to the person who has left the Church (delivered) immediately when the person’s declaration has been noticed (see Enclosure) and the conversation have no suspensive effect.

    In the states except Bremen, withdrawal from the Church takes place before a civil authority, in Bremen it takes place under state law before an ecclesiastical authority.

    section 1. Parish and diocesan councils are, for example, parish congregation councils, church boards, finance committees and the diocesan pastoral council.
    For membership in public Church associations cf. Can. 316 CIC.

    section 2. Cf. Can. 1071 in combination with Can. 1125 CIC.

    section 3. Cf. Can. 1184 § 1 n 3 CIC.

    section 4. Cf “Basic Order for Church service within Church Employment “, Article 3, section 4 (“Anyone who is actively anticlerical or who has left the Catholic Church is not suitable for any service in the Church. “) (=The German bishops 51, 2008).

    section 5. For example, the missio canonica for religion teachers and the nihil obstat for professors of theology.

    Notice that the legal consequences are for making a declaration before a civil or church official that you are leaving the Church! They are not for not paying the tax. The section at the beginning only mentions the taxes as a part of the history of how it came to be that Germans have the legal option of making an official declaration of leaving the Church

  59. Imrahil says:

    Dear @JacobWall,

    with thanks for your participation in the debate, there is one thing I’d like to adjust: It is maybe not outright incorrect, but it does sound comical, if you suggest that it is right for a German Catholic to urge their bishops to oppose the tax. There is not much sense in the German Catholic bishops opposing the tax; they can, by law, at any moment, with one stroke of the pen, abolish it. On the other hand it is well known that they’re not in the least in the mood of doing so. (If Catholic laymen are urging anybody, they are urging the Pope to act by means of primacy.) This, of course, is a notion that, far from presuming any undue motives, I can very much understand both from the amount of the Church’s institutional organizations which have to be preserved (pastor salaries to begin with; I cannot but think that diocesan, as opposed to religious, clergy should not be sent off to almsdeeds if there is another possibility), and also from the fact that secularists and We-are-Church have always demanded the abolition. That the suggestion their apparatus has acted detrimental to the Catholic faith has not conduced psychologically to the possibility of a more peaceful debate is no secret either.

    Dear @jflare,

    I beg you to forgive anything in what I might have offended you. Perhaps that can be partly excused as a desire to defend Europe (you know… the kind of patriotism which does not suffer from a part-time ill reputation)… I most heartily undersign you saying that differences in culture and view of life do not make one more holy and the other less, all the more since I never dare (in the way of debate, you know; I might call some historic person a saint…) to comment on any person’s holiness at all.
    But in what is merely intellectual and not moral, I see that the Catholic Church manifestly does have the intention to also (a minor issue, granted!) form a Christian society (including baptized heathen concepts which we, in Europe, see in high degree taken from the Greek and Roman culture, though the – but now I only report popular science – concept of vassal fidelity apparently was Germanic); and while the influence of both individual sin and of unbaptizeable heathen concepts must be taken into account, I shrink back from the thought that she had been utterly unsuccessful in that. Hence, I do think that the example of Europe has something to say for the Catholic.

    I do admit that this was said in patriotism; but if you know the grudge my own people (the Germans) are now having against the Greeks, maybe I’ll appear a bit more objective if I say (as I do) that the Eastern Orthodox are culturally rather in the Catholic camp than anywhere else and that this includes the attitude to prefer happiness to work; and that this attitude is in itself rather the right one (though the vice of laziness may come of it).

    On the other hand, I never meant the word “Protestantism” to be said in outright disparagement; it is simply the Christianity as known among the Protestants, including all Christian truth the Protestants do uphold. Indeed the undeniable fact that America is emphatically a Christian nation rather serves as a plus point to Protestantism. Europe, on the other hand, and quite independently from that she rightly disapproves of Charles Maurras’ fascism, can perhaps be said to suffer from the Maurrassian malady of being “Catholic but not Christian”.

  60. jflare says:

    Hello gents,
    Just in case you’re still reading this, I would make a comment or two here:
    I’m all too well acquainted with the difficulties related to being an advocate for..well, cultural frame of mind.. for want of a better term.
    I understand only too well how one could be quite..sensitive..about defending one’s own people and continent, especially in terms of moral fiber and virtue. If you might mention troubles between Germany and Greece, I can mention the dilemma between the US and Mexico. Not quite the same exactly, but I think much the same sort of flavor.

    I must admit to a particular irony too: I wasn’t kidding when I said that I’d seen some beautiful places in Europe. Merely walking into some of the churches in Bavaria was..really something. I remember thinking on many occasions that someone had DEFINITELY put some effort into making them beautiful. Various other places, older ones at least, also seemed quite impressive. In all honestly, I felt a pretty distinct let-down when I returned to the ‘States. Europe does have some genuine architectural wonders to behold.
    I recall thinking that it’d be nice if we could see similar thought given to architectural wonder here in the ‘States. It’d be costly, yes,

    I also had begun considering the other night that..BBC, whatever they’re usual editorial standard may be, COULD arguably allow for some pretty deceitful content. I would’ve hoped they would know better,but when you consider the view I often take toward CBS, NBC, and sometimes even UPI, it’s plausible that the editors could tolerate some pretty despicable statements.

    Sad to see really. If much of the German populace HAVE, indeed, publicly declared their faith to government in the manner suggested–we don’t do that here in the “States to my knowledge–but are now retracting those public statements, but are still insisting that they’re practicing Catholics, well, ..I might comment that such a thing strikes me as being logically impossible.

    Um, by way, I’m not well acquainted with Charles Maurras, but Wikipedia says he’s a fellow who advocated nationalism at the cost of everything else. If people are attempting to follow a line of thought that he elaborated, that could be as bad for Europe as the die-hard “American or else” attitude can be here.

  61. catholicmidwest says:

    “is paying the church tax a sine qua non for membership in the Church? No.”

    Au contraire. I believe it is. One is not able to separate the paying of the tax from the membership in the Church, either according to the Bishops or according to the German government.

  62. JacobWall says:

    @Imrahil, I appreciate your clarification.
    I hope someone did read my translation (and I hope that it is not a bad one.) That was quite the task not to have anyone read it.

  63. Imrahil says:

    Dear @JacobWall, I hope too that someone read it. I did (albeit quickly); at any rate it is not a bad one.

    Dear @jflare, thank you very much for your kind response. Concerning Charles Maurras, I only mentioned him because the thought “Catholic but not Christian” came to my mind, and it is (I believe) a citation of his. Clearly he has round-about nothing to do with contemporary German philosophy. (It might fair to mention that in the end of his life he converted back to the Faith of his youth, which he had explicitly abandoned in his rather disgusting political philosophy.)

    One thing; we do not “publicly declare our faith to the government”, the government just knows, and there’s an end of it. I believe when you go (I’m thinking of an adult now) to baptism, the pastor (who is charged anyway with making a notice in the churchbooks) will sent a notification to the civil registrary (Einwohnermeldeamt). I never actually gave a thought to how it works. If a child is born, a registrary official will appear at the hospital and inquire about name, name of parents, date of birth, and maybe also confession (I do not know that), so that possibly they could have been registered Catholics even before Baptism… (The pre-name which in English language is called Christian name must be distinctly male or female, so even if the Germans would have been blessed to have a Johnny Cash among them, an equivalent to A Boy Named Sue could never have been written.) Then, in the registrary, you will have sort of a table with entries on pre-name, sur-name, date of birth, place of birth, Confession (though that one does not appear in identity cards), place of residence, color of eyes, etc. pp.

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