Wherein Fr. Z cynically reflects on Germany and divorce and remarriage

I have been thinking – with my cynical cap on – about why calls for Communion for the divorced/remarried have been coming out of Germany.

You will recall that a mid-level drone came out with a statement in the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau that Communion for the divorced and remarried was okay.  Then there was the good and thorough demolition of that notion by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbp. Müller.  Then  Card. Marx of Munich and Freising shot back at Archbp. Müller.

This is all in preparation – I believe – for the war over this question that will ignite during the upcoming Synod of Bishops.  But I digress.

Again, this started in Germany and it is being continued in Germany.


Because German bishops don’t want the divorced/remarried to leave the Church.


Could it be that these couples would stop paying Die Kirchensteuer … The Church Tax?

People in Germany, who belong to the Church, pay an additional percentage in income tax which is then designated for the Church.  Or, they can denounce to the state their membership in the Church and then not pay additional taxes.

Church Tax.

This makes the Catholic Church in Germany pretty wealthy.  No… really wealthy.

Hasn’t Pope Francis been calling for a poorer Church?

Shouldn’t the German Catholic Church refuse to accept the Church Tax?  Then they wouldn’t have to compromise doctrine for the sake of income.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Lighter fare, One Man & One Woman, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Steven Surrency says:

    If I remember correctly, BXVI made that very same argument. The German Church should renounce wealth in order to be more faithful to the Gospel. Francis before it was popular?

  2. Austin Catholics says:

    Well Die Kirchensteuer is a dumb idea anyway. It is probably too much to wish the Church would refuse that money, but we can hope.

  3. Priam1184 says:

    Is Die Kirchensteur why they seem to have such a great number of liturgically corrupt Masses in Germany too?

  4. LarryW2LJ says:

    A question. Does this “Church Tax” provide all the income to the churches in Germany? Or is this in addition to revenues earned through collections and tithing? The other thing to consider is that when you take money from the government, then you are beholding to it. It IS better to be poorer and faithful to the Gospel, than to be wealthy and compromised.

    Two quotes come to mind:

    “If your right arm is causing you to sin, it is better to cut it off then to be thrown into Gehenna with it.”
    “What good is it to gain the entire world, but lose your soul?”

  5. CatholicByChoice says:

    Perhaps they are embracing Pope Francis’ teaching for homosexuals and applying it to heterosexuals as well: who am I to judge, if a person is seeking God?

  6. LarryW2LJ says:

    “than” – sorry – please don’t send in the Grammar Police.

  7. Imrahil says:

    Erm, spot on.

    No time to write a comment on the question itself, other than that. Only in answer to some questions:

    1. While the Church does take money from the government*, the Church Tax has nothing to do with doing so. [*in recompensation for sparing the Stae this same ir more money, which is why a Catholic school costs about €40 per month; and in replacement for Church property stolen in 1802.]

    2. Thete are collections and donations. If tithing means approximately what I think it means (what does it mean?), it is replaced by the Church tax.

  8. jacobi says:


    Tut, tut. Shame on you, to even think that the wealthy German Bishops might want even more!

    On the other hand maybe Benedict had his colleagues in mind – as a compensating thought I stress – when he said we might have to accept a smaller Church!

  9. Volanges says:

    As I understand it, the collection plate is still passed around at Mass.

    In order to avoid paying the tax you must officially declare that you are not Catholic. The Church is notified and an entry is made in your baptismal records after which you are denied sacraments.

    It saddens me to think of all those martyrs who died horrible deaths rather than renounce the Faith and here someone does it to avoid paying to the Church a surcharge of 7% of their assessed income tax.

  10. Bosco says:

    Cynical indeed, Father Z. The old ‘just follow the money trail’ theory. Bling bling.

  11. Menagerie says:

    Am I understanding this right? You actually pay a tax penalty to be Catholic?

  12. Sword40 says:

    Seems to me that the German Catholics would be very smart to un-enroll from their parishes, and just go to Mass each Sunday. Why pay a tax to a socialist government that controls the church through economic oppression.

    The old saying comes to mind; “if you want to know who the boss is, look at who signs the check”

  13. Deacon Augustine says:

    Fr. I am sure you are quite right to connect the compromise of doctrine with filthy lucre. But the same could be said of the tax-exempt status of the Church in the US and UK as well. How often have weak bishops justified their compromise with the world, the flesh and the devil with the excuse that they don’t want to jeopardise the Church’s tax-exempt status?

    The problem, as ever, boils down to he who pays the piper calls the tune. If becoming a poorer Church is what it takes to free the Church from the dead hand of a state which genuflects before Satan, then we should embrace lady poverty yesterday. The Pope is quite right about this.

  14. LarryW2LJ says:


    Tithing means, as I understand it, giving the first ten percent of what you earn back to God. It only makes sense as He gives us everything we have, anyway.

    In our Parish, tithing is promoted thusly ……. 5% is the suggested donation to the Parish and the other 5% is donated to the charity of your choice, whether that be the Bishop’s Annual Appeal or some other form of Catholic charity, such as Cross International or whatever. Also, if you pay to upkeep a Catholic organization, such as tuition to a privately funded Catholic school, that can also count.

    Hope this answers your question.

  15. Laura98 says:

    I lived in Germany for 5 years… and had to pay this stupid tax! It rankled me to no end. The Church (both Protestant [Lutheran] and Catholic] enforced it… and would not allow you to be married, buried or have your children baptized in the Church if you do not pay those taxes. It is their main source of income, as attendance is rather dismal except for Christmas and Easter, therefore collections are not large. It gives the Church a steady income, that is for sure. The tax is not much, really. I give more when I attend Mass at home – but refused when I was there… because it just galled me.

    The problems this causes are numerous IMHO…

    – The State gets involved. It knows who is and who is NOT a member of a Church. It’s right there on your taxes whether you are Evangelische [Lutheran] or Katholische.

    – It makes people reliant on the State to take out “Taxes” for the Church. The “State” will take care of you… perhaps through the Church… perhaps not. It really doesn’t matter… because it will always be the State taking care of you.

    – As I stated before on here… people base their “Christianity” on paying these taxes. Kind of like citizenship. My own mother-in-law stated that of course she’s a “Christian” – She pays her Kirchensteuer! (No amount of discussing/arguing could convince her that “taxes” has nothing to do with it at all!)

  16. Rouxfus says:

    James Cardinal Gibbons, who was the second American Cardinal, wrote about this issue in a chapter on civil and religious liberty in his wonderful explanation of the Catholic faith, The Faith of Our Fathers:

    For my part, I much prefer the system which prevails in this country, where the temporal needs of the Church are supplied by voluntary contributions of the faithful, to the system which obtains in some Catholic countries of Europe, where the Church is supported by the government, thereby making feeble reparation for the gross injustice it has done to the Church by its former wholesale confiscation of ecclesiastical property. And the Church pays dearly for this indemnity, for she has to bear the perpetual enactments of the civil power, which aims at making her wholly dependent upon itself.

    Some years ago, on my return from Rome, in company with the late Archbishop Spalding I paid a visit to the Bishop of Annecy, in Savoy. I was struck by the splendor of his palace and saw a sentinel at the door, placed there by the French government as a guard of honor. But the venerable Bishop soon disabused me of my favorable impressions. He told me that he was in a state of gilded slavery. I cannot, said he, build as much as a sacristy without obtaining permission of the government.

    I do not wish to see the day when the Church will invoke or receive any government aid to build our churches, or to pay the salary of our clergy, for the government may then begin to dictate to us what doctrines we ought to preach. If it is a great wrong to muzzle the press, it is a greater wrong to muzzle the pulpit. No amount of State subsidy would compensate for the evils resulting from the Government censorship of the Gospel, and the suppression of Apostolic freedom in proclaiming it. St. Paul exults in the declaration that, though he is personally in chains, the word of God in not enchained.[II. Tim. ii. 9.]

    And moreover, in proportion as State patronage would increase, the sympathy and aid of the faithful would diminish.

    May the happy condition of things now existing among us always continue, in which the relations between the clergy and the people will be direct and immediate, in which Bishops and Priests will bestow upon their spiritual children their voluntary labors, their tender solicitude, their paternal affection, and pour out like water their hearts’ blood, if necessary; and in which they will receive in return the free-will offerings—the devotion and gratitude of a filial people.

  17. ClavesCoelorum says:

    Hear ye the voice of a German on this. :)

    Yes, the German Church is quite well off. The Kirchensteuer has an important historical foundation, which is a matter of justice and not one of separation of Church and state. When the German Federal Constitution was signed, the Church tax was kept, but in return the Church pays the state money for the tax collection, and has also vowed to take over a lot of the social work, such as hospitals, kindergarten and schools. An incredible amount of diocesan funds are used for these matters, which is conveniently ignored by those in media and society who oppose the Church tax.

    Thought this might be of interest.

    As for the matter of Communion for remarried divorcees, I frowned from the moment the headline was published and touted in all big news networks. As a soon-to-be Catholic (23 November!) I say that I really don’t like the way some issues are headed in Germany under our Bishops’ Conference. This is one of them, but others include lay participation in Church administration (which is interpreted to mean an ecclesiastical democracy) and liturgical stuff.

    On the latter, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM is probably a swear word in the episcopal halls. Unlike some US bishops, I know of not one German bishop who would say Holy Mass in the EF. SP is not really catching on here, from what I know. I wish the parish I will be in soon would do it, the parish church is wonderfully equipped (but a proper high altar) for it. :(

  18. Imrahil says:

    Dear @LarryW2LJ,

    thanks! As I understand that, this tithing in that case runs under “pious custom” and is not (which it once wad in some places) Church law binding under mortal sin. There is of course still the 5th Church commandment, but you’d need a law to make tithing the one and only way of fulfilling it.

    Dear @Laura,
    it remains however that the Church tax, whatever one may think of it, has nothing to do with the Stae. The State merely does the collecting (and is paid for doing so). He does of course know your confession, thus; but I admit to see little problem with that (not saying that there are no other problems). There are many areas where the State needs to know his subjects’ confessions; and if he wants to know it he can find it out anyway.

    Dear @ClavesCoelorum, God bless you and congratulations!

    The bishop you seek is Bp Hanke of Eichstätt. Though he is the only one.

    Btw., we have the category of “practicing Catholic”. Church attendance is not so bad among them. The rest attends for Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony, Funeral and Chistmas. It is already the slightly more faithful that attend for Easter (or for Harvest thanksgiving or the procession through the cemetry on All Saints).

    though, though I did say “spot on”, I do not believe that the tax is among the conscious motives of the German bishops to wish for admission of the divorced-remarried to Holy Communion. Rather, it is that they do not think them in real (that is subjective) mortal sin on that account (though the very just question then will be: when did they last attend the Sunday Mass?)

    Even the orthodox apologetes mostly argue by “only receive Holy Communion by the Church rules”, “make a spiritual Communion” and “give, thus, some little witness to the indissolubility of marriage”, that is, if I may use the words without intent of negative overtones, along the line of “ritual impurity” (like the one-hour fast). There is none around who suggests that, for that sin alone, they deserve to burn in Hell for eternity if they don’t get show their partner the door.

  19. Imrahil says:

    The “btw.” paragraph should belong to the part adressed to the dear @Laura98.

  20. robtbrown says:

    As of January 2012, bishops who have said the TLM:

    GERMANY: Cardinal Walter Brandmüller (President of the Papal Historical Commission), Dick (Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Cologne), Hanke (Bishop of Eichstätt), Mixa (Bishop Emeritus of Augsburg), Ostermann (Auxiliary Bishop von Münster), Overbeck (Bishop of Essen)

  21. Imrahil says:

    Dear @robtbrown, thanks! Didn’t know that…

    Interesting about Bp Mixa. I always thought he belonged to the (existing!) species of good old conservative, orthodox Catholic bishops who never would say a TLM (like, e. g., Cardinal Meisner, to all I know, or also, despite the criticisms from the traditional side, Archbishop Müller).

  22. Pingback: Twins Were Born, But Haven't Realized It Yet - BigPulpit.com

  23. Rich says:

    Dear Fr. Z.,

    Don’t be so hard on yourself. I really don’t believe that cynicism drives your criticism at all, but rather common sense, understanding of human nature, and knowledge of history by which we acknowledge the possibility of the corruption of Church leaders. Indeed, it would be rather naïve to totally rule out the Die Kirchensteuer as a potential motivation for some of the German bishops’ stance on the matter.

  24. ClavesCoelorum says:

    Dear @Imrahil,

    Thanks! :) I didn’t know those three Bishops had said the EF. It was probably in private, or some other closed group, though. And definitely not regularly, I would have heard it otherwise. The others are all no longer part of the Conference, that’s why I didn’t include them.

  25. casey says:

    My daughter lives in Austria. There you get a bill in the mail, and if don’t pay your credit report is hit, just like any other bill. This causes much resentment. She said it would be so much better if they just took it from your taxes. As was mentioned above, this creates a mentality of dependence and greatly diminishes people’s personal giving to charity.

Comments are closed.