ASK FATHER: Pay the German “Church Tax” or not, given what the German Church is doing?

From a GERMAN reader…


Currently, I am required to pay my income tax in Germany, which also includes the “Church Tax” as I have declared that I am a Roman Catholic.

It appears one cannot just opt-out of this tax, as far as I can tell, one needs to declare not longer being Roman Catholic (and the German bishops threaten with Excommunication).

However, seeing what is going on in Germany, I’ve reached a point where I cannot, in good conscience, fund those activities anymore.

Aside the fact that we’d rather spend the money for something useful, e.g. funding another seminarian at the FSSP seminary, this touches on actively funding activities that are, IMO, openly anti-Catholic and I fear that I am engaging in a sinful activities by continuing to pay the tax.

Do you have any advise for me on what to do?

Since this is a little apart from my wheelhouse, I asked a trusted German priest, a friend of many years and absolutely solid.


The system is broken. I understand your correspondent’s doubts and frustration.

It is interesting how in Germany even the language used by the church often has to do with membership rather than faith in God. The contribution based system leaves deep traces in how the local church thinks and acts.

At the same time, the individual Catholic is not “guilty” of supporting bad and questionable things by paying the tax, as all my relatives do.

In reality, most of the Church activities funded by the tax are not evil.
Ultimately, donors can never avoid totally that their money will be used unwisely, or even sinfully. Such scruples are unreasonable, IMHO: that responsibility lies with someone else.

The fact is that in the US the faithful have other means of influencing how the Church spends its money. In Germany this is much more complicated. Practically, the faithful have less immediate influence.

The fact is that, even today, opting out (Kirchenaustritt) is not generally seen as an acceptable option by the faithful or by the clergy in Germany.

I do not see how the act as such can be considered an act of schism, apostasy such as to incur excommunication.  As I read the bishops, the act, because it is public and official, is currently rather something like manifest grave sin.  Therefore, can. 915 is to be applied.

What your questioner could do now is make his difficulties known to his own pastor, and to the competent bishop.  Let them know that this constitutes a huge problem for him, and that he is unsure how he can resolve it under the present conditions.

Get on their nerves: ¡Hagan lío!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ¡Hagan lío!, "How To..." - Practical Notes, 1983 CIC can. 915, ASK FATHER Question Box, HONORED GUESTS, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. paulc0820 says:

    “Get on their nerves:”

    Or shall we rather say “make a mess”

  2. Charles E Flynn says:

    The stamp is getting a lot of attention:

    De Mattei: The Simony of the German Bishops


    If the slogan of the American Colonies in the 18th century was “No taxation without representation”, the slogan of the German Bishops today is “No Sacraments without taxation”. If you pay you receive the Sacraments, if you don’t pay you are deprived of them. The wealth of the German Church is founded, in a word, on simony.

    Simony is a sin that has accompanied the history of the Church throughout the centuries, being associated frequently with the so-called “Nicolaism”, the concubinage of priests. The first synods of Gregory VII (1073-1085), the great reformer Pope of the Middle-Ages, were precisely dedicated to the fight against the simoniacal German Bishops, transgressors of ecclesiastical celibacy. A much graver plague than the selling of indulgences, which offered the pretext for Luther’s Revolution.

  3. TRW says:

    I’m wondering if anyone knows whether those who are neither Catholic nor Lutheran are required to pay a tax comparable to the Kirchensteuer. It seems reprehensible that the government should actually provide a monetary “incentive” to apostatize, as it were. Taylor Marshall did an episode on YouTube recently where he and Alexander Tschugguel discussed this very subject. It seems that the Holy See could have at least weighed in long ago and made It clear that this situation was far from ideal. Sadly, the hierarchy in Germany likely never made a fuss about the influx of money. Excepting a truly Catholic confessional state, I can’t conceive of a situation where it wouldn’t be very problematic for the state to be collecting revenue on behalf of the Church.

  4. TRW says:

    I’m wondering if anyone knows whether those who are neither Catholic nor Lutheran are required to pay a tax comparable to the Kirchensteuer. It seems reprehensible that the government should actually provide a monetary “incentive” to apostatize, as it were. Taylor Marshall did an episode on YouTube recently where he and Alexander Tschugguel discussed this very subject. It seems that the Holy See could have at least weighed in long ago and made It clear that this situation was far from ideal. Sadly, the hierarchy in Germany likely never made a fuss about the influx of money. Excepting a truly Catholic confessional state, I can’t conceive of a situation where it wouldn’t be very problematic for the state to be collecting revenue on behalf of the Church.

  5. Charles E Flynn says:


    A search at Google for:

    if not christian, must pay equivalent to Kirchensteuer

    produces this result, which is in agreement with everything I have seen on the subject (not a guarantee of truth, of course):

    Kirchensteuer: A Nasty Letter from the Catholic Church


    “Kirchensteuer or ‘Church Tax’, established under the Weimar constitution (and reiterated under the Grundgesetz of 1949), takes approximately 8-9% of one’s income tax. The German State in this way facilitates the financing of religious institutions and collected almost 10 billion dollars in tax for them last year. Almost the entirety of this amount is split evenly between two Christian faiths: The Protestant Church (Evangelische Kirche) or the Catholic Church. A number of smaller Churches (Old Catholics, Unitarians, some Jewish communities) benefit from relatively minor contributions.”

  6. Tara Tremuit says:

    This is a lame response. It sounds strangely similar to the arguments of those who tried to talk Bl. Franz Jagerstatter out of refusing to join up. “You’re not responsible for what the higher ups do, go take care of your family.” Pray, pay, and obey. Nothing about Simony. Nothing about this tax supporting the German Bishops who are leading the Schism. Nothing about how it is not a sin, and obviously not then a *manifest* sin to disregard an illegitimate authority. Say “no” to the Church tax and find other ways to give directly to truly Catholic pursuits. Enough with propping up the buildings that function mostly in reality as concert halls and future multi-culti worship zones. Enough funding crash pads for the St. Gallen and Lavender Mafiosi. Enough with holding the Sacraments hostage for cash. Do over.

  7. Tara Tremuit says:

    The thing people need to understand is that Germans as a group are so law-abiding, so confident in the system, so completely unable to see how beholden and enslaved they are to it, that very few will ever question or make a fuss about it, no matter what *it* is. Even the above response begs the question and reveals this point. “The fact is that, even today, opting out (Kirchenaustritt) is not generally seen as an acceptable option by the faithful or by the clergy in Germany.” Yes, this is exactly what we are talking about. “Not …an acceptable option” is polite talk for verboten, anathema, weirdo-pariah-machen, no matter how grave the emergency this is not to be discussed. The system is broken, but it’s the system and we’re sticking to it. (And I’m not picking on the Germans. Everybody is enslaved to local custom. Americans have this same blindness about American stuff etc. Everyone is enslaved to their national and temporal custom unless by long process of liberal education we unshackle ourselves by rigorous study of Truth.)

  8. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Yes, Tara Tremuit is right. German law says you must pay it, so Germans will do so because they respect the law. As a fellow Prussian Im sure Fr Z knows this as well as I do.

    The solution is to abolish the law. I have long wondered if in fact it does not infringe EU law regarding the right to religious freedom. It should not be up to the state to decide how much of your income you contribute to your church, nor should the state be deciding which religious denomination taxpayers’ money is going to, nor should religious people be fiscally penalised compared to other citizens.

    Are there any EU lawyers who read this blog who would be willing to mount a pro bono challenge to this law before the European Court of Justice?

  9. Fr. Reader says:

    Difficult for me to understand why those who want to show “mercy” to people in adultery and related issues, are so strong and clear and rigid in this thing of paying this tax. Why they do not apply the same criteria for both groups?

  10. Andreas says:

    I can very much sympathize with the thoughts of the original correspondent upon whose note this BLOG entry is based. As you might imagine, I am as concerned as so many here with the decidedly toxic madnesses reflected in the words and actions of some of our even most prominent ‘Shepherds’. Still, in addition to funding other worthy causes not directly managed by The Church, I willingly continue to pay the Tax each year here in Austria. The amount to be paid is based on ones ability and resources to do so. In my experience, I have not ever heard of anyone here being threatened with harsh penalties or reprisals for failure to contribute.

    Here in Austria, I have seen that these funds go toward many very worthy causes, including being able to support each Diocese with the restoration and upkeep of so many of our beautiful ancient Cathedrals, Churches and Chapels; many of which are in desperate need of repair. There are also a host of important local parish-oriented programs toward which these same funds go, including support for our church choirs and orchestras. For these reasons and more, I consider my humble contributions each year to be a small yet valuable means to help build and maintain our Church here in Austria; a most challenging task during these otherwise troubled times.

  11. HvonBlumenthal says:

    It’s not clear to me if everyone on this blog understands that it is the LAW (i.e. German federal law) that you must pay this tax. It is not imposed by the church.

  12. Amerikaner says:

    While I understand the reason behind folks calling on Germans not to pay the “church tax,” I think it is very irresponsible to do so. If one un-enrolls as a Catholic one no longer has access to the sacraments. Yes it is terrible that the German hierarchy has such control.

    But if one can longer access the sacraments, it also includes a Catholic funeral. If one dies, the family is not affected seriously by not being able to have a Catholic funeral. And it can cause great mental anguish for older family members whose family member has died and doesn’t understand the philosophical reason for not paying the church tax.

    Personally I would rather pay the tax and have access to the sacraments and also know I could receive a Catholic mass and burial. God will punish the hierarchy in his own way instead.

  13. Amerikaner says:

    Meant to write “If one dies, the family *IS* affected seriously by not being able to have a Catholic funeral.

  14. TRW says:

    I think that for the most part, people do understand that it is German law to pay the tax if one officially identifies as Catholic(or Protestant). What people have difficulty accepting is that the tax should be levied by a secular aurhority acting as an intermediary. A government that is not only atheistic, but a state that is also committed to promoting and enforcing “progressive”, immoral and unchristian ideals. Perhaps the Holy See could and should look unfavourably upon such arrangements instead of gladly accepting the money and looking the other way. Other than a truly Catholic confessional state that formulates its laws and policies based on Catholic teaching and the natural law, I can’t conceive of a situation where it would be advisable or desirable to have the government act as an intermediary(concerning monetary matters) between the Catholic church and the laity.
    It places an undue pressure on the German hierarchy to cozy up to the powers that be, the ones holding the money purse.

  15. KateD says:

    When the previous president took office, I struggled with the thought of paying for abortions via my taxes. I spoke to friends who filed letters with their taxes saying they were deducting a certain amount because they refused to be a party to abortion….Infully expected them to be picked up and thrown in with Wesley Snipes.

    The policies of the previous administration were devastating upon the finances of our family. My husband was unemployed or underemployed for nearly 8 years. We lost all savings, our house and our business, cars, jewelry…you name it. But the greater blessing? We had no income to tax. We did not pay a dime for the state funded abortions of that horrific era. Additionally, our financial situation made us exempt from acquiring Health Care Insurance….which were also required to fund abortion.

    God is good!

    What is 9% of zero? 25% of zero? 50% of zero?

    Nothing from nothing leaves nothing….you gotta have something if they wanna tax levied.

  16. JustaSinner says:

    Once again, we find the beauty in the US Constitution. A wonderful document being edited daily with a chainsaw and big, fat, kindergarten crayons.

  17. robtbrown says:

    The German priest correspondent says,

    In reality, most of the activities funded by the Church are not evil.

    That is garden variety Proportionalism. That notwithstanding:

    Assuming that the one paying the taxes is opposed to money going for abortion, it is an act of involuntary material cooperation in evil.

  18. robtbrown says:

    Amerikaner says:

    Meant to write “If one dies, the family *IS* affected seriously by not being able to have a Catholic funeral.

    Would the SSPX or FSSP deny a funeral?

  19. In the U.S., we don’t have to give to contribute to our bishops’ capital campaigns, and many of us, seeing how many bishops live high on the hog and are mired in scandal, don’t. We have the freedom to support the Church in other ways. But that’s not how it is where the Church tax exists. If you are subject to it, you can’t not pay it without publicly apostasizing. Which is worse? In those circumstances, what else can the laity do but endure the evil with patience and appeal to their bishops, and to God, for deliverance? We always want to be doing something, and to be taking some action, as if we can solve everything through our own actions; but we can’t.

    The solution lies with the German bishops, who, not taking seriously the warnings in Scripture addressed to shepherds who fatten themselves on their flocks, appear to have every incentive to do nothing.

  20. Michael da Roma says:

    Your guest commentator says that he understands the German bishops’ position as this: a lay German Catholic’s decision not to pay the tax is “something like manifest grave sin” and that, as a result, “canon 915 is to be applied.” So Harmut Zapp can’t go to communion but Joe Biden can?

    (Recall that canon law professor Zapp had tried to refuse to pay the tax yet retain his membership in the Church, but after a 2012 decision by the Leipzig Federal Administrative Court, the German bishops appear to have prevailed.)

    Strong stuff. But is it right – especially under canon law? No one can doubt that lay Catholics have an obligation to “provide for the needs of the Church” (canon 222, §1), but what is the authority for claiming that Catholics have to provide such support in a particular way? Church law allows for a bishop to impose a “moderate and proportionate” tax on his faithful (see canon 1263), but is a tax imposed under civil law and collected by the German government such a tax? What if a German Catholic wants to donate directly to his parish or some other recipient rather than through the apparatus set up by the state, especially if he has concerns in conscience like the ones expressed by your original questioner? On what authority do the German bishops claim they can impose these kinds of extremely strong sanctions against the faithful of their country?

    We should recall that in 2006 the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (PCLT) published “Actus formalis defectionis,” detailing just what a formal act of defection from the faith might look like. They said that a “formal act of defection must have more than a juridical-administrative character (the removal of one’s name from a Church membership registry maintained by the government in order to produce certain civil consequences), but be configured as a true separation from the constitutive elements of the life of the Church: it supposes, therefore, an act of apostasy, heresy or schism. The juridical-administrative act of abandoning the Church does not per se constitute a formal act of defection as understood in the Code, given that there could still be the will to remain in the communion of the faith.”

    While I think this document was essentially rendered moot by Pope Benedict XVI’s subsequent motu proprio “Omnium in mentem” three years later (26 October 2009) – in which he struck the references in the Code to “leaving by a formal act,” which had occasioned the PCLT’s document in the first place – the point is still this: under the law of the Church, which the bishops are sworn to uphold, withholding the sacraments from your people because they choose not to donate in a specific manner is problematic at best.

    This matter raises a whole host of issues under the moral law as well as civil and canonical law. For example, if someone refuses to pay but later repents, will his absolution be contingent upon the payment of back taxes?

    In any event, get a load of the list of prohibitions that a Catholic who “opts out” of the church tax has to endure:
    – he cannot, except in danger of death, receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, Confirmation, or the anointing of the sick
    – he cannot serve as a baptismal or a confirmation sponsor
    – he cannot serve as a member of a parish council or a diocesan pastoral council (hmm…)
    – he cannot belong to a public association of the faithful
    – he cannot get married in the Church without asking permission from his local ordinary, which would include him making the affirmations required of those marrying non-Catholics; that is, promising to preserve the faith and to raise any children as Catholics
    – he cannot receive a Catholic burial

    These are only some of the things that are included in the (“walking together”?) letter that a Catholic receives in the mail from his local parish priest, after the latter gets wind that one of his parishioners has formally opted-out of the church tax at the local government office.

    But before we all go running to the European Union courts (be careful what you wish for!), where is the appeal under canon law that this is not a very clear and very serious violation of the rights of the faithful?

  21. Hidden One says:

    So a German Catholic can either lie to the government and deny being Catholic, or pay the Church Tax.

    If paying the Church Tax were an immoral act, it would also be immoral to pay income tax to at least most governments in the world that collect it.

    It seems to me that paying the Church Tax in Germany is a matter of rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s: the German government collects, allocates, and distributes the money.

  22. John the Mad says:

    The tax may be imposed by the civil authority, but the decision to withhold sacraments falls directly on the heterodox German bishops and the Vatican. By withholding sacraments from the faithful the German episcopacy is engaging in simony, a very grave sin. By not directing the German bishops to cease such a sinful practice the Vatican, including Pope Francis (and admittedly his predecessors), is enabling grave sin to flourish. Mass attendance has plummeted to well below 10 percent. The two issues are connected. The German church is rotting from the top as is the Vatican under this pope.

  23. Kathleen10 says:

    “In reality, most of the church activities funded by the tax are not evil.”
    We are not allowed to do evil so that good may result. We are not allowed to do a little evil so that good may result. I do believe in these times I would rather not pay the tax and depend on the mercy of God when I die, than to pay it to the evil men who run the church in Germany. Or pretty much anywhere. To pay for the sacraments? No. They have made them a commodity, this is evil.

    Tara Tremuit, you made some good points, but you lost me at the end. Americans don’t need liberal education “unshackling” us from ideas we have about things. Maybe it’s different where you are, but liberal education in America means Marxism, atheism, communism, and disdain for free market capitalism. A lot of our problems have liberal education as the source, not the answer.
    We traded classical education for liberal education, and it isn’t working out well.

  24. Amerikaner says:

    robtbrown – you asked “Would the SSPX or FSSP deny a funeral?”

    Not much of an option unless you live close to Wigratzbad.

  25. Grabski says:

    Germany has numerous SSPX chapels. Church law mandates we materially support the Church, not pay a tax. The English Bishops sold out our religion, but for Bp John Fischer. Who was canonized

  26. Volanges says:

    Considering that to not pay the tax you have to publicly declare that you are not Catholic, why does anyone have a problem with sacraments being denied? Also, I may not like what my bishop is doing but do I cease giving to my own parish to punish him?

  27. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Volanges: if your bishop is doing something which is not Catholic, why should the state oblige you to give him money?

  28. Hidden One says:

    HvonBlumenthal, whether the state should oblige you to give your bishop money and whether you should publicly deny that you are Catholic in order to get out of a tax the proceeds of which go to your bishop are two very different questions.

  29. Tara Tremuit says:

    Kathleen10: I mean liberal as in the original meaning of ‘liberal education.’ The study of the arts of Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy. The study of the objective order in the created world that frees (liberates) man from the subjective slaveries we are all born into (fashions, passions, customs, errors of all kinds.) Classical education used to mean rigorous study of Latin and Greek and all things ancient Greece-n-Rome, which is wonderful and also necessary but not the same. There are only a few Unis I know of where the liberal arts are taught the old-fashioned way, and for their original purpose, to liberate, or free, man from chains which, in his ignorance, he doesn’t even know have bound him. Anyway, we all need it! And throughout all our lives.

  30. Grabski says:

    Pay Caesar what is Caesars (tax) =\= the Bishops get a slice of what is Caesar’s

    And denying you a Catholic burial for not paying Caesar’s tax doesn’t sound very Catholic, does it?

  31. KateD says:

    We are to give to the church of our time, treasure and/or talent to support her.

    So teach catechism to offset what you would pay in the tax. That way you are building up a better future Church and fulfilling your obligation.

    I pray Pope Francis has the courage to remove from positions of authority bishops and pastors who would decline such a trade off.

  32. albinus1 says:

    I’m pretty sure that the reason the “liberal arts” were originally so called was because only a free man—particularly one free of the need to work for a living—was able to devote the time to studying them, regardless of how the term may have been reinterpreted later. The Humanities have always been the pursuit of a relative few.

  33. Tara Tremuit says:

    OK now albinus1! We need to define some terms here. Liberal arts are not humanities. The Liberal arts are the study of created order. That is, study of the order inherent in things not determined by or created by man. (Like why and how it is that a 1:2 ratio of lengths of vibrating string makes an octave sound. Or how to prove that the sum of the squares of sides = the square of the hypotenuse in a right triangle.) The humanities, well, I think that just means study of whatever is made up by man. It is true that the liberal arts are the education of a free man, but that education was given the free man to make him free not only in a political sense, but free from his own passions and the errors of his own culture. “Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free.”

  34. Alice says:

    I was just quizzing my children on the Baltimore Catechism chapter on Confirmation last week. It seems to me that this is one of those situations where one must publicly profess one’s faith in the Church and accept the consequences (extra taxes) rather than deny one’s faith before the civil authorities. To deny that one belongs to the Church with mental reservations to avoid being taxed is Jesuitical to the point that a Jesuit would blush. Based on what I’ve heard, if your income is below a certain level, you do not have to pay the Church Tax, so I suppose you could choose poverty to avoid it. It seems that the correspondent is may not actually be a German or living in Germany, so perhaps a new job is in order. No matter what, it is better to suffer than to deny Christ and His Church.

    Please understand, as an American, I think the Church Tax is a really bad idea and the German people should insist that their elected leaders change things. (But most Germans seem to think we Americans should do something similar about the 2nd Amendment, so perhaps this is just a difference of culture.) What is a worse idea, though, is to deny that one is a Catholic to the civil authorities. To do so knowingly and willingly is a mortal sin carrying with it the penalty of excommunication. It’s unfortunate that this is the only thing that the German bishops seem to be willing to enforce, but the German bishops have had issues forever. Just ask Martin Luther.

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