German Catholics lose church rights for unpaid tax

Catholic church in Emsdetten, Germany The number of Catholics leaving the Church has sharply increased

Germany's Roman Catholics are to be denied the right to Holy Communion or religious burial if they stop paying a special church tax.

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.

The bishops have been alarmed by the number of Catholics leaving the Church.

They say such a step should be seen as a serious act against the community.

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.

Tax on Germany's Christians

  • 25 million Catholics
  • Tax worth 5bn euros (2010)
  • 24 million Protestants
  • Tax worth 4.3bn euros
  • German population 82 million

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.

'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.

Without a "sign of repentance before death, a religious burial can be refused," the decree states. Opting out of the tax would also bar people from acting as godparents to Catholic children.

"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.

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."

While the decree severely limits active participation in the German Catholic Church, it does hold out some hope for anyone considering a return to the fold.

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.


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  • Comment number 89.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Remind me again. what was it that Jesus said ( or rather is claimed to have said by some bolkes writting gospels 100s of years after his death)....

    ....oh THAT'S right......blessed are the money lenders....????

    At least this time it's the Catholic church picking on it's own & not the rest of us for a change.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    No wonder it's one of the wealthiest corporations in the world.
    Glad I'm a non-believer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    I don't believe in the German Church demanding taxes; but I do believe if people attend church services of any kind in any denomination of religious church, they should make offerings, paying to the degree their lifestyle permits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.


    What you fail to realise is that your religion has misappropriated the word 'love'. Your biblical concept of 'love' has little to do with the love I'm talking about, which has no conditions attached to it. Perhaps you'll experience it one day, when you're freed of your blinkers. It's telling that you don't - or can't - refute my assertion that your brand of 'love' is perverse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Think back to the middle ages and why the protestant church formed to break away from the catholics.

    Wonder if Mr Clegg will try to calculate the wealth of british churchgoers and see if he can bring in a similar tax here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    "Change, comment, criticism, opinion! How dare you! it will only be a matter of hours before riots inflict the streets throughout the world.
    Sorry... wrong religion. Catholics will probably use common sense, keep working and get on with their lifes regardless."

    Or might go on another crusade ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    There are several countries in Europe that have a Church Tax. The reason that the UK has no tax is that the Queen is the head of the Church and costs of the comes out of general taxation, so the UK pays a hidden tax.

    Austria also applies a Church Tax. As far as I know, the biggest antiChrist of the 20th Century, one Adolf Hitler, introduced it. But, like any other club, you pay a subcription!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    set yourselves free, dump the church, you will be a better person for doing so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Midwestern Sue - You don't get it:- If the Church takes me at my word (if I opt out for tax purposes) it's got my message loud and clear ! Jesus didn't say, "Render unto God that which is Caesar's "

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    @mike, I can´t belive it. But well, lucky you! At least you don´t have to follow all the burocratic stuff to leave the church :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    60 years ago I stopped paying catholic church taxes .....
    and never looked back.

    I lived for 5 years next to an orphanage in Rome.
    Beautiful mansion and gardens for the clerics and a prison-like building for the kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    While the Church does much that is good, attaching monetary fees to participation in events that are meant to be conducive toSalvation is entirely wrong-headed.JesusChrist attacked the people engaged in commerce at the Temple for a reason.Devotion toGod should not be obscured by monetary transactions.Voluntary donations are sufficient; any other charges for Sacraments & pastoral care simply Wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Did Jesus hand out W-2s at the last supper? I forget... (W-2: US tax form)

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    the catholic should be lucky,they have any members at all ..unbelievable.pun intended

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    I live in Austria and yes I was born Catholic, brought up a Catholic and still am a Catholic. We've have had the tax system here since before the Second World War, I believe it's known as the "Hitlers Tax". We are forced to pay far less than in Germany but if you don't then you will be excommunicated.
    As I was!
    Mike, Vienna.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Actually it´s a shame we have to pay to be part of a church. I thought that the problem of the indulgence was over years and years ago. In italy we have to pay the 8 x 1000 every month. Then I moved to German and we have to declare if you belive or not, so if you´ll pay the tax or not. I think it´s time for a revolution. Stop paying just to belive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I used to live in Germany. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews have many privileges: they can collect taxes, they have a voice in broadcasting councils, exemption from property taxes, and many other rights. Rights denied to other religions, including Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus (and atheists). But then again, the German Establishment hasn't got a great image for equality or diversity...

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Loz, 65;

    Sorry Loz - i was being sarcastic. Without Christianity, the lot of poor people would unquestionably be several orders of magnitude worse, even than it is now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    When I think of the Catholic Church, I don't think of a 'church' but more of a global corporation with headquarters in Vatican City.


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