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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  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Nice, so you can't be a member of the church unless you pay a prescribed percentage of your income as a membership due? I recall a wise man throwing people out of the temple for something similar. Personally if my church imposed such a tax on me I'd go straight to the exit and never return.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    As usual the BBC has managed to report this so most people understand it backwards.

    This tax is an imposition of the German state, not the Church's choice. A lot of people pretend not to be Catholic in order to avoid the tax. Church says, you can't do that as it gives false impression of our real numbers/needs and we cannot function as organization like that.

    See? It's called unbiased reporting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    When money becomes so much more important than followers, I think you can safely say a religion has lost spiritual focus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    No wonder people are lreaving the Catholic Church in their millions. Soon the only people left in Catholic Churches will be Priests. It has lost its way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Seems like God is having trouble in Germany due to the current eurozone crises so probably decided to be strict with tax avoiders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    "Give me a child until he/she is 6 and he will be mine for life" ( so says the Church) but then along came the internet and with it information and opinion. Communication is the Church's problem -
    'ex' communication isn't a threat like it used to be for people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    94. Selam - this is a board paid for by British taxpayers, so no, we will not shut up - if you don't like it, post elsewhere, For the record, I for one am not an atheist. But I would not pay a tax to be a practising member of any religion. I'd cut out the middle man and just talk to my deity direct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    46 John C

    As I understand it, by choosing to keep money for oneself rather than giving it to those in greater need (via the church) then indeed God would stop one from entering heaven. It doesn't go against Catholic values at all. In fact, it enforces those values. Not saying I agree, but it doesn't go against Catholic, or Christian, values at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Great, so now the Catholic church (in Germany, at least) is "pay for play" – just like the Mormons. What an inspiration to us all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    No! The church shouldn't take it out on the people. For the love of all that's good and holy ... note it's because of a 19TH CENTURY LAW! Get the law repealed. The law clearly doesn't apply to the early 21st century. The German hierarchy is as stubborn as they are stupid ... same as for the American hierarchy ... save us from their idiocracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    @73 alex,

    You know well we don't actually have to pay the 8x1000 to the Church in Italy. The 8x1000 involves several choices, confessional or lay ones, or just the State. No damnation either.

    The German case, though, quite surprised me, given the fact that it comes from the land of Martin Luther. If BBC's reporting on this is correct, the German C.C. are way off the Mark (pun intended)

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    It's a commonly held misconception that membership of a church and belief in God are synonymous and that you can't have one without the other. Millions upon millions believe it though. They wood of course strenuously deny it if challenged. It's actually the oldest form of brainwashing still extant in the modern world and church mdintains it's facade of sincerity as effectively as ever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    It is at moments like this that the true nature of the Catholic Church becomes clear. I think it's wonderful when the faithful make donations to help those in need, but, as a Catholic myself, I surely wouldn't want to have to pay such a tax as I know that my contribution most likely wouldn't be used to help those in need, but rather, it would be used to pay the legal fees of those accepting them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    81.alan loughlin
    "10 Minutes ago
    set yourselves free, dump the church, you will be a better person for doing so."

    I would go a bit further. Scrap all religion! Life is too short and many lifes have been cut shorter because of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    The sooner everyone realizes that religion is archaic and a detriment to society, the sooner we will all get along with more money in our pockets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    'All Germans who are officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a religious tax of 8-9% on their annual income tax bill' this is a clrear statement that tells us, not only Catholics pay but others 2 so nothing new if the Bishops pass this msg 2 their faitful & this msg concerns only to Germen Catholics However Some Atheists try to attack our Church. Pls shut ur mouth! we pay it

  • Comment number 93.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    So, they're alarmed at people leaving the Church, but insist they pay for the privilege of being a Catholic? When it's free in other countries?? Am I missing something here???

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Camel...Rich man.... eye of a needle... heaven.... easier to get into...
    Re-arrange the words to form a sentence.
    All religion is ultimately about money, the Catholic church especially so. They should read their own fiction....erm Bible I meant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    They do their work, they want their money and in some parts of Germany it could be hard to find godparents, now, but that's ok with me. What freaks me out are two things:
    Once you're in (mostly as a baby) you have to prove for each job, that you are out (or automatically pay again).
    And: the catholic clerks are paid by the state (from taxes even Muslim pay), most of them better than any Scientist!


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