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 169.

    Priests and clerics have the important role of guiding their congregations along a path of righteousness that will ensure a place in their respective heavens. It's fair play that believers should pay for this privilege. I'm an atheist, so I will be unable to claim this great benefit that church-goers get for free. The pope and his employees deserve more privileges in this age of austerity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Thanks god im an athiest!

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    I don't know and do not want to know about church finances but to say that somewhat we are socially engineered to be athesits is ludicrous. It is very simple, less and less people belive in the existence of god and religion. Religion thrives in ignorance and misery. At the moment both are in short supply in Germany and Europe in general.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Germany appears to suffer from 'over prescription' in several areas, including this. All with the best intentions no doubt. Also 'over-prescribed' is the extent of investment in wind farms, to the point the electric supply is so unreliable that it's hurting German industry and even energy suppliers are minded to cease operations in Germany.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Is there a problem at the Vatican Bank? Is this a new form of 'bailout'?
    Glib I know, but I, for one, am sick of organized religion - its greed, its hypocrisy. Old men in dresses & pointy hats living in opulence "
    If these remarks were directed at Jews or Muslims the predjudice would be more transparent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    Is there a problem at the Vatican Bank? Is this a new form of 'bailout'?

    Glib I know, but I, for one, am sick of organized religion - its greed, its hypocrisy. Old men in dresses & pointy hats living in opulence taxing 'you'....just doesn't add up IMO.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    It's no wonder that the Catholic Church is one of the richest organisations in the world, but little did I know until now how they got so rich. Taxing people for having a faith is disgusting.
    The more I learn about religion, the more I despise it - it almost always promotes "do as I say, not as I do" . I live by my own moral compass and I don't need a self righteous bigot telling me how to live.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Can't I just pay God when I get there?

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Please check your story. The tax was 0.8%. This is what your example shows.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Disgraceful.Church should be free and for everyone as per bible. it is wrong to excommunicate a person from church because is not paying taxes.

  • Comment number 159.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    @132 Francis_The_Third

    Thank you so much - at last an informed opinion given with pertinent background information so one can actually agree or disagree with it!
    The BBC should give Francis III a job rewriting this article so it explains what is actually going on instead of the usual ill-informed lazy hate-mongering written by anonymous reporters (what's up with that, btw?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Give Caesar what is Caesar's...

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    That attitude more or less sums up religion

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    This article is an absolute disgrace, wholly misleading and dishonest. All Germans pay a church tax the impression given is that it is catholics only. Germany is the only country to impose this tax, based on the protestant idea of tithing where you donate 10% of your salary, in catholicism there is no obligation to give anything and if you do it is according to your means and not a ridiculous 10%.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    I've said it before but both the athiest and religious posts are full of arrogance.
    It's okay to not have all the answers guys!

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    "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."

    I say it is a step in the right direction.
    The Catholic Church is rich, its audience is poor & ill. The Pope should be ashamed of himself, hanging on to a golden staff while he demands money from ordinary folk & oversees starvation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Pay to pray?..........Isn't this regressive church policy precisely what Martin Luther rebelled against and ultimately urged his followers to disobey?

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    We should have this in the United States. I'm not religious but there are many beautiful churches in New York that have been converted into restaurants and retail stores.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Enforcing payment just shows their own shortcomings as a church to be honest.
    Christianism, as well as other religions promote social values such as charity. The lack of donations is directly proportional to the failure of priests to send their message. We`re talking about a faith based on the son of God who would not deny baptism to any man who repented... or had good credit? I`m confused.


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