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 389.

    What happened to "God will provide" ? This is all about making BILLIONS more for the Catholic Church so they can continue to invest in the stock markets and make more BILLIONS and still PAY NO TAXES.

    Wasn't the Catholic Church twice found to be investing in companies who make birth control ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    Forget the taxes, what about the state register. Is not this exactly the system that allowed the Nazis to identify every Jew and every member of any other religion they considered undesirable or subversive. Is it not very dangerous for the state to have a record of every person's religious beliefs or lack of them. I'm surprised that the ECHR has not ruled this to be a gross invasion of privacy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    The fictional character Jesus in the sci-fi epic "The Bible" said that prayer was a private matter.

    One more religious irony to add to the growing mass.

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    And people wonder how the Pope stays rich? This is God's church on earth? Pathetic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    With due respect, you may be confusing modern NFP with past methods.I'd be glad to send you links w/more info.I'm confused, tho,why would young girls attempt to obey Catholic teaching on contraceptives whilst engaging in pre-marital sex? Or perhaps I misunderstood your post?

  • Comment number 384.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    @368 Anglerfish. The Munich tax accountant even got it wrong. Munich is capital of Bavaria where, like neighbouring Baden-Württemburg, the Church Tax is 9%, not 8%!

    @370 Latitudinarian. Currently Muslims are not taxed. However, it is widely expected that Islam will one day be recognised as a "Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts" which will give it the right to levy tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    Just for clarification, this is not a catholic tax, it applies equally to protestants. It is also not an 8% income tax, it is an extra 8% OF your income tax (if you pay 20% income tax in total then it's 8% of that, not 8% of your income). I'd rather the state kept out of it and churches charged their members directly as they felt necessary for the "services" they provide like any other club

  • Comment number 381.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 380.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    #367 "Georges Lemaître (Catholic Priest), the first person to propose the theory of the expansion of the Universe, also the first to derive Hubble's law and also proposed the Big Bang theory."

    Yup, and it only took the RC hierarchy about 300 years after the death of Galileo to embrace science. Just think what he could have achieved with the last 12 years of his life if they hadn't locked him up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    they probably really need the money, defending themselves from tens of thousands of lawsuits for pedophilia has got to hurt.

    Wondering if God wont let you into his gate if you're behind on payments?

    this is just one of the MANY reasons I don;t believe in God..he's obviously very inept at hiring the managers of his affairs

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    This isn't altogether new. Germany has for a very long time collected 'tithes' for the RC and protestant churches. In Germany it is often said that despite the statement in the constitution that there is 'no state church', there are in fact two!

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    The German state is merely collecting a kind of 'membership' fee on behalf of the church. It's misleadingly called a tax, but of course the churches benefit from this misnomer, because a lot of people who never go to church, just pay, because they don't realise how easy it is to opt out (which I did long ago). In all other aspects the separation of Church + State is much stronger in Germany vs UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    Originally the "tax" was raised locally and by the Churches themselves. Then it became more centralised and the state started to collect it for the Churches. If the Muslim associations in Germany (e.g. Ditib for the Turkish Muslims) apply to become "bodies of public law", they will get the same opportunity. - It is amazing how excited people can get about other people's "taxes".

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    What would Jesus do?...Tell them to go to hell!

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.


    "Do Muslims in Germany tax their members?"

    I don't think Mosques were nationalised in Germany.

  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    Got to laugh at all the Catholics asking for everyone being critical to shut their mouths, and that we have to leave the topic alone.

    No we don't! Free speech allows us to criticise all we wish! And, perhaps if the Catholic Church had less involvement in enforcing its dogma on everyone else, we could sympathise, but it doesn't - it likes to lobby governments and the likes.

    Criticise we will!

  • Comment number 371.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    When religious organizations are allowed to "tax" citizens it is time to withdraw all of their preferential status and tax benefits. Do Muslims in Germany tax their members?


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