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German bishops defend exclusion of Catholics who stop paying tax

By on Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg

The German bishops’ conference has defended a decree that said Catholics who stop paying a Church membership tax should not receive sacraments.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, conference president, said: “There must be consequences for people who distance themselves from the Church by a public act.”

“Clearly, someone withdrawing from the Church can no longer take advantage of the system like someone who remains a member,” he said at a September 24 press conference as the bishops began a four-day meeting in Fulda. “We are grateful Rome has given completely clear approval to our stance.”

The archbishop said each departure was “painful for the Church”, adding that bishops feared many Catholics were unaware of the consequences and would be “open to other solutions”.

“The Catholic Church is committed to seeking out every lost person,” said Archbishop Zollitsch, whose remarks were reported by Germany’s Die Welt daily.

“At issue, however, is the credibility of the Church’s sacramental nature. One cannot be half a member or only partly a member. Either one belongs and commits, or one renounces this,” Archbishop Zollitsch said.

Catholics make up 30 per cent of Germany’s population of 82.3 million, about the same proportion as Protestants, with two per cent belonging to Orthodox denominations, according to government figures.

Interest in the Catholic Church revived after German-born Pope Benedict XVI’s April 2005 election, but Church baptisms and weddings continue to decline. Church statistics show that about 13 per cent of Catholics attend Mass weekly, compared with 22 per cent in 1989.

Germany’s Catholic priesthood and religious orders are also declining in number, according to a bishops’ statement in June, despite three visits by Pope Benedict since his election.

A total of 126,488 Catholics asked to stop paying the membership tax and be removed from registers in the 27 German dioceses during 2011, according to the bishops’ conference. In 2010, some 180,000 Catholics took the same step.

German newspapers said the Pope’s native Bavaria region had suffered the worst losses. The dioceses of Augsburg, Bamberg, Eichstatt, Passau and Wurzburg reported a 70 per cent increase in departures in 2010, the height of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Introduced in the 19th century, the membership tax earns the German church about $6 billion annually, making it one of the world’s wealthiest.

In its decree, the bishops’ conference said the tax was designed to compensate for state seizures of Church property. The decree said the right to a “civil law withdrawal” ensured “no one is led to Church membership against their will”.

“Conscious dissociation from the Church by public act is a grave offence against the Church community,” the decree said.

“Whoever declares their withdrawal for whatever reason before the responsible civil authority always violates their duty to preserve a link with the Church, as well as their duty to make a financial contribution so the Church can fulfil its tasks.”

The document added that departing Catholics could no longer receive the sacraments of penance, Holy Communion, Confirmation or anointing of the sick, other than when facing death, or exercise any Church function, including belonging to parish councils or acting as godparents.

Marriages would be granted only by a bishop’s consent and unrepentant Catholics would not be given Church funerals, the decree said.

A press release said the decree had been approved in August by the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. It added that parish priests would be asked to write to departing Catholics, inviting them to meet and explain their decision and have the consequences explained.

The decree was criticised by Germany’s dissenting We are Church movement, which said a “pay and pray” policy sent “the totally wrong signal at the wrong time” when the German bishops were “laboriously trying to regain credibility” after a “decades-long cover-up of abuse scandals”.

“Instead of considering the reasons why large numbers are leaving the Church on the ground, this bishops’ decree sends a threatening message,” the statement said.

“This threatened exclusion from community life is a de facto excommunication. It contradicts the sacramental understanding of indelible Church membership through baptism.”

In an address to the bishops’ meeting, Archbishop Zollitsch said the Church needed “a long perspective, deep breath and patience” to cope with current challenges, as well as a capacity for dialogue with “social groups and circles alienated from the Church”.

  • Paul, Bedfordshire

    Fundamentalist makes a very good point here and having checked, he is correct. Putting it in simple terms.

    You earn £40,000. You pay no tax on first £10,000 and 20% on next £30,000. Therefore you pay £6,000 income tax

    Church tax is 9% of your income tax. Therefore as well as the £6,000 to the government you pay £540 a year to the Church. That is £10.38 per week.

    Still don’t agree with it but it is much what people here would put in the collection plate.

    What I don’t like about it is this. I have a direct debit to the diocese. It is less than it would otherwise be because I have a direct debit to the FSSP as well. ie: I get to choose where the money goes. In  Germany I don’t. That’s wrong and I wonder if we have this tax to thank for some of the “spirit of vatican  2″ that came out of Germany because the churchgoer had no means of witholding finance where parts of the Church there went off the rails, so they stayed off the rails.

    Also if there is too much money going into the church, people are attracted to the priesthood for the wrong reasons.

  • JabbaPapa

    I thought All Catholics were under one rule of behavior and acts.

    Wow !!!! What a weird and bizarre notion !!!

    Are you a Science Fiction author ????

  • Rich

    Why is it that men of the world are often closer to God than ‘men of God’?

  • Rich

    Totally agree with you fella!

  • Rich

    Having read your post JabbaPapa I agree with Benedict, its simony. There’s no other way of cutting it. There’s a collection plate for the purpose of making a contribution.

  • Rich

    Let me get this straight … a parent of four children cancels this tax so he can afford to replace his son’s worn out shoes, and the priest drives around to see him in his brand new Audi to tell him that he can no longer take his family to Mass?

    Could someone please tell me where I should insert the word “holy”?

  • Parasum

    If a serial paedophile says that genocide is immoral, does his being a paedophile mean that genocide is good ? Surely not. Rather than dismissing out of hand everything “We are Church” says, we should dismiss only what is not good, true, moral, & so on; just as a lot of Catholics on the CH boards dismiss the unwiser ideas of Catholic churchman. The Fathers were capable of making a distinction between good things & the not-so-good settings they appeared in – so why can’t we ?

    Logically, the notion that the goodness of people’s words necessarily depends on their  state of grace (which is what your position implies) leads to grave theological errors, and completely undermines the truth that the Church is a visible society on earth, and not a group known only to God.  The notion is attractive in some ways, but leads to chaos if taken up into Catholic theology. (The truths it seeks to serve are better served in other ways.) Which is why the Church rejected this notion over 1600 years ago. Another possible conclusion: logically, only someone entirely sinless can say what is true – IOW: Adam, Eve, Jesus, Mary.

    The difference between orthodox Catholics & unorthodox ones is one of degree, not of kind; so-called “faithful” Catholics are not faithful. Or “devout”. Unless we are to deny the Church’s teaching on sin, all of us are unfaithful in varying ways, all of us come short of God.  So we are not really in a position to dismiss “We Are Church” – they are right about some things, just as heretics are often right about certain things; protest-groups in the Church are an indication that something in the Church is worthy of being protested about.

    What is wrong with changing the Church ? Change is a condition of growth & maturity – only fossils are unchanged; they are also dead. A fossil Church would not be able to perform the work for which Christ founded it, & which He commands it to do. Changes of some kind, are essential, if it is to remain alive, fruitful, & is to do His Will. Growth &  change are a law of life: for the Church, for us who are the Church, for Christ Himself in the days of His earthly Life. Is the Church greater than her Master ?

  • Parasum

    It would be interesting to know how the German bishops justify their actions theologically, & doctrinally.

  • Parasum

    Good point – however, paying for the maintenance of the Temple is one thing; but to make receiving  sacraments dependent on a cash payment is something quite different, & is wrong.

    When one freely contributes a bit of cash, as a mass stipend, to pay for the “frills” that go with offering a Mass one has asked a priest to say for one’s intentions, one is not paying for the Mass, but for the materials that make offering the Mass possible: materials like altar-breads or candles. So that is entirely above board. Having altar-breads to use in the Mass is a condition of actually offering the Mass – it is not itself the offering of Mass, but a means to doing so.  And mass stipends are often refused. There is no obligation on priests to accept them.

    What the German bishops are doing is not quite the same kind of thing, because they are making reception of the sacraments depend on paying money. The sacrament is not being bought immediately: they are not saying “You can receive the sacraments only if you pay the priest for the Mass as well as for the materials needed to offer it”. The bishops’ position seems to be: “You can receive the sacraments only if you pay the tax that is the essential condition for you to be recognised as a Catholic; after that, and not until after that, you can receive the sacraments. No tax = no recognition that you are a Catholic, so, no sacraments. Sorry.” But if that is their position, it is not good; it looks uncommonly like simony. What makes it not simony ?

    This is a lesser evil than bare-faced trafficking in spiritual things would be: paying money for the grace of the sacrament of Ordination, for example. But it is still wrong, because the connection between the cash payment and the receiving of a spiritual good is far too close. The grace of the Mass (say) is unbuyable, of its very nature. Candles, wine, incense or other material things used in the Mass are by their nature things one can buy; but the grace of God is His alone to give – it is freely given, out of His sheer Love shown to us in Jesus Christ. To make a monetary transaction of God’s grace is beyond inappropriate. Heavy as the financial needs of the Church in Germany may be, this is not a good way to lighten them.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Excellent post.

    This move is designed I think to stem to loss of income resulting from people opting out of paying this tax. The German Church is, in fact, about the richest in the world.

  • Charles Martel

    Thanks, Benedict. Isn’t it incredible that the German
    church, which is losing over 3000 members per week, resorts to THREATS to
    staunch the haemorrhaging? And this is the Church that
    believes that we’re the PEOPLE OF GOD, wandering around the desert in sandals,
    strumming guitars, searching for God along with our brothers the Mahommedans,
    the Jews, et al, and that the pre-conciliar church was a jolly nasty
    clerico-fascist kind of place…

  • LocutusOP

     It is my understanding that if the Church did not want the state taxing its members it could waive that obligation.

    Assuming I’m wrong and one is forced to register one’s religion with the state in order to be allowed to practice it (something I find highly unlikely) then the Catholic church should be using all its powers to have this law reversed…Instead, the bishops affirm the involvment of the state in church matters.

    It is surely more scandalous to equate recognition of Christ with paying taxes.

  • fundamentalist

    The historical basis for Church Tax in Germany was the despoliation of the Church´s goods and lands from 1803 onwards.  Napoleon grabbed the whole right bank of the Rhine and the various dukes, electors etc who had property there were bought off and compensated with the worldly goods of the Church, cf. Henry VIII´s operations.  At a stroke the Church was deprived of its primary sources of revenue.
    No money coming in, therefore no hospitals, no schools, no help for the poor etc.  Eventually even the secular authorities realized that the Church needed a dependable source of revenue to carry out effectively its social mission, and the right to tax its members was slowly conceded across Germany.
    The Protestant Church reckons that about 33% of members of both churches are liable for the tax, and also if they had to administer the operation it would consume 20% of the take.  The Churches pay the local tax office 2-4% to do the job.

    Two final questions.  What do British Catholics reckon is an equitable annual contribution to support the Church, and how much do they actually give?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    The reply to your questions surely varies but should depend on:

    (a)   the orthodoxy of one’s priest and one’s diocese. Liberals/progressives get nowt. A labourer is not worth his hire if he destroys the vineyard. 

    (b)   one’s own circumstances.

  • Dcruz

    The catholic Church is becoming like a fools paradise and do not know the the cosequences. many people are leaving the catholic church worldwide and even other churches. Islam has opened the doors to them and so has the west. The Church is out of touch with ground realities and the declining vocation is leaving a void in the church.The clergy are pompus and arrogant. Church taxes collected are used to pay German employees of the Church Charities and support the poor. Majority of the beneficiaries are muslims . Sell all the churches and convert them to mosques if money is a factor.The big problems lie ahead which the vatican does not seem to understand… 

  • Dcruz

    You are absolutely and iin fact all over the world.The church is all pomp and show and membership is on the decline all over the world.Everybody does whatever they want and the Vatican and the top officials of the church are asleep and not aware of ground realities.

  • Dcruz

    Not very encouraging for members.Incentives to leave the chrurch.

  • Dcruz

    A time will come when the chruch , the Pope and the Clergy will have to pay people to come to church. This is a stupid move.

  • scary goat

     Well, yes, that’s wrong to only air one side of the argument, I agree with you on that. I’m still not sure whose side you’re on though in general :-s

  • waltersandson

    My understanding is  that people are not being deprived of the sacraments for non-payment of the tax but for the formal renunciation of membership of the Church they make in order to avoid paying the tax.  It is very convenient for the enemies of the church to make it look as if it is purely a matter of money. To formally renounce membership of the Church, for whatever incentive, is, surely, always wrong,

  • Patrickhowes

    I completely agree with you and Iam stunned by the hypocrisy of the German Bishops.They want the money but they do not want the Magisterium.They insulted the Pope during his visit there and did not have the good grace to respect his warnings and authority!

  • Ethan

    What kind of modernist / marxist crap is this-?  God asks us to tithe…not pay taxes-!!  Christ warned us about blind leaders of the blind.  Our Lady warned us that in these last days “Only She Can Help You”.  First the Germans gave us Martin Luther [a Judas Priest] and now they give us  Robert Zollitsch.  Thank you very much…BUT…I will stick with the Traditionalists [SSPX].

  • waltersandson

    My understanding is  that people are not being deprived of the
    sacraments for non-payment of the tax but for the formal renunciation of
    membership of the Church they make in order to avoid paying the tax. 
    It is very convenient for the enemies of the church to make it look as
    if it is purely a matter of money. To formally renounce membership of
    the Church, for whatever incentive, is, surely, always wrong,

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    To renounce one’s baptism would be a formal apostasy. To renounce one’s “membership” in a purely civil process to avoid paying a tax (for reasons other than a rejection of the Faith) is not. 

  • Lewispbuckingham

     You are right BC, the problem here is that faith is linked to secular precept.The nexus needs be broken and disappear.

  • daclamat

    Why should we have to pay for the decades of abuse, scrupulously hidden by the hierarchy? We earn. They spend. No more.

  • Patrick walters

     By Baptism we are made members of the Church, To publicly declare after Baptism that one is not a member of the Church looks very like formal apostasy to me.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    The declaration is a civil process and the only way to end one’s contribution to the Church through one’s tax. It MAY be the result of a person’s apostasy but per se is no evidence of it at all. 

    If I was a German Catholic, I would heed the advice of the SSPX’s German branch which has asked German Catholics why they should contribute to clerics who’s betrayal of the Faith is even greater there than in other places? 

    No Catholic is bound to support with his money clerics whose words and actions destroy the Faith. 

  • Brnggre

    The word simony springs to mind (Acts:8.20ff).

  • Brnggre

    This bishop would be condemned with Simon Magus (Acts:8.20ff).

  • Brnggre

    Wrong. It is the German bishops who have claimed no tax payment = no Sacraments, even, to those Catholics who have not said they no longer wish to leave the Church. What did Our divine Saviour command His blessed Apostles: they were to give freely? So far I have not heard the German bishops say those who cannot pay the tax, or are poor or not working, can receive the Sacraments. All they have said is no tax payment = no Sacraments.

  • Brnggre

    The Holy See stated in 2006 even removal of one’s name from a Baptismal register is not a denial of the Faith. I’ll quote it later.

  • Brnggre

    Has the Holy Father actually approved this? It would be nice to see it, because, I don’t believe it.

  • Rich

    Is this an opportunity for the SSPX to establish itself in Germany, I guess they don’t receive government/tax funding and would welcome German Catholic dissenters?

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     “I
    am surprised the Vatican gave its approval on this given that Pope
    Benedict in “The Light Of The World” seemed to suggest the opposite.”

    WHY DON’T YOU PLEASE GIVE THE ORIGINAL QUOTE.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     1.”This is a grievous mistake.

    Contributing to the church should be entirely disassociated from
    civil registers. It’s perverse that the practice was allowed to develop
    in the first place but even more perverse that the bishops would issue
    this ultimatum instead of discontinuing the practice.” 

    “VINASHA KALE VIVAREETA BUDDHI!”.

    ONE OF MY PRIEST FRIENDS WHO WORKED FOR LONG IN EUROPE TOLD ME ONCE,  ” THE CHURCH IN EUROPE IS FALLING AWAY LIKE RUST”.

    HE DESCRIBED HOW THE PRIEST GOES ABOUT WITH A PARTNER.

    HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, BEST OF BOTH THE WORLD! BUT WHO IS THE CHRIST HE WORSHIPS, ONE WONDERS.

    WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE OFFICIAL CHURCH IN ALL THIS? AND OF THE PEOPLE WHO TOLERATE OR ACCEPT SUCH PRIESTS?

    NO WONDER WHY THE OFFICIAL CHURCH PROHIBITED EVEN READING THE WORD OF GOD FOR CENTURIES. WITH THIS KIND OF AUTHORITY EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

    A SIMILAR CASE WHEN TACKLED IN INDIA, GOT A READY MADE, AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS RESPONE, “WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR  IT?”. THERE IT ENDED.

    2.”but forcing the state into the collection of these contributions would seem to go against the Gospel in all manner of ways.”

    ONLY SEEM TO GO AGAINST !

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    PART AND PARCEL OF INSTITUTIONALISATION OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST THE LORD.

    THE GODS OF THE EARTH CAN DO ANYTHING. THEY ARE A LAW UNTO THEMSELVES… AND THE PEOPLE MAKE IT ALL  EASILY POSSIBLE FOR THEM  BY BEING WORTHY OF THEM.

    THE SON OF MAN SIAD, “WILL THERE BE FAITH LEFT ON EARTH WHEN THE SON……RETURNS”.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    SO MANY OF THE BISHOPS ARE NOT APOSTLES BUT SPIRITUAL IDIOTS AND SERVANT OF SATAN HIMSELF. LOOK AT THEIR BEHIND-THE CURTAIN LIFE.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    FIRST THEY SHOULD SAY WHICH IS THE CHRIST THEY SERVE AND WORSHIP

    LOOK AT THAT CLEVER MAN’S HIDDEN SMILE…

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     
    IF IT GOES LIKE THIS NO SHEEP WILL BE LEFT, BUT THESE RAVENOUS WOULVES ALONE.

    ASK THE PEOPLE ALSO HOW TO SOLVE THE PROBLEMS OF THE CHURCH; THEY MAY SHOW MORE WISDOM THAN THESE KINDS OF…..

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    “… the fact that people are being forced to pay for sacraments.”

    IN HIS PHYSICAL DAYS THEY DID HIM TO DEATH BUT ONCE.

    BUT LATER THE GODS OF THE EARTH WHO ARE NOT HIS TRUE APOSTLES ( LOOK AT THE FRUITS THESE HAVE PRODUCED) DID HIM TO DEATH THROUGH AND THROUGH CENTURIES DOWN TO OUR OWN DAYS. LET THEM FINISH THEIR GOD’S WORK.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     ALL FRUITS OF INSTITUTIONALISATION OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST THE LORD.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     
    “As converts to the glorious catholic Church, this has deeply saddened and disappointed us.”

    THE CHURCH IS NOT SOME FOUL SMELLING STUFF INSIDE.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     
    JESUS RESPECTED FREEDOM, THEN WHY NOT THE CHURCH?

  • Damon

     Do you have to shout all the time?

  • daclamat

    A fairly effective way of persuading more people to sign off. I wonder what Jesus thinks…….

  • Patrick walters

     While I agree that it looks like a bad system it still seems to me that those who formally renounce their membership of the Catholic Church are doing an evil thing. That they are, presumably, doing it with a good end in view is neither here nor there. The end does not justify the means.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Given the atrocious state of the German Church with its multiple scandals, I would say that NOT renouncing payment of monies to these clerics is compromising and cooperating with evil. 

  • tbittan

    ““The Catholic Church is committed to seeking out every lost person,” ”

    Completely untrue.

    “At issue, however, is the credibility of the Church’s sacramental
    nature. One cannot be half a member or only partly a member. Either one
    belongs and commits, or one renounces this,” Archbishop Zollitsch said.

    Nice , but actually the Church only accepts people back as “half members” or “part members”, in my experience.

  • tbittan

    ““The Catholic Church is committed to seeking out every lost person,””

    That is untrue. I left the Catholic Church thirty years ago. No-one from the Church has sought me out in that time. Perhaps they haven’t noticed I’ve gone?

    “At issue, however, is the credibility of the Church’s sacramental nature. One cannot be half a member or only partly a member.”

    Interesting. When I have considered returning to the Church on two occasions, I have been told I can only come back as a sort of “half-member”.