Pay up or be damned tax demand in Germany endorsed by Pope

Catholic bishops place tax resisters under a ban

The German bishops have decided on penalties for leaving the church: those who pay no church tax are, in fact excommunicated. The shepherds respond with a cutting edge on a touchy subject.

The question is as old as Christianity itself Even the Apostles Peter and Paul have gotten entangled in the issue. And if the catechism is right, then this issue will again become quite important at the latest after death: who is actually in the church? Who is a member of the community of believers - and who has to stay outside?

This question is currently under German Catholics as controversial as it has ever been. For several years, some scholars represented the view that one could also be a Catholic without having to pay church tax. It should be possible, to withdraw from the church as a public corporation, thus avoiding the tax - and still continue to sense oneself to be a believer and to be a member of the church.

Salvation, they argue, depends not on a monthly payment, and a notice of resignation to the registrar's office was a bureaucratic contact with the state, which had no consequences for life in the faith community of Christ.

Completely catholic - or not at all

A sensitive debate for the Catholic bishops, after all, as it touches on the self-understanding of each believer, and at the same time it represents the present system of church tax as a principle. After months of negotiations, they have therefore now passed a law that will put an end to the debate.

The "general decree" that the German bishops' conference released on Thursday puts, now clearly states: Those who want to be Catholic must be either entirely Catholic or not at all. The church cannot be split into a worldly apparatus and a spiritual community of faith, both belong together.

Whoever comes out of the church can be no Catholic. They lose the rights of membership of the Church, until they return again.

The Pope himself has endorsed the document

To quote the two A4 pages long document that the Pope has personally approved and which came into force on 24 September: "The declaration of resignation from the church before the competent civil authority shall be considered as a public act of a deliberate and wilful alienation from the church and is a grave offense against the Christian community."

Whoever resigns acts contrary, "to the obligation to preserve association with the Church", and "to the duty to make their financial contribution to the church which she needs to fulfil her tasks."

Accordingly, Christians expect certain sanctions ("legal consequences"): Whoever does not pay church tax can no longer receive communion, be confirmed or go to confession. They can no longer be God-parents nor belong to any public church group.

Permission for marriage depends on conditions
For a church wedding, they can get a special permit under the condition that they promise "the preservation of the faith and the Catholic education of the children" . Finally, it says: "If the person who has left the church does not show any sign of remorse at death, the church funeral can be denied." In summary, the consequences of resignation from the church are like excommunication.

At the same time, the parish priest in future must seek to regain lost sheep for the church. As an addition to its decree, the bishops have adopted a "pastoral letter".

When a Catholic announces to the registry office their resignation, the parish priest responsible is to send them this letter and offer them clarifying discussions, which should lead to "reconciliation with the Church".  In addition to the offer of talks, the letter lists also the sanctions associated with the leaving the church.

Freiburg theologian wanted to create a precedent

The decree of the bishops is a special rule which applies only in Germany. The German church tax system is in fact an exception, as in most other countries, the Catholic Church regulates the contributions of its members differently. The German church tax was introduced in the 19th century, as compensation for the nationalisation of church property (secularization).

With their decision, the bishops are trying to get out of the defensive position in which they found themselves in, thanks to a theologian: The Freiburg Professor Hartmut Zapp wanted to set a precedent in 2009.

Zapp resigned from the church, but declared that he still continued to feel that he was a member of the Catholic Church. He could appeal to certain Vatican legal texts that make leaving the church not dependent on government agencies, but solely on the interior attitude of the believer.

Rome disagreed with the German bishops In addition, Rome has always took the position that no matter what a believer declares to any German registry office - as long as they say nothing about resignation from the church, they are treated as a member. From a purely theological viewpoint, leaving the church is not possible in any case. Those who have been baptised belong irrevocably to the Catholic community.

The subject puts the Bishops' Conference into a quandary.  They must fight against resignations from the church, but no matter what it does, they will inevitably be suspected of being only tough about their tax revenue. Simultaneously critics accuse the bishops of ignoring the will of the Vatican. Accordingly the negotiating position of the German bishops was difficult, who on this issue wanted to matters absolutely clear.

The evil word "excommunication" is avoided

The paper now presented represents a compromise with Rome. The German bishops have prevailed with their desire that participation in Catholic life is virtually impossible after a resignation. But they symbolically have not used the word "excommunication" - even the "legal consequences" decided on for resignation mean virtually the same thing.

This compromise was preceded by a month-long tug of war. Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff of Aachen and Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg prepared the text and then sent the document on its way through the many levels and hierarchies of the Catholic legislative process.

The German prelates show a cutting edge 

The General Assembly of the German Bishops' Conference already approved the text in March 2011, after which representatives in Rome of the CDF, the Congregation for Bishops and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts have deferred. Even the Pope has taken action.

Only a few days ago, the German Bishops' Conference has finally got the green light from Rome. Diplomatically it is a success for the German prelates. They have now Papal backing for their course to show a cutting edge and for leaving the church to be interpreted as apostasy.

Many Catholics who live in clear commitment to their church and expect others to do so are likely to be satisfied. The signal is that there is no such thing as a bit Catholic, there is only full membership or nothing.

Let your yes be a 'yes' 

Catholics, who want to save on taxes, but still want to keep up organ music at the wedding or incense at the funeral will be faced with a clear choice. They must reckon for themselves and decide if they really wish to and can do without church life completely. "Let your yes be a 'yes', and your no be a 'no'” as it says in the Bible.
Yet the bishops should be aware that they are taking a high risk. The risk of being considered cruel and relentless, as happy with penalties and greedy for money. So they unintentionally increase the risk that some undecided or those who have already resigned will make the final break. And the centuries-old debate about who actually belongs to the church and who does not answer their individual manner: I do not belong.


Cathcon- this gives a whole new meaning to Pay and Go (mobile communications package in the UK and I think beyond).     The next step will be credit card access at turnstiles- he says half-jokingly.  It is morally worse than the sale of indulgences, as while the purchase of an indulgence was a pious act, it was not the only means to salvation.    I have visions of crowds of Germans assisting at Mass in France or other neighbouring lands on a Sunday.