- Worshippers must pay extra 8% on income tax bill to still be considered Catholics
By Allan Hall
PUBLISHED: 15:00 EST, 25 September 2012 | UPDATED: 15:00 EST, 25 September 2012
A newly-enforced German bishops’ decree says anyone failing to pay the tax – an extra 8% of their income tax bill – will no longer be considered a Catholic.
All people in Germany must pay this tax if they want to worship in either Catholic or protestant churches, or Jewish synagogues.
Last year millions of files spanning decades were handed over to criminal investigators by all 27 dioceses of the Catholic Church hierarchy in Germany in a bid to get to the heart of child sex abuse by priests.
It was seen as an attempt to staunch the flow of leavers who made it plain the scandal, and the inability or unwillingness to deal with it, was the reason for their departure.
In 2010, 181,000 people left, an increase of 50 percent on the previous year. Last year 126,000 left.
Over the past twenty years, the number of members of Germany’s Roman Catholic Church has fallen from 28.3 million to 24.6 million or 30.2 percent of the country’s population.
Many parishioners said they were sickened that offending clergy were often simply moved to new jons where they were free to commit more crimes.
Now comes the new hardline from the church which is also partly in response to a test case that has been griding through the courts and due for a decision by a court in Leipzig on Friday.
This concerns Professor Hartmut Zapp, who announced in 2007 that he would no longer pay the tax but intended to remain within the Catholic faith. With the new order, endorsed by the Vatican, the German Bishops’ Conference last week declared; ‘This decree makes clear that one cannot partly leave the Church.’
Couples can receive an exemption to be married in the church, as long as they pledge to maintain their faith and raise their children as Catholics. But the powers that be can deny church tax dodgers a Catholic burial ‘if the person who has left the church has not shown any sign of remorse before death.’
Though the bishops’ text avoids the word ‘excommunication,’ the consequences of the all-or-nothing rule are essentially one and the same.
Unless they pay the religious tax, Catholics will now 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.
It is understood German-born Pope Benedict XVI helped formulate the policy after his visit to Germany in the autumn of last year did little in the way of causing a mass return to the fold by people who had left.
The diocese that recorded the highest member loss in 2010, was Munich and Freising — the pope’s former diocese — where 21,600 people alone left the church.
The Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, begged forgiveness for ‘everything those working for the church have done’ as he presented a report that showed more-than 250 priests and religion teachers sexually or physically abused children in the diocese over the past decades.
‘We want to learn from our bad mistakes and misconduct of the past,’ Marx then vowed.
In its response to the abuse scandal, Germany’s Bishops Conference has publicly and repeatedly showed remorse, changed the relevant guidelines for the clergy and offered up to euro5,000 compensation to victims of abuse by clergy or church officials while they were minors, but it gave no total number of victims.
Austria, which taxes church members in a way similar to those in Germany also saw a significant drop in the number of departures.
Figures published by the Austrian Bishop’s Conference earlier this year said 87,000 Austrian Catholics left in 2010, a 64 percent increase over the 53,000 who formally had their names struck from church registries in 2009.
But Catholics are questioning whether the decree for worshippers to put their money where their faith is is the best way forward.
‘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,’ said Christian Weisner from the grassroots Catholic campaign group We are Church.
The church did itself no favours among the population earlier this year when the Bishop of Trier Stephen Ackermann, the church official responsible for dealing with the sex abuse scandal, stated; ‘There should not be a blanket ban from employing priests who have committed sexual crimes.’
‘There are a number of motives,’ Ackermann said. ‘It made sense to differentiate among the different types of offenders. Otherwise we could slide into a dynamic that calls for all of them to be imprisoned.’
Newspapers and radio stations were inundated ´with calls from parents angry at his suggestion.
Hefty criticism also came from Friedhelm Hengsbach, a theologian who specialises in social ethics. He said: ‘The church’s structures are crusty, old and full of rust, moths and mildew.’ Hengsbach said the church hierarchy tried to prevent reform.