No money for us? Get out of our church then.

The German bishops have told German Catholics that if they don’t give the church money they don’t get the sacraments.

Last month, German bishops warned that if members of the Catholic Church don’t pay the country’s church tax, they’ll be denied the sacraments — including baptisms, weddings and funerals.

In increasingly secular Europe, Germany is one of the few countries where the state collects a special levy from tax-registered believers and hands it over to three organized faiths.

Registered Catholics, Protestants and Jews pay a surcharge of up to 9 percent on their income. The Catholic Church alone received some $6.5 billion in 2011.

$6.5 billion! That’s not a bad chunk of change, especially for putting on fancy dress to pretend there’s a magic sky dude who will make everything come out right. How nice of the state to do the church’s collecting for it.

In issuing the stringent new decree, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the president of the German bishops’ conference, said that not paying taxes for the church is a grave offense, and that sacraments will be banned for those who distance themselves from the church.

“In Germany, the church is a community of faith which coexists alongside the legal system,” Zollitsch said. “The two cannot be separated.”

And if you try, no sacraments for you! Don’t like it, take it up with god.

The bishops issued their decree as church defections are growing. In 2010, when the clerical sex abuse scandal exploded in Germany, nearly 200,000 Catholics left the church. In a normal year, it’s 100,000.

Church statistics show that only 13 percent of Germany’s Catholics attend Mass weekly. And, Weisner says, the majority of those who are observant criticize the church leadership.

So the German bishops have come up with the perfect way to fix that! Threaten and bully!

What could possibly go wrong?




  1. Stella says

    Canon law says they can’t refuse sacraments. At least it did twenty years ago.

    It’s nice to see these princes cutting their own throats. I’d like to see them all unemployed.


  2. says

    I can’t believe anybody would mock the church over this. How would you feel if you couldn’t replace one of the extravagant jewels in the giant dildo you wear on your head when explaining the importance of austerity?

  3. jimvj says

    Huh? Do the German churches check tax status before letting someone in?

    This is a really dumb way to intertwine church and state!
    Not that there are smart ways to do it.

  4. khms says

    Actually, this goes back to someone just losing a court case against the church. He told the state he no longer belonged, but wanted to still be treated like a member.

    Now, I certainly have serious problems with the state collecting the money for the churches. (And there are fairly obscure rules to what your church must be like to partake of this systems, as Muslims found out when they wanted to do it.)

    However, I have absolutely no problems with a club that tells its members either to be in, and pay their dues, or to be out, and not to pay. In fact, I’d say that’s rater the usual way of doing things. Just, as I already mentioned, the state should not be involved on the collecting side here.

    Out of time, need to go work, or else I’d try to find a link.

  5. says

    Cue church membership to drop. I bet a lot of those people who are non-paying members are people who don’t really care, but haven’t gotten around to officially dropping out. Now they will.

  6. arno says

    The tax office does keep a small percentage of the church tax as a collection fee. I do not know though whether that is sufficient for the state to make a profit here or not.

  7. Corvus illustris says

    It’s easy to understand the German bishops’ concern: if the German Wikipedia is correct, the tax was almost 80% of the 2011 income of the archdiocese of Cologne.

    The extortion described here is not peculiar to Germany (or the other central European countries that collect a church tax); it’s just a little less formalized elsewhere. Here in the US upper midwest, my mother had to be careful to send contributions to her local RC parish so that they would bury her when the time came (yes, they checked; fortunately I have a well-connected hyper-Catholic brother).

    Stella @1: apropos of “they can’t deny you the sacraments” they can use the following argument: to receive the other sacraments you must have received Penance (or whatever they call it now) and been absolved. To receive absolution, you must show contrition. But you’re obviously not contrite if you persist in failing to support the church (similar argument for persisting in gayness, not voting to overturn Roe v. Wade, etc.). So we can legitimately deny you the other sacraments until you pay up (or otherwise do what we tell you).

  8. jose says

    I wonder if you can lobby God if you give the church enough money. Maybe sponsor a saint’s campaign for the archangel office or something like that?

  9. Arctic Ape says

    Like khms said, the real problem here is that this model of collecting membership fees via public taxation is a huge privilege for the church. You never see a bill so you might not easily realize how much you’re paying. It might intuitively feel like you weren’t paying at all. There are many people who would instantly leave their church if they received a bill.

    Another problem is that it’s an opt-out system, because you typically join the church at birth via baptism. Baptizing your children is a very popular tradition in Europe, even among parents who aren’t really religious (It doesn’t cost anything to the parents! Clever, huh?). Many people assume baptism is a standard procedure for naming the child.

    Many people also can’t understand the idea that children could well be baptized without officially registering them as church members. If you raise this issue, they start hyperventilating on how you want to ban infant baptism and Christian upbringing of children.

  10. Corvus illustris says

    Jose @9: please use irony markers! You do know that the money and labor to build those mediaeval cathedrals, monasteries, chantries, etc., that dot the landscape of Europe represent lobbying fees–and even now, religious “institutions” like Octopus Dei put out resources to get their guys onto the fast track to sainthood.

  11. khms says

    Cue church membership to drop. I bet a lot of those people who are non-paying members are people who don’t really care, but haven’t gotten around to officially dropping out. Now they will.

    Um … if they haven’t officially dropped out, they can’t be non-paying. Those official state records determine if you pay, same as for other taxes.

    It’s rater the other way around: there are a lot of people who don’t really care who haven’t cared enough to officially drop out, and thus are still paying members.

    You need to go to your local court building, tell the people there, and pay – I think something like €50 – for them to update your records. (Same if you want to switch back.)

    Oh, and as to amounts:

    up to 9 percent on their income

    It’s not 9% of the income, it’s 9% of the taxes on the income. (Actually it’s a lot more complicated, but that’s the usual base rule.)

    With 9% on the income, it wouldn’t have taken this long to get that court case!

  12. says


    Indeed. I thought it was an opt-in system. If it’s opt-out, then that obviously changes things.

    Of course, that leads one to wonder; are there really that many people who have actively refused to pay money to the church, yet will still be upset that they can’t receive communion?

  13. Compuholic says

    Well I think the point is at least fair: “If you don’t pay us, we are not obligated to perform your sacraments”.

    It is their bullshit and they can impose whatever rules they like. I think this is great and I think they should do this a lot more and most importantly bring those rules to a wider audience so that they can see what it is, that they really care about.

    And who knows: Maybe more people will then realize that they actually don’t need anything that the church offers and opt out.

  14. TGAP Dad says

    Ooh ooh, I want to be first!
    Let’s call this “pay-to-pray!”
    You heard it here first…

  15. Corvus illustris says

    Arctic Ape @10 says: “Many people also can’t understand the idea that children could well be baptized without officially registering them as church members.” But is this known to be true in practice, in central Europe or elsewhere? In the US there have been situations in which priests have refused to baptize infants because the parents are “not practicing Catholics” and consequently cannot guarantee that the child will be raised Catholic. (Right, and the consequence of the kid dying unbaptized is … ? So, more extortion.) Certainly refusing to have the kid registered is prima facie evidence of–um, secular tendencies.

  16. Select says

    I think this is really a non-issue these days.

    Far more people in Germany ( and France) attend Jummah Prayers than Sunday Mass, so does any of this even matter anymore?

    In increasingly secular Europe, How so?

    Secularism isn’t tantamount to a mere absence of Christianity.

    Europe’s empty churches may well be just so much secularist trompe l’oeil.

    In France in particular, many of the True Believers can be found praying right out in the open, in the streets.

    Thousands at a time, so that we may all better witness their piety.

    And their growing strength.

  17. Ysanne says

    Arctic Ape,
    people do see if they pay church tax right there on every single payslip and also their tax card (going by the wonderful name Lohnsteuerkarte). This is how I found out that I got church tax deducted several times when starting a new job — there was “r.k.” and a non-zero number in the church tax field on the form. Calling the HR department fixed that (and I got the money back on the next payslip).
    I have no idea how church membership is determined in practive, though. For instance, I was never in official contact with the German branch of the Catholic church. (I was baptised in another country just to make my grandma shut up about my soul’s salvation, but it’s pretty sure that no employer or the German state would get their hands on those records.) Still, somehow every employer assumed me tax-Catholic, and fixing it with one didn’t help with the next.

  18. Corvus illustris says

    Ysanne @19:

    … the wonderful name Lohnsteuerkarte …

    actually conveys information and thus beats the US names Form W-2 and Form W-4 for (roughly) corresponding forms, which convey none.

    It sounds as though r.k. (=RC) is the default Konfession where you work, either because of the Land or your employer.

  19. Didaktylos says

    @#16 – Actually, to be baptised a Catholic doesn’t require a priest. That was the whole point about that case in the 19th Century in pre-unification Italy (I think it occurred in the Papal States) where a Jewish family’s Catholic servant-girl baptised their recently-born son as a Catholic.

  20. Corvus illustris says

    Didaktylos @21: This is true in theory–even non-Christians can do it, if they have water and recite the appropriate Trinitarian formula. Such a baptism doesn’t get you into the RCC, though, and in practice the RC would conditionally rebaptize the kid (and would even do the same with the unquestionably correctly high-church-Episcopalian baptized Mrs Corva). The baptized Jewish kid taken from his family was Edgardo Mortara; the incident occurred under Pius IX and was one of many atrocities over which he presided.

  21. says

    They are taking a tip from mormons and denying things to members based on their financial contribution. At least catholics still let you go to your kids weddings if you don’t pay up…

  22. Arctic Ape says

    I probably generalized too much from my own country, since the German church tax system seems extremely similar to the one in Finland. Admittedly, here people pay a bit less and the privileged churches are Lutheran/Orthodox. I have regrettably little knowledge of European countries in general.

    Corvus 16: I meant registering as church member in tax sense. It would be technically fully possible to raise the child as a Christian and then let hir to confirm later if xe wants to be a paying church member in adulthood. If not, then xe would automatically resign from church membership at, say, 18. This isn’t (at least here) happening because people take it for granted that parents can opt their children into lifetime church membership, unless those children actively opt out.

    I don’t know about German Catholics but at least Finnish Lutheran Church doesn’t expect parents to be actively practicing. One of the parents plus two godparents must be church members themselves, and willing to pay some lip service at the baptism ceremony. I was baptized at birth and never heard about religion from either my parents or godparents. Instead I was taught religion as part of public school education and that’s another can of worms…

    Ysanne 19: Yes, I should have noted the tax receipt. However, I still maintain that it’s psychologically easier to pay via taxation than directly.

    I have to go offline for a couple of days, so this thread is unfortunately over for me. I’m sorry if I added into confusion.

  23. steve oberski says

    and continuing from above, it’s too bad they don’t take that position when they are aiding and abetting child rapers.

  24. infraredeyes says

    C’mon, guys, they need the revenue stream. Times have been getting tough since they stopped selling indulgences.

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