And give to the poor

So in Germany people are cross with the bishop of Limburg, who treated himself to a very pricey new place to live at the expense of none other than Jesus’s own Catholic church.

he €31-million bill for Franz-Tebartz Van-Elst’s residence, including €15,000 on a bath tub and €350,000 on built-in-wardrobes, has put the finances of the Catholic Church, much of which comes from taxpayers and state subsidies, into the spotlight.

Carsten Frerk, an outspoken critic of the Catholic Church in Germany, estimated its wealth at around €430 billion with about €140 billion of that in capital, the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper reported.

You’re starting to talk about real money there.

The opaqueness of the church’s finances was no surprise to Frerk. “For the big churches, transparency is very damaging to their business plan. Nobody wants to donate to a rich organization,” he said.

Ah no, no they don’t!

The church’s largest public form of income is the “church tax”, a system whereby taxpayers register their membership of a church or religious group, and a percentage of their tax goes to that church.

The tax dates back to the medieval tithes, a one-tenth share of goods collected by churches in the Middle Ages.

Anti-Church campaigner Peder Iblher told The Local there was little appetite among the country’s main parties to reform or scrap the “church tax”.

“All attempts to bring into question the church tax fall on deaf ears with conservatives, but also with large parts of the SPD,” he said.

Germans may avoid the tax by registering as having “left” the church, but it costs money to do so – in strongly-catholic Bavaria, opting out will set you back €31 in fees.

That is one hell of a racket they’ve got going.




  1. Sili says

    On the plus side, presumably the money went to hardworking builders who could really use it in this economy.

    So the poor get money, and the RCC gets a bad rap.

    I’m not complaining.

  2. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ Claire Ramsey : They might’ve said those vows but the sure aren’t keeping them and may not have ever meant them – just as is the case all too horribly often with the chastity ones versus all the child-molesting.

  3. mildlymagnificent says

    I realise that using cheap and cheerful IKEA might not be well-liked when the congregation or the Chambers of Commerce might prefer you to use local materials and tradesmen, but 350,000euros for wardrobes!

    And we wonder why they are tone deaf on sexual matters. They’re just plain tone deaf.

    Who knew the 14th century was still with us in so many ways.

  4. Omar Puhleez says

    Mind you, mitres, gold cloth and braid and such don’t come cheap these days. And besides, bishops have to mix and meet with high business executives, who are not backward in helping themselves to what’s in the company till. Making the CEOs and other executives more humble, even just in image, is probably a lost cause.

    So failing that, they might as well make their holy selves richer. I’m suspect that’s how their thinking goes.

  5. Anoia says

    I didn’t have to pay any fees when I left the church.

    Anyway, most of the money running the churches and “religious” institutions comes from the tax payer and not from the chruch tax. The salaries of priests, bishops (11.000 €) come from the german tax payer, as well as 90% of the costs of church run schools, hospitals, etc. (Yet they insist to be able to discriminate against homosexuals and the divorced.)

    The nice thing about this whole scandal is that a lot of people leave the church and the whole tax payer money for the church is constantly in the news now and the fact that this is unconstitutional (the constitution of the Weimarer Republic already stated that it has to stop, still hasn’t been carried out). Also the dioceses are making their finances and property public now.

  6. says

    No vows of poverty for them, I guess.

    For ages, the priests have used the handy excuse that they personally own nothing. The church owns the property and the clergy just administrates it. That way, you get to live in a million dollar house and still claim to be poor.

    Come to think of it, it’s the same excuse Kent Hovind tried to use. From wikipedia:

    He claimed that as a minister of God everything he owns belonged to God and he is not subject to paying taxes to the United States on the money he received for doing God’s work.

  7. khms says

    The rich everywhere use the same excuse. “It’s not my private plane, it belongs to my business!” “You can’t get my money even with a court judgment, it all belongs to my wife!”

    As for this bishop, it’s slightly worse than mentioned above. It looks like he carefully obfuscated the actual costs by cutting the project into parts small enough to be below some church-internal reporting limits.

    Also, when there was an article about him first class flying to visit some third-world hellhole, first he denied that, then he claimed that he never did so. So there’s a substantial fine outstanding against him.

    Of course, he still has friends in the church, who insist it’s all a media campaign. (Where have I heard that before?) But somehow I suspect the current pope may not be among them. At least his public stance seems to be in direct conflict with that Bishop’s actions.

    We’ll see what happens. In any case, there seem to be a lot of catholics who can no longer swallow these things over here.

  8. says

    Anoia, #6:

    I didn’t have to pay any fees when I left the church.

    I had to pay 25€ in fees when I registered to leave 6 years or so ago, in Braunschweig, Lower Saxony.

  9. says

    Well, in my case, it was the Protestant/Lutheran church and not the Catholics.

    Also, I’m actually not sure where those fees go; whether the church gets it or the city or the state government. Because you register as leaving for the church at the civil registry office, a government office.

    I’m not sure if you’re aware of that, but in Germany, the church tax is taken from your pay at the same time income tax and the like is taken as well, before you even get to see any of it. At least if you’re working under a normal employment contract; if you’re a freelancer, this works differently.

  10. says

    Wait – the church tax is separate? It’s an additional tax, as opposed to an option to send part of your tax to a church or mosque?

    The article said

    the “church tax”, a system whereby taxpayers register their membership of a church or religious group, and a percentage of their tax goes to that church.

    Does that mean taxpayers voluntarily register their membership? Or are they actually registered automatically, as a default?

  11. says

    Yes, it’s an additional tax. It’s an additional 9% (or 8% in some states) of your income tax that’s substracted from your pay and channeled to the churches (minus about 3% that goes to the state as a handling fee).

    In the case of christian religions, the taxpayer gets “voluntarily” registered by being baptised by their parents as a baby. I.e. the government basically keeps records of the religious affiliation of every child. Once you’ve been baptised, you’re marked as belonging to that religion and the church tax is automatically substracted from your pay until you register as leaving the church.

  12. says

    Today’s New York Times has an article stating that Pope Francis has temporarily expelled a German Bishop because of a scandal over a 31-million-euro project to build a new residence complex, but refused popular calls to remove him. I guess his Francis of Assisi new papacy image has to be seen to be on the job, but only just touching the surface. Bling.

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