|Now that the German courts have agreed with German bishops there's no where for a German Catholic to appeal their rights of baptism.|
German courts have upheld the Roman Catholic Church's position that if one doesn't pay Germany's church tax, one is not a member of the the Church--at least as far as the State in concerned. The decision was handed down earlier today. It was brought about by the 2007 lawsuit initiated by Canon Lawyer Hartmut Zapp. He maintained that under Canon Law membership in Catholicism was determined by belief and baptism and not by paying any Church tax. That would be true in the United States, but not in Germany and not in Rome. In Germany, money talks more about your commitment to Catholicism than your participation in the Church. The following is an opinion piece written by KIaus Krammer, an editorialist with the multi media group Deutsche Welle. He takes the position that rights come with obligations and yes, you must pay to pray.
Opinion: You have to play by the rules of the game
Germany's Catholic bishops currently meeting in Fulda are probably hugely relieved – at least the future of church taxes in the country is secure! (I firmly believe this entire thing is aimed at Germany's cultural Catholics who didn't bother to do anything about the Church tax until the abuse crisis. Now that they have, they can no longer be cultural Catholics.)
Can you opt out of church tax and still remain a Catholic? The Leipzig Federal Administrative Court says in a ruling – no. It's a decision that won't come as a surprise to experts who are well-versed in the topic and one that anyone with good common sense would agree with. If you're a member of a community, a club, a party or any other social group, you usually have two things – rights as well as obligations.
It's no different in the Church. Those who leave a group can't complain that they want to continue claiming benefits of membership or filling its posts. (This assumes the only way you can support the Church financially is by the tax. I can support other aspects of the Church while avoiding bishops. Germans can't.)
The Freiburg “church rebel” Hartmut Zapp announced in 2007 that he was leaving the church as a “body corporate of public law” and has not been paying church tax since. Still, he continues to see himself as a religious member of the Catholic Church. As such, he wanted to continue claiming the full blessings of the Roman Catholic Church.
No partial exit from the Church
Zapp, a retired professor, had reason to hope he would be successful in court. The German episcopacy and the Vatican weren't officially in absolute agreement over the definition of church membership. But this approach of Zapp's has ceased to exist since last week. In a decree blessed by the Vatican, the German Bishops Conference made it clear – either you're a member of the Church with all rights and obligations including church tax – or you're not.
That probably played a role in the federal court's ruling on Wednesday. In a statement, the court said the state was obliged to collect church taxes from church members. Those who voluntarily leave the Church are no longer members of the Church in the eyes of the state, regardless of their motives for leaving the faith.
But the judges also remarked that how religious communities deal with their rebels is the Church's business and not the state's. (I don't think there's much question the German Bishops released their statement last week just before this judicial decision came down in order to influence the decision. They went to great pains not to call this 'excommunication' precisely to side step a 2006 Vatican objection.)
Beliefs more important than tax
So Hartmut Zapp is de facto no longer a member of the Roman Catholic Church since he left the Church. But that can't stop him from continuing to practice his Roman Catholic faith within the framework of remaining possibilities. And who knows – perhaps he can unofficially receive one of the seven sacraments, since individual priests sometimes give it out of a sense of pastoral responsibility without asking whether the worshipper is actually a member of the Church. (The framework of remaining possibilities is to attend Mass. Period.)
It's doubtful whether this ruling will end the discussion over whether church taxes are justified. The fact that billions will continue to be collected in religious tax doesn't just benefit the Church. The money is used to finance a huge range of social and charitable services and institutions in Germany and around the world. It also ends up helping people who don't belong to any church at all. (And it has been used to enable clerical sexual abuse and the lavish lifestyles of German bishops and these are reasons people don't want to pay it.)
Much more important than the financial aspect is the fact that comprehensive Church membership means a fundamental recognition of a faith-based community. That's despite all the serious criticisms that can rightly be made of the Church as an institution. (Except in their decree, the bishops state you can't separate the institution from the faith. They had to say this in order to pretend this decree has any justification in Canon Law or Church teaching.
It's only when clear limits are set that tough discussions and an atmosphere of constructive debate is possible. And both are sorely needed by the Catholic Church in the face of massive problems in many different areas. (It's pretty hard to have that sorely needed constructive debate when one side sets all the limits and that some of those limits depend on where you happen to live.)
Germany is not the only European country that has a version of the church tax. Germany is unique because so far it's the only country that has decided to determine lay rights on the basis of whether a financial obligation is met through that tax. This is most certainly an interesting collusion between Church and State, and one that confuses Catholic sacramental rights with secular authority. It's a very symbiotic relationship which mostly benefits the position of the hierarchy with in the Church and State. The State collects the tax but does not supervise it's use by the hierarchy. That's a heck of a deal. There are other ways collected tax money can be distributed through religious organizations to benefit everyone in a given nation and put some accountability in the equation. The US has it's own Faith based initiatives which don't impact the rights of Church members one little bit, but does ask for a certain amount of accountability for the funds---HHS mandate not withstanding. In Germany the State isn't asking hospitals and colleges to provide birth control as an option. No, it is actually determining who belongs to and has rights in a given Church and there is no option about it.
It's not surprising then that the Germans who are most up in arms about this decision of both the State and the Church is the progressive wing. That shouldn't be surprising since this decision is really aimed at the reformers, the dissenters, those who are very angry about the clerical abuse crisis, and cultural Catholics whose participation is limited to marking passages through life. German authorities apparently won't put up with Catholics who make their disagreements known through their pocket books. Catholic identity is now officially for sale in Germany. Which interestingly enough, has irritated German conservatives because dissenters can stay in the Church if they pay the tax and in their view this makes the sacraments for sale to anybody. Honest to God, Jesus weeps, or maybe He's searching to find his slightly used whip.
This whole idea is just so foreign to me. I keep waiting for a list of exceptions to the rule, exceptions like poverty, temporary financial straights, fixed incomes, and discernment of commitment, but there has been no word said about anything like this. It's all pay or you don't pray. This is truly anti Catholic and the fact it was approved by Rome's German bishop is beyond sad. This actually reminds me of legal prostitution in Nevada. If you don't pay up front, you don't play and that too is enforced by the State and you can't plead poverty.