Wednesday, September 26, 2012

German Court Confirms The Bishops Pay To Pray Decree

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.


  1. Well, perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus was not a Catholic, didn't pay fees, or follow orders from Rome, and he still turned out to be a pretty good Christian.

    You know the Church is in trouble when it needs to use the state to fund it's operations.

    1. That's very traditional though, to have the state fund it's operation and enforce it's rules. Goes all the way back to Constantine. It's been the big sin/heresy all along.

  2. This thread has some interesting comments:;f=2;t=017401


    "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"

    - is lethally equivocal. Being a member of he Church by paying a tax is not membership of the Church *in the same way* as membership by Baptism is.

    Membership by Baptism is irreversible, because it is a saving act of God; once Christ, through Baptism, makes someone a member of the Church, which is His Body, one is a member - IOW, a limb - of Christ for all eternity. Excommunication cannot destroy this; for nothing man does can destroy what God does.

    Paying a tax does not make one a member of the Church - it is justified only if one is already a member of the Church, seen both as the Body of Christ (a theological reality) anfd as its visible manifestation (a sociological reality).

    And belonging to the sociological reality is not the same kind of membership as membership of the theological reality. St. Joan of Arc was cast out of the sociological reality - not out of the theological (and far more important) reality.

    To confuse the two ways of belonging leads to endless confusion, and degrades the holy Church of God into beeing nothing more than a club, the members of which must pay their subscriptions on pain of being kicked out. The Church is not a club - yet the bishops appear to be ttreating it like one. This is too miserable for words.

    1. This is just really good Rat. Using Joan of Arc as your example makes it doubly better. No matter what the German bishops say about one not being able to separate from the institutional church and remaining Catholic, the fact is that is totally wrong--as you have so brilliantly pointed out.

  3. "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."

    ## If Obama did that, or failed to oppose it if a US court made such a ruling, all Hell would open up: it would be more "proof" of how he is President Evul. I wonder what other US Catholic weblogs will make of this. The State has absolutely no competence to make such a ruling.

    1. I so much agree with your posts Rat. In a real sense what is being said is 'you, my fellow Catholics are no longer baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, unless you pay this tax. It was all for naught in other words - and the secular political hacks agreed - as if they are second in line after the Church to dictate whatever and are the authority, even before the Holy Spirit and the People of God and the Baptism itself. For the Bishops to say that the State can say who is a Catholic or not, this nullifies the priesthood and any spiritual power of the Priest who baptized, to my way of thinking.

      What Priest would or could baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, only to undo it in the facile name of taxation by the authority of the State? It seems an affirmation & conversion to Rome and not to Jesus Christ. Baptisms can now be unperformed, undone in the name of taxation and one is unbaptized via the authority of the State. How can anyone tell the Holy Spirit what to do and to take back ones Baptism and pretend it did not exist or happen? Guess they don't really believe in Baptism.

      Thank you for pointing out the differences between what is sociological which is external reality and what is theological, interior of the soul reality that God witnesses in Truth and justice, mightier than the laws of men.

      I wonder what the people in Germany will do now? Poor people should not have to pay such a tax. No one should. Some people in the State must be making money off this kind of sociological b.s. of a tax law by men. The Bishops in Germany have lost their faith in the theological sphere. To them, it means NOTHING.


  4. Perhaps it was to further a better agreement of Church taxation that caused the historical Vatican Nazi concordat.

    There were always an undercurrent in the US that believed that the churches should at least pay property taxes. Now we have because of W, government giving "faith based" institutions moneys that would be better spent by trained social workers etc. Now, we have a Cardinal Dolan that wants to tell women that they may not have the BC provided by state and privately sponsored insurances.

    Time to sit back an reconsider what role an authoritarian church should play in a democratic society. Perhaps we should go back to the ideas of property taxes. dennis

    1. They are seriously thinking about that in Italy, and that is hardly surprising given the amount of property and businesses the Church owns in Italy. Spain will be next, and then Germany, and then maybe even some of the business properties in the US.

  5. I anticipate a multitude of German Catholics will be withdrawing from the Church tax soon. After all, October is the month of Reformation Sunday. These bishops act as if no one ever heard of Luther and the Reformation, which happened in Germany. I also expect to quickly see ads looking for priests (active or resigned) to celebrate the Eucharist in House church gatherings. It's as if Bishops lack the capacity to learn.

    1. I'm not so sure it's a matter of lacking the capacity, I think it's more a matter of lack of courage. The thing a person can't ignore is that this is another national group of bishops who have now blatantly decreed: "Yes, it's all about the money."

      I also have to add that Benedict has announced his lay advisors for the upcoming synod on evangelization and as I suspected Kiko Arguello was invited (Leader of the Neo Catechumens) and of course, so was Carl Anderson. It's all about the money, not the evangelizing--unless you are willing to pay to pray, or believe donating money to the church is the same as taking care of the poor. It is not.

  6. They want to drive people away while they liquidate and move the cash assets offshore all over Europe and America. The gamble is to stay and have local and diocese laity councils that will examine the cash asset ledgers along with sending abusive clergy straight to the cops. You can outsource useless Bishops in a democracy or a pro-active employee corporation. Bishops, overseers, managers are virtually obsolete these days in the age of software programming.

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  8. I don't think they care weather people go or stay, but those who stay must pay. So good luck with the attempts to re-evangelize Europe! Of Course until all the RCC Bishops begin to follow the Way of Christ as seen in His Gospels particularly Matthew, they lack the evangelization to impart to anyone.

    For those who care, the only way is "house Churches" or the parallel structure of the Old Catholic Churches that are a little more plentiful in Germany and Austria than here. Now what will the priests and Abbots do in Austria that were very near an open break with Rome not so many months ago?

    Yes, the leadership are desperate men trying to maintain not authority but totalitarian control of their structure. It will not work. If you read Luther's 95 statements to the Church, you will see that he was indeed more "Christian" than was Rome. In fact in about 1999 the RCC excepted that Luther was mostly correct. Ratzinger has backed away form these ideas but never the less, had the Church allowed Luther his rightful place in Christianity, we would have had more useful reform. The Lutherans for most of their history referred to themselves as Lutheran Catholics.

    The Lutherans have themselves gone on to form several different factions so perhaps progress is really only made with this happening. We are now witnessing all over the word the spitting off from the RCC of educated people, No wonder the wealthy that trow their lot with Rome are no longer for financing good public education. They also seem to be for the dumbing down of society to maintain their own feudal empires. Carful or we get with this feudal church, a feudal government!! dennis

    1. Institutionalized ignorance does seem to be part of the plan.

    2. This may be of interest,as a (semi-)defence of the German bishops:

      It contains some useful links, to other opinions.