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Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx, one of Pope Francis' confidantes, reportedly supported the measure.

Germany’s Catholic Church, the second-largest employer in the country, may be set to remove the requirement that its employees order their private lives according to the Church’s moral teachings, a rule that currently officially bars active homosexuals and divorced and remarried Catholics. The German bishops were scheduled to vote yesterday on a proposal to allow those in homosexual or adulterous relationships to work for the Church, but have put it off until April amid criticism.

The decision comes in the wake of a German Constitutional Court ruling upholding the firing of a doctor from a Catholic hospital in Düsseldorf who had entered a second, civil marriage.

Writing for Breitbart, Vatican journalist Edward Pentin said that “a majority” of the German bishops, including the chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who also serves on Pope Francis’ “cabinet” of nine cardinals, was set to vote in favour of the measure, with only a small number of “conservative” bishops against it. Pentin notes that the change has “been devised in secret” by the German bishops and that many “homosexuals and divorced and civilly remarried Catholics are already working for the Church.”

Pentin quotes an unnamed German Catholic Church source, saying that the bishops believe it is “simply enough to pay the [Church] tax. … They feel there’s no need to scrutinize people’s private lives.” The source said that some faithful Catholics fear that the change could lead to those who uphold the Church’s teaching being dismissed from their employment for being “too Catholic” and thereby creating a “negative atmosphere.” 

The changes are reportedly being pushed by the Jesuit priest Fr. Hans Langendörfer, secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference, who recently hailed a report by a group of 143 dissident theologians from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland calling for the ordination of married men and allowing laypeople to help select bishops and pastors, in accord with the Protestant practice. 

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Those who are already barred from Church employment, however, are Catholics who have refused to pay the Church tax. Since the 19th century, German Catholics have been obliged to formally register their membership in the Catholic Church and pay a portion of their income to support the institutions of the Church. The German bishops may be applying more pressure than usual for Catholics to formally declare their allegiance on the tax rolls since the government announced in September changes coming to close a tax loophole for capital gains income, including retirement funds.

The rule applies to the officially recognized mainstream religious classifications of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. Churches have reportedly lobbied for the rules to be more strictly enforced that oblige banks to declare investment income for purposes of the Church tax.

Under the new rules, banks are instructed to withhold the Church tax from those with capital gains incomes over 801 per year. Thomas Begrich, the finance chief for the Protestant Churches of Germany, told the Wall St. Journal, “The wealthy need to pay their fair share.”

It is estimated that the change will generate an extra €160 million for the officially recognized religious groups, including the Catholic Church.

Officially registered Catholics account for 34 percent of the country’s population of 81 million, or about 27.5 million people. This nets the German Catholic Church about 9 billion per year (9.2 billion in 2010) or nearly $11.5 billion US. This immense revenue the tax generates allows the German Catholic Church to be the second-largest employer, after the government, in the country with Europe’s strongest economy.

In 2012, the BBC reported that many Germans were opting out of the Church tax, which places a tax burden of an extra 8-9 percent of a person’s annual income over and above government income tax. Two years before, the German Catholic bishops issued their decree effectively excommunicating anyone who refused to register with the government, and therefore with the taxman, as Catholic. The tax information published by the government shows how many are de-registering as Catholics, which in 2010 was about 181,000.

With the prospect of millions in lost income, the German bishops said that those who refuse to pay up may not present themselves to receive Holy Communion at Mass, or receive the other Sacraments, even including confession and a Christian burial.

Meanwhile, Catholic practice is itself close to deceased in Germany, with a 2012 report showing 52 percent of Eastern Germans say they do not believe in any God, and only about 8 percent that they believe in a God “personally concerned with every human being.” Sunday Mass attendance is estimated at 10.8 percent of those registered officially as Catholics, according to recent statistics, and about 179,000 officially deregistered in 2013, an increase from 118,000 in 2012.

For a country with such a large population of Catholics, there is little evidence of the Church’s presence in the country’s demographics. The median age for women giving birth to their first child in Germany is 29.2 years, over 66 percent of Germans use contraceptives, the overall population growth rate is – 0.18% and the total fertility rate is 1.43 children born per woman.