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German Cardinals Walter Kasper and Reinhard Marx

GERMANY, January 4, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — The German Bishops’ Conference received the equivalent of $7.1 billion US from German Catholic taxpayers in 2017.

This is the highest amount of tax revenue the German Catholic Church has received since the church tax was introduced to the constitution of the Weimar Republic in 1919. The clause concerning the tax was included in the new German Constitution after the Second World War.

The church tax, or Kirchensteuer, is levied upon Roman Catholics, “Old Catholics,” Lutherans, two other Protestant communions, and Jews. The revenue was once kept by the German government for the upkeep of religious buildings and payment of ministers’ salaries, but it is now given directly to the governing bodies of these religious communities. Muslim places of worship are self-supporting or receive funds from abroad.

The Kirchensteuer represents 8 percent-9 percent of an individual’s annual income, depending on where in Germany they live. The monthly deduction appears as “KS” on payslips, much to the consternation of foreign employees who do not consider themselves members of these   religious communities but are taxed all the same. According to Handelsblatt, the German business magazine that broke the story of the German Church’s record haul, officials will go so far as to request the baptismal records of foreign nationals.

Germans and foreign residents can opt out of the church tax by going to a government office or courthouse, signing documents stating that they are no longer members of their religion, and paying a fee. German Christians began doing this in large numbers in the 1990s when taxes were significantly increased to rebuild post-reunification East Germany. In some cases, Christians signed the forms and continued participating in their faith communities.

However, the German Catholic bishops shut the door on this option for Catholics in 2012 when they decreed that Catholics who opted out of the Church tax would be socially and spiritually penalized.

Catholics who opt out of the church tax will not be employed by the German Catholic Church or its establishments, including schools and hospitals. They are not allowed to join such Catholic groups as church choirs. They may not be godparents. They are denied the sacraments and a Catholic funeral.

While devout Catholics may be frightened by the thought of being cut off from the sacraments, even the most reluctant of cultural Catholics may think twice before opting out of the church tax: the German Catholic Bishops Conference is the second biggest employer in Germany.

This may be one reason why the 89.8 percent of Catholic Germans who do not go to Sunday Mass continue to pay the tax. However, more and more of the less committed do opt out every year. In 2016, 160,000 Catholics declared that they no longer belonged to the Church.

As only 10.2 percent of Germany’s Catholics go to Mass on Sunday, one may be forgiven for asking exactly what the German Catholic Bishops are doing with the billions of euros they receive every year.

Well, there are salaries, of course. German bishops make more than $12,000 US a month, and then there are all the people working for them, including those who work for Germany’s Catholic charity Caritas, and all the other services run by the Church: museums, hospitals, kindergartens, schools, colleges, and retirement homes.

There are also German Church charities that minister to the poor overseas. According to the UK’s Catholic Herald,  projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe received more than €451 million in funding from German Catholic aid organizations in 2015.

Then there is the German Church’s rich architectural patrimony to keep in good repair. The German bishops may not have many priests or Sunday Mass-goers, but they need never close a church, let alone sell it, due to budgetary constraints.

But one thing the German bishops are not doing with their billions of euros: They are not making a dent on the growing secularization of Germany. With all their money, they cannot convince the vast majority of German Catholics — let alone anyone else — to embrace the Gospel and worship God on Sundays.

Meanwhile, the attempts of certain German Cardinals to widen the straight and narrow path of the Catholic faith for the greater comfort of unrepentant sexual sinners rankle orthodox Catholics who also pay the Church tax. Cardinal Walter Kasper has advocated for years that  divorced-and-remarried Catholics be permitted the sacraments, and yet any Catholic in Germany who balks at paying 8 percent to 9 percent of his or her income to the German bishops is de facto excommunicated.

“I think it’s scandalous that German bishops deny access to the sacraments to those Catholics in Germany who, for whatever reasons, do not wish to pay into a rather opaque fund,” a church taxpayer told LifeSiteNews.

John Goodall, 28, has been working in Germany for two years. The bishops’ attitude bothers him very much because, he says, they are simultaneously encouraging those who live an objectively immoral lifestyle to receive the sacraments. “It seems like a form of simony,”  said Goodall.

When Goodall first arrived in Germany, he registered at his town hall. There he was asked his religion, and Goodall said he was a Catholic. “Ever since, I’ve had the Kirchensteuer automatically deducted from my salary,” he told LifeSiteNews.

Goodall wonders if it might actually be immoral to pay the tax.

“I have spent ages looking through opinions on the matter because it feels slightly immoral paying (9 percent) to them,” he continued.

“As a traditional Catholic, I … see traditional and authentic expressions of the faith being undermined by these same bishops. There are also the extravagant salaries of the bishops themselves. I’d much rather pay the money directly to the Old Rite parish I attend. I’d even be happy to pay (the parish) 9 percent directly.”  

He says the only advantage to the church tax that he can think of is that the church buildings are well maintained. “But I’d rather have proper doctrine and discipline than beautiful but empty churches.”

As for the vast network of German Church charities, Goodall has a question:

“Shouldn’t charitable giving be voluntary?”