In what looks like another public relations disaster for the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church in Germany has announced that Catholics who refuse to pay a church tax of 8-10% of their income will be denied the sacraments and forbidden to become godparents.
The new scheme has been approved by the Vatican.
In Germany, Catholics, Protestants and Jews are expected to pay a religious tax of 8-10% unless they opt out by participating in an official process of leaving their religion. The Catholic Church in Germany has declined in recent years due to people leaving in the wake of clerical child sexual abuse scandals. As thejournal.ie reports:
Last year, some 126,488 Catholics turned their back on the Church, after 181,000 did the same in 2010, official figures showed.
A report in April 2011 showed that paedophile priest scandals in Germany had contributed to the 40-per cent rise in the number of Catholics leaving the Church a year earlier.
For me, this latest move is simply another example of how far out of touch the Catholic Church is with everyday life. It indicates a lack of understanding of why people are disillusioned with the church as an institution.
It also seems to confirm much that is negative about the institutional church. It looks like another attempt to preserve the institution at the expense of supporting people who are trying to live Christian lives according to their consciences.
“‘Pay and pray’ is a completely wrong signal at the wrong time,” the reformist movement We Are Church said on Monday. The group said the decree “shows the great fear of the German bishops and the Vatican about further serious losses in church tax revenue”.
A conservative group called the Union of Associations, which is loyal to the pope, asked why Catholics who stopped paying the tax would be punished but those it called heretics could stay in its ranks.
“So sacraments are for sale – whoever pays the church tax can receive the sacraments,” it said in a statement, saying the link the decree created “goes beyond the sale of indulgences that [Martin] Luther denounced” at the start of the Reformation.
Supporters of the decree say that it will help to support the Church’s good works, and will also underline the seriousness of people’s decisions to ‘leave’ the official church. (It seems that some Germans who had opted out of paying the church tax had tried to continue participating in aspects of church life.)
But frankly, I’m left with a feeling of incredulity and dismay.
It seems a desperate measure, and one that will put local priests – many who are serving with all their hearts in already difficult situations – in increasingly awkward positions.
What does enforcing this decree look like on the ground?
Will German parishioners be asked to display their tax return in exchange for the Host?
(image: The Cathedral of Saint Peter, Trier, the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Trier, in the Rhineland-Palatinate, is the oldest cathedral in Germany. Sourced on flickr from Jim Linwood.)