German Catholic Bishops: Give Us Money or We’ll Effectively Excommunicate You

In Germany, where people are “officially” registered as Catholics (or Protestants or Jews or whatever), you pay a “religious tax” each year that can be about 8-9% of your annual income tax bill. That’s part of how the Church makes its money. If you’re an atheist, you don’t pay that fee.

And it’s a problem for religious leaders when people no longer attend Church or list themselves as Catholics… yet take advantage of the Church’s services.

So local bishops are putting a stop to that:

“This decree makes clear that one cannot partly leave the Church,” a statement from the bishops conference said. “It is not possible to separate the spiritual community of the Church from the institutional Church.”

Catholics who leave can no longer receive sacraments, except for a special blessing before death, the decree states.

They cannot work in the church or its institutions, such as schools and hospitals, or be active in church-sponsored associations such as charity groups or choirs.

They cannot be godparents for Catholic children and must get a bishop’s permission to marry a Catholic in a church ceremony. “If the person who left the Church shows no sign of repentance before death, a religious burial can be refused,” it added.

The full decree (in German) is here.

None of this seems like much of a loss. If anyone actually wants these services, they can just pretend to be Catholics and pay the tax — apparently, the bishops have no problem with people lying about their faith if the money’s rolling in.

From an economic standpoint, I understand the Church not wanting to spend its hard-earned money on freeloaders, but I don’t get the banning of non-Catholics from doing church-sponsored charity work or becoming godparents.

Anyway, there are about 24,000,000 Catholics in the country. According to Reuters, 120,000 people usually leave the Church each year, though that number shot up to “181,193 two years ago as revelations about decades of sexual abuse of children by priests shamed the hierarchy…”

Maybe this will be the impetus for the other Cafeteria Catholics out there to Just Say No to the Church and uncheck the box labeling themselves ats Catholics.

You don’t need the Church and the bishops are making it clear that they don’t want you.

(Thanks to Ward for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Rodney

    They’re a dying creed. I think it’s time they accepted.

  • dorothy30

    makes sense to me. sounds like the church is finally acknowledging that it’s a business. and just like any other business, it costs. if i join a bowling league or a golf club, i have to pay dues in order to participate or use the services or facilities. at my local Y, parents can rent multi-purpose room for their kids’ birthday parties – but only if they are paid-up members. why should church be any different? 

  • vexorian

    I would understand if they removed your opportunity to receive benefit from the church. Like not being able to receive sacraments or to receive church charity. (It would be pettry and uncharitative but it would be economically justifiied)

    But banning non-Catholics from getting a job at their institutions and – most terribly – making it so you need a bishop permission to marry a Catholic is ridiculous. So you mean that “Catholic bachelors” are part of the service you get as a paying Catholic? If they include civil marriage in this, then I wonder if they can be sued for discrimination?

  • kaydenpat

    “you pay a ‘religious tax’ each year that can be about 8-9% of your annual income tax bill.”

    So the country collects tithes for the churches?  Interesting to know.  I guess there is no separation between church and state in Germany.

  • Freak

    A person needs a bishop’s permission to marry a Catholic *in a church ceremony*.

  • Gregory Lynn

    So a bunch of institutional Catholics are putting something ahead of the actual people their institution is supposed to serve?

    I am *shocked.*

  • Guest

    There is no box to uncheck. you have to go to the local court (depending on the County you are in) and sign an affidavit (really easy, preprinted with a clerk present) that you know what you are doing and proclaim you don’t want to be catholic or protestant any longer. I did it three years ago, it’s not a big deal. 
    I don’t understand why this decree is making news, the church is doing what any club would be doing. If I don’t pay fees to my local badminton club, I can’t be a member. easy as that. 
    The godparent thing has always been a problem for non-catholics. You needed at least one catholic godparent (depending on the priest two). If you are excommunicated, you willingly left the church, that’s worse than never been in it. From a catholic standpoint, it’s perfectly logical. If you are a parent, you can always go with one official godparent and have the second one be not recognized by the church but effectively name them a godparent, right?

  • Guest

    yeah not there isn’t. In addition, most of the church’s caritative initiatives are heavily substituted by the state (but claimed by the church)

  • Chakolate

    Oh, I totally love this.  Here’s the church, thinking that threatening people with excommunication will make them pay up.  Hehe – in a couple of years when their political clout has evaporated along with their numbers as the casual Catholics drop out, they’ll be sitting cluelessly asking “What happened?”

    Love it, love it, love it.

  • MegaZeusThor

    “Give Us Money or We’ll Effectively Excommunicate You”

    I encourage more churches to proclaim this…

    Really though, some people are really into church, some people are really against church, and great deal of people are in the middle not thinking about church at all. If the topic comes up, they might be positive about religion because they haven’t give it much thought. (They’re on automatic.)  

  • Chakolate

     The Catholic church has always required nonCatholics who want to marry Catholics to jump through hoops. 

  • CoboWowbo

    Sooo….rape a child, get moved, don’t pay your tax, get kicked out. Nice.

  • David Eason

    As a Christian in the USA, I am shocked (almost wrote schocked) by the fact that Germans are not only required to register their religion but to send their religious offering to the government! What if you would rather use that 10% to say, feed poor people? I think Pakistan requires that people register their religion, are there any other EU countries that do that?

  • Stev84

    The “no job” thing is especially problematic, since those institutions are mostly government-funded and in no way private. A lot of daycare centers for example are contracted out like that. But they already discriminate against gay and remarried people in employment, so it’s not new.

  • The Vicar

    Yay! Giving people a serious economic incentive to leave a religion is the only method to kill a church which history says actually works without killing people! Keep it up!

  • vexorian

    It is still quite terrible imho. This is detrimental to the Catholic partner. Who is paying to the church.

  • Stev84

    It’s basically a service offered to the churches which they pay for. Churches can also opt to collect their money themselves, which is more attractive for small communities since they save the collection fee.

    The problem is really that it’s opt-out instead of opt-in for people. Since basically everyone is baptized, they just assume that adults still belong to the church they were signed up for when they were born.

  • vexorian

    If you don’t want the tax to go to a church, you’d just declare yourself as non-religious.

     I like this, it is in reality a tax on claiming to be religious when you really are not (If you really belonged to a church and really cared for it, you wouldn’t mind your money going to them, would you?). So it does stops their numbers from inflating.

  • C Peterson

    Most countries in Europe have official state churches, and systems for subsidizing those churches through the tax system. Most also allow individuals to exempt themselves from any churches and not pay church taxes.

    The interesting thing is, despite having official state religions and no real legal separation of church and state, from a practical standpoint such separation is often greater than here in the U.S., with our Constitutional guarantee of separation that so often goes unenforced. Churches in Europe generally have much less political influence than churches in the U.S.

  • A3Kr0n

    People get dinged 8-9% of their income if they say they are religious? Holy crap.

  • kenneth

    That’s always been the case. I was raised Catholic just for that reason. They will not approve a church wedding with a non-Catholic (even another Christian), unless you agree to raise the kids Catholic. Of course, I wasn’t bound by that in adulthood. I went through the formal defection process a couple of years ago, which incurs an excommunication. Funny thing is, nobody questioned me when I became the godfather of my brother’s first child. 

  • kenneth

    I’m pretty sure this threat by the bishops is bogus even under Canon law. I researched the process of defection very thoroughly a few years ago, and took advantage of it. Sometime around 2006, some Vatican body ruled that just dropping out for tax purposes didn’t mean you quit the church. You had to send a bishop a letter making it clear that you really didn’t want to be part of the church anymore for religious reasons. Then, about two years ago, they abolished the procedure altogether, so that in theory, there is no way one can be considered an ex-Catholic under church law.

     So far as I know, failing to comply with mandatory tithing via a government tax is not among the reasons people can be excommunicated. There is not supposed to be any mandatory tithing of any sort in Catholicism.  These bishops are just basically thugs who have grown accustomed to a VERY comfy position enshrined by centuries of special government privileges. If you think we have it bad with violations of state/church separation in the U.S., you ain’t seen nothing. Look up the word “concordat” sometime. The Vatican has a long practice and policy of negotiating special priveleges for the church in treaties with other countries – tax breaks, complete immunity from financial transparency, control of state schools etc. 

  • David Eason

    “it is in reality a tax on claiming to be religious when you really are not” — Well, no offense, but to me, the ones who are religious but are not necessarily in lockstep with their religious authorities are more deeply religious than those who aren’t. Although that’s probably a minority view within my religion, and will not make much sense to whom being religious is a bad thing.

  • Conspirator

    I imagine part of the godparent thing is about getting pressure on people to join to be a godparent.  I have a friend who is a non-practicing, or C&E Catholic.  She attends church only when she’s visiting her parents, she’s fairly liberal and I think she likes it in some ways, but is definitely not concerned with most Catholic teachings.  Her sister asked her to be a godparent, and so she had to join a parish here and get a letter from the priest that she was a member of the parish.  I believe all she did was attend a service and meet the priest, and gave a donation to appear in good standing.  

    So I imagine that rule on the Germans part is about family pressure.  If you have a sibling or other relative for whose children you might be a godparent, you have to stay in the church.  The position of godparent is significant to some people so there will be some pressure from family members to participate.  

  • Foster

    “Apparently, the bishops have no problem with people lying about their faith if the money’s rolling in.”  That is such a cheap shot, Mehta.  As a Catholic, I see nothing wrong with the Church saying to people, “Hey, you’re either in or you’re out:  make up your mind.”  Your assumption based on, wait for it–Absolutely Nothing–that bishops are fine with people lying about their faith is just so much slanderous garbage.  Shame on you.

  • Rsersen

    So far as I know, failing to comply with mandatory tithing via a government tax is not among the reasons people can be excommunicated. ”
    Yet. Like you said, they’ve changed the rules on leaving the church twice in the last half decade. No reason they can’t re-write them again to kick out those who aren’t paying. 

    We all know they just make this up as they go along. 

  • Foster

    You could leave the Church.  It is voluntary after all.

  • Robster

    It’s wierd that the catholic church and its leary old men in dresses thinks it can threaten anybody with anything. It’s a bit like threatening someone with a chocolate bath and wrapping them in musk sticks and desicated coconut. I’ve read recently, here I think, that the RCC is no longer accepting resignations from the the church. Once you’re on the list you’re there to stay whether you accept the nonsense or not. From a business point of view, that’s probably a good policy.

  • Richard Wade

    This is a very good development. People are losing interest in the Catholic Church, and so the Church will take away what few things are left that might keep them interested. That sounds like a self-perpetuating and self-accelerating process. Go ahead, make yourselves less and less relevant.

    Denying the unregistered Catholics their mumbo-jumbo, such as magic spells with magic crackers, or magic spells in their magic building for their marriage, I don’t think that many people will miss.

    But I really am skeptical about how consistently the bishops will carry out this threat:

    They cannot work in the church or its institutions, such as schools and hospitals…

    Are they really going to fire the excellent and extremely rare pediatric neurosurgeon from their Catholic hospital just because he or she is not a registered Catholic? Are they really going to sack the most prestigious physics professor at their Catholic university just because he or she is not a registered Catholic?

    I think those “freeloaders” will be conveniently overlooked during the purging.

  • Lucilius

    You’ll notice that it doesn’t say you have to believe, just that you’ve got to cough up a kickback if you want to keep your job at a church-run hospital.

    A true statement does niit become a cheap shot just because you get butthurt about it.

  • kenneth

    Officially, the church does not recognize a way for people to be officially “out”. They closed down the only procedure they had for quitting, and that wasn’t a real exit process to begin with. They play both sides of the fence by counting all ex-members as real members when it suits them and showing them the door when it doesn’t. 

  • Marco Conti

    That’s a lot of money. I think I am moving to Germany and I am going to establish the Church of Non-religious and lay a claim to the money from all the apostates. 

    This is a truly bizarre practice. No wonder the church likes it,  but they seem to be doing OK outside Germany anyway. 

  • Gwen

    Ohhh, I’m shuddering in my boots! I can’t believe MORE have not abandoned that corrupt cult!

  • ortcutt

     It’s 8-9% of their income tax, not 8-9% of their income.  Still, it’s a lot of money. 

  • j_flowers

    I can even one up this.
    I’m a german citizen and in my extended family there is one case where the church is getting religious tax even from a non-member.

    This is how it works:
    If there is a married couple where one is part of a church and the other one is not, the church is able to collect the so called “Special church fee”.
    In germany a couple can file their taxes together which will result in a few tax bonuses.
    This will result in the church collecting this “Special church fee” on the basis of the joint income on top of the already paying church member.

    Oh I just love our “christian nation”

  • j_flowers

    It’s actually 8-9% of the amount of taxes you payed for the year, so it’s not THAT much, but still a lot.

  • j_flowers

     Yes, they are. Here religious institutions are allowed to discriminate against workers based on their religious affiliation. So, if you are working in a catholic institution and are having a baby out of wedlock, it’s goodbye for you. Also they are allowed to ask about your religious status at a job interview.

  • Richard Wade

    Well, okay, if they really will get rid of their best assets for the sake of this idiotic and self-defeating discrimination, then their eventual collapse will be all the sooner. It’s rough on the individual victims, but it also hastens the fall of the Evil Empire.

  • Stev84

    Yeah. Until now they have made a huge deal out of the fact that they don’t consider people who unregistered with the government as having left the Catholic church itself.

  • Stev84

    It’s not any different in the US either. The US Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the churches by hugely expanding their exemption from anti-discrimination laws. You can read stories all the time of religious schools firing people they don’t like.

    The difference in Germany is that these organizations are paid for even more from government funds (in addition to the church tax, which technically they only collect for the churches for a fee). I think there is still some hope that European courts will reign them in a bit.

  • cipher

    Hemant’s  point is that they aren’t saying that to people who tithe. As long as the money keeps rolling in, it’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

  • Leander

     This won’t work I’m afraid. In Germany only protestant and catholic churches get the money from this taxes.

  • Stev84

    Jews as well. Technically, the state collects this tax for them for a fee (3-4% of the total sum). Any religious group can apply for that.

    There are some countries that treat humanist organizations the same as churches for legal purposes by the way. At least on paper.

  • vexorian

    I am guessing that you can declare yourself as Christian but without a church affiliation. Well, it would be very non-sensical if you couldn’t, at least.

  • Jack Florenz

    The German bishops are simply following the example of Jesus, who never did anything for anybody without receiving payment up front.  As when he healed the leper:  “That’ll be 20 dollars, please.”

  • PJB863

    One would think Germany would have removed the requirement of declaring one’s religion to the government after the disastrous consequences of that practice in the 1930′s.  France abolished the practice for that very reason in 1945 or so.

  • TheG

    Probably because when I don’t pay money to the YMCA, they would still let me volunteer as a nurse at their health fair.  They don’t have a hospital or a university.  The classes at the YMCA don’t require you to be a member (although you get a discount!).

    Moreover, the Y doesn’t tell me I’m going to be tortured for all eternity if I don’t pay.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    If the Catholic person cares about staying Catholic, they must have a Catholic church wedding, or the wedding won’t be recognized by the Catholic church and the person will be ‘sinning’ in its eyes as much as those who move in together without getting married.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    We ought to have a formal secular ‘tradition’ with a catchy name to compete with the godparent thing.

  • kenneth

    Actually the legal mechanisms which allow the church to collect tax money in Germany were created, or at least formalized in law through the Reich Concordat treaty signed with the Nazi regime in 1933. From the Vatican’s standpoint, Hitler wasn’t ALL bad! To this day, his legacy is good for 6, 7 billion dollars a year to the church. 

  • NewDawn2006

     Yeah, found out about that when my husband and I invited his father to the wedding.  Since it wasn’t being held in the Catholic church, and not by a Catholic priest, and we lived together before getting married, a bishop told his father he would go to hell if he attended the wedding.  Well, his eternal soul was, of course, more important than our wedding.  He has dialed back the crazy a little bit now, but for a long time he didn’t recognize that we were married. 

  • John


  • Stev84

    Wrong. Those laws date back to the Weimar Republic. Several articles of that constitution – the ones dealing the legal status of churches – were incorporated into the Basic Law.

    The concordat is specially with the Catholic Church, but the church tax is available to all religious communities. The government doesn’t favor one religion over another. Instead it gives special treatment to everyone who wants it :p

  • Baal

     There was a full thread on potential name choices on FTB.

  • Baal

     My wife and I were married protestant though I was nominally Catholic at the time.  The priest would marry us if we had promised to raise all of our children Catholic.  Her family had a problem with that.  I’m happy to say we’re atheists and so is our son.