Is This News? German Bishops Withhold Sacraments from the “Un-baptized”

In January 2012, I wrote about the growing trend among Europeans to request that they be “unbaptized”—that is, not content to merely stop attending Mass on Sunday, they wanted to be formally removed from the rolls at their local Catholic parish, and to have any record of their baptism expunged.  They wanted to be “unbaptized.”

Of course, that’s not possible.  As I wrote before, the Sacrament of Baptism leaves an indelible mark on the soul, and formal resignation from the Church does not obliterate that mark.  Apart from that, however, a declaration of “unbaptism” has effects in civil society.

In Germany, for example, adherents of any religion—whether Catholic, Protestant or Jewish—pay a “religious tax” which is equal to 8 or 9 percent of their total tax bill.  By disavowing their belief in the faith, German citizens can hope to reap financial benefits, if not eternal benefits.  Reasons for the departure of more than 181,000 Germans from organized religion in the year 2010 include a loss of faith, disagreement with Church policy, disappointment following the clergy abuse scandal, and potential tax benefits.

Well, the Roman Catholic bishops of Germany have reacted:   Last week the German bishops issued a decree declaring the practice of “unbaptism” a “serious lapse” and imposing a long list of church activities from which the defectors will be excluded.  “Unbaptized” persons cannot, for example,

  • receive the sacraments, except for a religious blessing at the time of death;
  • have a religious funeral, or be interred in a Catholic cemetery;
  • work in the church or its institutions, such as schools and hospitals;
  • be active in church-sponsored associations such as charity groups or choirs; or
  • be godparents for Catholic children.

Additionally, they must get a bishop’s permission to marry a Catholic in a church ceremony.

In reporting the story, Reuters news agency treated the bishops’ stance as an attempt to hold onto their income, and to punish those who weasel out of paying the government-imposed church tax.  (Here in America, the practice of government assessing taxes to support churches is unfamiliar; but in Germany, Church taxes brought in about 5 billion Euros, or$6.5 billion, for the Roman Catholic Church in 2010.)

In fact, though, there is no new information here.  It has been the constant practice of the Catholic Church to restrict reception of the Sacraments to its members—with baptism, the sacrament of initiation, being the gateway to membership in the Body of Christ.

The German bishops regretted that the consequences of leaving the church had not been clearly spelled out in the past.  The bishops’ decree makes clear that one cannot “partly leave” the Church.  “It is not possible,” says the statement, “to separate the spiritual community of the Church from the institutional Church.”

For more information on the “de-baptism” phenomenon throughout Europe, read this.

For Reuters’ report, which includes some statistics on the exodus and on Church membership in general, read this.


  • kenneth

    It is a money grab. The bishops are contradicting what Rome has said on several different counts in the recent past concerning formal defection. The concept of defection has been around a long time, but in 2006, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts finally sat down and defined what it meant to formally defect.

    They specifically said that a defection for tax purposes did not constitute a “quitting” of the Church in itself. They held that you had to want to leave for deeper religious reasons, and you had to tell a bishop in writing. As with other matters of Canon Law, they also wanted people to deal with and through the competent authorities of the Church, not some guy in a government tax office. Government civil servants don’t grant absolution or dispensations from marriage forms or anything else of Canonical significance. In 2010, just as people were starting to use the church’s own defection process in numbers, especially in Ireland, Rome reversed course, saying formal defection is not even possible. Well which is it? We now have German bishops saying people have accomplished a Canonical act of leaving which is Canonically impossible, and have done so via a mechanism, civil law, that was specifically rejected in recent years.

    Of course it is about the money, which makes their actions even more reprehensible to their own church’s tradition and doctrine. Tithing in Catholicism is not mandatory in the sense that one’s “dues” are set and must be paid up. The concept of 10% has been around for centuries, but it is not a doctrinal requirement. It is a suggestion. People have a general obligation of conscience to do what they can to support their church. The idea of revoking “membership” for failing to pay a government designated fee is totally alien to Catholic tradition.

  • Michael

    The bishops are certainly within their right to withhold the sacraments from those seeking “un-baptism” but I do not see the connection between this and wanting relief from a church tax. People are really hurting financially these days and it may be time to revisit the whole issue of the government being involved in the financial affairs of the Church. These are two seperate issues and require two clearly seperate appoaches. To do otherwise just invites the kind of distorion and misrepresentation we see so often in the MSM.