The invaluable Amy Welborn…

The invaluable Amy Welborn… October 7, 2014

on, among other things, the daft Church/State financial arrangments in Germany and how that provides vital background to the stuff the German bishops are doing and saying.

I also like this quintessentially Welbornian clarity of thought about the media’s hyperfocus on Cdl. Kasper:

(Well, first you should be wondering why the head of a national church that is dying should have this constantly-turned on microphone on this issue.  Why are we even listening to him?  Aren’t we supposed to be listening to the Church from places where it is actually alive and growing? What happened to We’re-not-a-Western-European-Church-We’re-a-Global-Church?)

Indeed, it would be nice if some voices from the rest of the Church got just a teensy bit of coverage.

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  • IRVCath

    The tax, though, to be fair, is part of a deal with the predecessors of the modern German state to comlensate for the fact that they stole large swathes of church land and property. Still, history shows us that these are better ways to collect the tithe, like the Italian system.

  • Being fully honest, the reason Kasper is getting such a huge platform…… the Pope gave him one.

    Kasper had been on the end of several losing debates during JPII’s pontificate and was mostly sidelined during Benedict’s pontificate. (Not surprising, given that Ratzinger was the one who frequently bested Kasper in those debates.) It was only with Francis giving Kasper the keynote speech, knowing his views on the subject beforehand (Kasper first argued this case back in the 1980’s), that’s going to get people to pay attention.

    Maybe Francis had some deep wise plan on this. Or maybe he just wanted everyone to debate even nonsense so he doesn’t appear to “stifle” debate. Or maybe he’s as bad as everyone says he is. But the reason Kasper is being treated as an authoritative voice by a lot of Catholic media isn’t a shocker, when you are personally selected to deliver a keynote speech on the subject by the Pope, that gets you noticed. That doesn’t change the fact this is an unforced error of the Holy Father’s own making if he disagrees with Kasper.

    I happen to take the position of an agnostic on this one, and conclude that it doesn’t matter what Francis thinks, the Holy Spirit prevents Church doctrine from changing, so I won’t worry.

    • petey

      so with every pope.

  • jroberts548

    No German has ever been excommunicated by virtue of not paying the Church tax. Some have been excommunicated because they publicly renounced their membership in the Church. If you publicly renounce your Church membership in any country, you’re asking to be excommunicated.

    And if Germans really don’t want to pay the Church tax, they should give back the land that they stole and stop whining.

    • kenofken

      If you want to pin the tax on a legal theory of what was owed to the Church for past wrongs, do the exercise right. Let’s analyze every financial and real estate transaction the Church was ever involved with. Run all the data through the best filters of international contract law, human rights laws etc. Index everything for inflation and fair market value. Keep everything pegged to actual damages, not emotional suffering or other intangibles.

      At the end of it all, everybody settles up. Everyone who illegally deprived the Church of land or money cuts Rome a check. Rome then does the same for every ill-gotten ducat and dollar that ever flowed into its coffers. That would include pretty much all of the wealth it ever made from the New World (and the slave trade), the Crusades, every Simony scheme, all of the shenanigans of the Borgia popes, every mafia dollar ever laundered through the Vatican Bank, every house and Torah scroll and silver set ever lifted off of the Jews during 500 years or so of expulsions performed under the auspices of preserving the Catholic faith. I’m not sure Vatican lawyers and accountants would really want to reopen all of the books.

      Tithing should fall to individuals who actually want to contribute of their own volition

      • jroberts548

        What does the Vatican have to do with the German church?

        That’s an impressive list of non sequiturs to justify publicly renouncing one’s faith to avoid a tax that tops out at around 3%.

        • kenofken

          The point is that the notion that Germans have some sort of ancestral debt to the Church is nonsense, and it logically opens the door to a lot of reparations for a lot of things going back centuries.

          German departures from the Church have more to do with rejection of belief, LGBT issues etc. than money, although I’m sure it is a factor. I wouldn’t blame them. I’d quit any organization which felt entitled to help itself to my earnings through the government. People feel a lot more generous when they are asked than coerced. Voluntary contributions also have the benefit of maintaining the Church’s independence from government.

          • jroberts548

            And if you’d happily renounce your faith to save a few euros, go ahead.

            ETA: I think your imagining a Church tax imposed on something like the American set-up, where a bunch of people showed up and set up parishes, and where the backbone has always been a parish with one to three priests and maybe a deacon.

            The German Church was formed by monasticism. The historical role of monasticism in Germany cannot be overstated. There were a lot of monasteries, and a lot of monks. Even parishes and cathedrals typically had attached cloisters with canons. When the Prussians destroyed that, they eviscerated the structure of the German church, in a way in which I don’t foresee the German church recovering.

            It’s also the case that churches in Germany are of incredible cultural importance. For various historical reasons, very few pre-1945 buildings not built of stone still exist in Germany. Most of those of any cultural significanc are Churches. But the Germans already destroyed the network of monasteries that was built around these churches. Germany can either use taxes to support churches, or they can lose almost the entirety of their cultural heritage and patrimony.

            • kenofken

              As someone who did renounce my faith for reasons which had nothing to do with money, I’m somewhat familiar with the Canon Law in this area. From 2006 until just a couple years ago, there was a formal process for leaving the Church. The concept was around since Vatican II, but they spelled it out in 2006. I don’t think the Germans who strike themselves from the tax rolls are necessarily renouncing their faith, at least not by virtue of the act itself:

              “1. For the abandonment of the Catholic Church to be validly configured as a true actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia so that the exceptions foreseen in the previously mentioned canons would apply, it is necessary that there concretely be:

              a) the internal decision to leave the Catholic Church;
              b) the realization and external manifestation of that decision; and
              c) the reception of that decision by the competent ecclesiastical authority.

              2. The substance of the act of the will must be the rupture of those bonds of communion – faith, sacraments, and pastoral governance – that permit the Faithful to receive the life of grace within the Church. This means that the formal act of defection must have more than a juridical-administrative character (the removal of one’s name from a Church membership registry maintained by the government in order to produce certain civil consequences), but be configured as a true separation from the constitutive elements of the life of the Church: it supposes, therefore, an act of apostasy, heresy or schism.

              3. The juridical-administrative act of abandoning the Church does not per se constitute a formal act of defection as understood in the Code, given that there could still be the will to remain in the communion of the faith.”

              • jroberts548

                In order to be removed from the tax rolls, you have to renounce your faith. You can’t get out of paying the tax by asking to be removed from the tax rolls. You get out of the tax by an act of apostasy, heresy, or schism.

                • kenofken

                  Yes, but you’re renouncing your faith before some official at the town hall. Government bureaucrats are not competent ecclesiastical authority. Renouncing your faith to them has no more canonical consequences than telling a bartender.

                  • ImTim

                    Canonist here: In the period of time when formal defection was recognized (November 27, 1983-October 26, 2009), it did not make one “non-Catholic”, but only freed the defector from 3 canons related to marriage law…nothing else.

                    Apostasy, Heresy, or Schism is defined and addressed apart from formal defection.

                    • kenofken

                      It is true the act of defection itself had few direct consequences, although it seems to me the act of heresy, apostasy or schism behind it would incur automatic excommunication as well (which still doesn’t technically “un-Catholic” a person. At any rate, I used it as a way to formally tell they Church they don’t speak in my name nor do I speak in theirs. I can’t prove this, but I think I’m one of very few in North America to have actually filed the paperwork during that short window of time. It was a huge thing in Ireland, and Rome ended it just about the time it started to hit the news in a big way.

                      My main point is that the Germans who quit the Church before civil authorities are not clearly committing an act of apostasy. Many are, leaving over LGBT issues or women priests or whatever, but more than a few of them are folks who continued to attend Mass and apparently are believing and practicing Catholics.

                      I can see why the bishops and some fellow parishioners might see them as freeloaders, but cutting them off from the sacraments and participation pretty much makes the whole religion seem like a salvation-for-retail scam. It looks a hell of a lot more like Scientology than the Catholicism I was raised in. It’s kind of mind-boggling that a church supposedly in evangelizatition mode would lock the door to people over money, but there it is. I’m also not sure how they justify it in church law, as there is no legitimate tradition of forced tithing as far as I’ve ever read. German bishops apparently have their own version of Canon Law and Actus Formalis. When I did it, I had to write the archdiocese, make it crystal clear that it was a conscious act of will, and I even had to have it notarized! You can’t even do that anymore anywhere in the world. In Germany though, just shorting the bishop his Euro counts as an unambiguous act of apostasy/schism.

  • I’ve read Amy (and Mark) since… prehistory (2002), and I’m quite puzzled by this.

    To make this “revelation” now, when the Synod opens, of a situation that is not at all new … frankly I’m having trouble at digesting this.

    To put it bluntly, she sounds to me angry against Kasper and trying to attack him -and, along with him, the german church. As if she was looking for an argument, and she happened to find one. She is (if I’m not mistaken, English is not my first language) suggesting that the real motivation for Kasper appeals to “mercy” regarding remarried couples and other people is… just to get more taxpayers. Because, you know, the german bishops might “talk a lot” about the need for compassion, and the spiritual urgencies of their flock, but “really the most pressing issue facing the German Catholic Church” is … you know what? taxes. Money. Financial survival. (“Fewer registered members? Less income.”)

    Some remarks sound rather offensive to me. The disdain (or scorn?) with which she alludes to the appeals of Kasper:

    -“who is just going on and on and on about compassion and mercy and such…”

    -“here’s the other thing to keep in mind as you hear Cardinal Kasper talk. And talk and talk.”

    -“you should be wondering why the head of a national church that is dying should have this constantly-turned on microphone on this issue. Why are we even listening to him?”

    I’m frankly sad to read all this, more so at this time of the church.

    The last quote, especially. Even if it were true that the german catholic church were “dying” (I’d bet it isn’t) , even then:

    1) a catholic should never say that on another local church, in that way

    2) one should never use that fact to say: they are dying, we should not listen to them.

    The argument not only lacks charity, also consistency. I wonder how Amy would have reacted in 2006 if some catholic fellow protested for Ratzinger being called pope, on that basis (that guy comes from a dying Church!).

    The church is listening to Kasper for the same motives she listened (and chose) Ratzinger: because, with their differences, they are great theologians, as so many that Germany has given us .

    In the comments thread of the post, someone asserts that that’s “the origin of this whole heretical movement” (this push for communion for the remarried) and gives some more links from a traditionalist blog. Amy thanks him for the links, but she doesn’t object to the adjective.

    • Athelstane


      suggesting that the real motivation for Kasper appeals to “mercy” regarding remarried couples and other people is… just to get more taxpayers….

      When the German bishops are insisting on denying the sacraments – or even burial – to those Catholics who opt out of the tax – yes, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s mainly about the money.

      If that’s an obscene assertion, that’s because it’s an obscene reality.

      Even if it were true that the german catholic church were “dying” (I’d bet it isn’t)

      Probably premature to say “dying,” but on current statistical trends, certainly in rapid decline.

      • IRVCath

        And it’s not as if there aren’t ways of collecting tithes that are not this onerous – Italy has such a scheme, and opting out of using the tax money to give to the Church doesn’t bar one from the sacraments or force one to disaffiliate from the Church.

      • jroberts548

        They’re not denying the sacraments for opting out of the tax. They’re denying sacraments to people who publicly renounce their church membership.

    • ImTim

      excursus: Just want to mention that your English is excellent. I’ve read your comments for quite awhile, and never suspected you weren’t a native speaker.

  • obpoet

    Another reason to insist on complete financial transparency. Now. Down to smallest parish on the planet.

    Though I take issue with the suggestion that association proves causation in her article.

  • Athelstane

    I have to say that this is one of the most interesting things Amy has posted in a while – interesting to me, at any rate.

    I am all for confessional states. But in this case, it’s become obvious that the Church tax is doing more harm than good to the Church in Germany. Time to let it go.

    • IRVCath

      Or at least reform it. The Italians don’t have the penalties of the Germans, and they seem to keep the basics running.

      The main problem, though, is that IIRC that it requires amending the German Basic Law and several concordats, and while on paper it’s a simple proposition, politically, it might be a bit difficult.

  • Mark R

    Is the U.S. any better? Most other churches with their facilities are owned by the parish or congregation…their clergy have merely spiritual leadership. Why must Catholic pastors be mini-CEOs or quasi-monarchs of their parishes? When money is needed for an organ or –who knows why in a well-off suburb — a childcare center, the project is just dumped on the parishoners and they have to pay for it even when they were not consulted beforehand. Why can’t the Church get out of the real estate business? Delusions of grandeur of the early 20th century ought to be dead. All of this concentrated wealth is embarrasing and a target for any kind of deep pockets motivated lawsuits. I know being a brick and mortar priest was a way for otherwise ungifted men to get ahead in the Church, but look at all the useless buildings the Church posseses/possesed? And the people are lost because the Institution was put first. Is there any doctrinal reason for this status quo to continue?

    • IRVCath

      The problem with those “other churches” is that they essentially can kick out the clergyman if he, say, preaches doctrine they find uncomfortable. Do you really want, say, the laity of the Castro the ability to hire and fire clergy? To determine Father’s sermon, on pain of throwing him out into the street?

      The model you propose is a bad idea, doctrinally speaking.

    • Matthew

      Been there. Done that.
      Look up “Trustee-ism” in any history of the Church in America.

  • Catherine

    I live in Germany after moving from Seattle 5 years ago. The church is dying here. When I go to Mass with my family our children are often the only ones in the church (whichever parish we attend). Most Mass-goers are over 65, there are literally two generations or more missing from the church here. There is no adult catechesis or evangelism to speak of. I spoke to a friend who had an unexpected pregnancy recently and she received information about where to obtain an abortion from the Catholic services (thank goodness she chose to keep her child).

    There are of course great Catholic believers of every age here and some great priests but they are a tiny minority. The church tax has made the church extremely wealthy and a large proportion of Germans are employed at Catholic hospitals, schools, kindergartens and old peoples homes. The faith however is a light burden which can be flicked away. It looks like the church has sold out to mammon here. If you look at what the German bishops prepared in advance of the synod about the beliefs of those calling themselves Catholic in Germany it doesn’t line up with much from the Catechism. Why a cleric from a dying church gets to grandstand is a mystery.

  • Mike Hunt

    Why are we listening to a twice married laywoman whose last husband…. oh well

  • Mark R

    I fail to see how the present arrangement has in any way preserved doctrinal integrity on a broad scale seeing that it is nearly nonexistent. It was designed for the laity to be passive participants in a sacramental assembly line by people who put the institution as an end in itself, when in fact union with God is the end. We are living in times when in the near future Christians could be facing open persecution as in the early Church and what we have now is far from the early Church rather more Leviathan. Christ sent the Holy Spirit to safeguard the Church. Would that we rely on the Holy Spirit than on structures which in effect laid the groundwork for the Church’s decline. We are not given the Sacrament of Confirmation for nothing.

  • Steve