The German church tax – time it was challenged

By Dennis Penaluna - NSS Newsline - 23 october 2009
Tuesday 27 October 2009
popularity : 1%

In Germany, Church members who are income tax payers by law have to pay Church tax. They also have to register their membership with their local authority. This was laid down in the article of the Weimar Constitution governing the relationship between Church and State which was incorporated, unaltered, in the German Basic Law in 1949. Under this article, the Churches have the right to levy taxes in accordance with the legal provisions of the Bundesländer (art. 137 (6) Weimar Constitution).

The Church tax, normally 9%, in some Bundesländer 8%, is collected by the public tax offices and transferred to the Churches. For this service, the State keeps about 3% of the revenue so raised, which just about covers the cost of collection, and which many Germans resent. They think that if the state is to provide this service, then at least it should make a profit.

Only about 30% of all Catholics actually pay Church tax. Children and young people without income, old people with small pensions and the unemployed do not pay any income tax, and thus, no Church tax.

Catholics in Germany can sometimes be heard blaming rising unemployment as a reason for falling church membership. The truth lies elsewhere. The latest available statistics provided by the Deutsche Bishofskonferenz (as of 31st Dec. 2007) for the Federal Republic of Germany, concedes that only 13.7% of all registered German Catholics (about 25.5 million) are, "active church goers". It is the other 86.3% which the church claims as belonging to it, who are leaving in their droves. In the past they were quite happy to pay the tax and let the church get on with whatever it does. No longer; and their reasons for leaving are manifold. A couple are voiced over and over again. The church’s intransigent stance on contraception (especially as manifested in Africa) and the Pope’s ingrained homophobia.

What is equally interesting, however, is the difference between enforced membership of the Catholic Church (child baptism) and involuntary expulsion (death). During 2000 there were 232,920 baptisms whilst 268,611 German Catholics died. A ratio of 1:1.15. In 2007 that ratio had increased by almost 20% to 1:1.35. Another worry for the church hierarchy is the number of secessions from the church (i.e. people voting with their feet). Between 2000 and 2007 more than 861,000 people left the church; an average of well over 120 thousand per year. Clearly, a church in decline.

The 13.7% of all Catholics quoted above translates as 4.24% of the German population (and falling).

It appears that the Roman Catholic Church is very good at figure fiddling too.


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