Monday, July 08, 2024

Is Germany’s church tax ‘miracle’ over?

Each year, the journalist Peter Winnemöller noted, hundreds of thousands of people formally left the Catholic Church in Germany. But year after year, church tax income continued to grow.

But what Winnemöller facetiously called the “Kirchensteuerwunder” — the church tax miracle — may be over.

The German bishops’ conference announced July 8 that church tax revenue was 6.51 billion euros (around $7 billion) in 2023.

That’s a lot, of course, but it marked a 5% drop on the year before, when church tax income was a record 6.84 billion euros (roughly $7.4 billion).

What exactly is the church tax? How is the so-called miracle even possible? And is it truly coming to an end?

For many Catholics outside of Germany, the idea of a church tax is bizarre. But within Germany, it’s a largely unquestioned feature of Catholic life.

It’s telling that while Germany’s controversial “synodal way” produced 150 pages of resolutions calling for radical changes to Catholic teachings and practices, it did not offer a single proposal for reform of the Kirchensteuer. 

A cynic might say that’s because the tax helps to keep afloat the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), which co-sponsored the synodal way alongside Germany’s bishops.

Perhaps, but it might simply be that few can imagine an alternative to a system that is rooted in the medieval practice of tithing but took on its present form in 1919.

In Germany today, religious communities that are corporations under public law have a right to levy taxes on their members. 

Every person in Germany — including foreigners — who says they are Catholic on an official registration form must pay an 8-9% surcharge on top of their income tax liability, depending on the state in which they live. 

This sum is collected directly from employees’ paychecks on the Church’s behalf by the state authorities, which claim roughly 3% of the total revenue.

The only way for baptized Catholics to opt out of the system is to declare formally that they are leaving the Church, after which they are told they may no longer receive the sacraments, hold Church posts, or serve as baptismal or confirmation sponsors.

Read the rest here.
HT: Dr. Tighe

Note: To the best of my knowledge, Orthodox Christians are not subject to the church tax in Germany. 

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