No tax, no blessing

2012-09-28 22:17

Berlin - The road to heaven is paved with more than good intentions for Germany's 24 million Catholics. If they don't pay their religious taxes, they will be denied sacraments, including weddings, baptisms and funerals.

A decree issued last week by the country's bishops cast a spotlight on the longstanding practice in Germany and a handful of other European countries in which governments tax registered believers and then hand over the money to the religious institutions.

In Germany, the surcharge for Catholics, Protestants and Jews is a surcharge of up to 9% on their income tax bills - or about €56 a month for a single person earning a pre-tax monthly salary of about €3 500.

For religious institutions, struggling to maintain their congregations in a secular society where the Protestant Reformation began 500 years ago, the tax revenues are vital.

The Catholic Church in Germany receives about €5bn annually from the surcharge. For Protestants, the total is just above €4bn. Donations, in turn, represent a far smaller share of the churches' income than in the United States.

Saving money

With rising prices and economic uncertainty, however, more and more Catholics and Protestants are opting to save their money and declare to tax authorities they are no longer church members, even if they still consider themselves believers.

"I quit the church already in 2007," Manfred Gonschor, a Munich-based IT-consultant, said. "It was when I got a bonus payment and realised that I could have paid myself a nice holiday alone on the amount of church tax that I was paying on it."

Gonschor added he was also "really fed up with the institution and its failures".

Such defections have hit the Catholic Church especially hard - it has lost about 181 000 tax-paying members in 2010 and 126 000 a year later, according to official figures. Protestants, who number about 24 million nationwide, lost 145 000 registered members in Germany in 2010, the most recent year from which figures are available.

But the figures include some people who still want to baptise their children, take communion on major religious holidays, marry in a religious ceremony and receive Christian burials.

The group “We are Church”, which claims to represent tens of thousands of grassroots Catholics, said many Germans stop paying the tax because they disagree with the church's policies or simply want to save money - not because they have lost their faith.

"I haven't quit because I still think that I might want to get married in a church one day, even though I know that's absurd," said Anna Ainsley, a 31-old-year banker and a Protestant from Frankfurt. "But when I see my tax declaration, then I think every year that I should finally quit."


Those are the people that Germany's Catholic bishops had in mind when they decreed on 20 September that stopping the payment of religious taxes was "a serious lapse" and those who did so would then be excluded from a range of church activities.

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

Wavering Catholics will now be sent letters reminding them of the consequences of avoiding the church tax, including losing access to all sacraments.

"Maybe you haven't considered the consequences of your decision and would like to reverse this step," a draft of the letter states.

Protestants have taken a less stern position, saying non-taxpayers are still welcome to attend services and take communion. But becoming a godparent, getting married in a church or taking a job in church-affiliated institutions such as hospitals or kindergartens are off-limits to those who stop paying their taxes.

Other countries

Switzerland and Austria also tax Catholic and Protestant church members. In Denmark, the State Lutheran church collects a tax from its members. Members of Sweden's Lutheran Church pay around 1% of their income, collected by the national tax authorities, just as in Finland.

In Italy, tax-payers have the choice of diverting a small part of their income taxes to religious institutions, including the Catholic Church and the country's Jewish community, but the contribution is voluntary.

In none of those countries have been the churches take such a firm stand against dropouts.

So far German courts have stood by the bishops' decision. This week the country's top administrative court threw out a lawsuit against the archdiocese of Freiburg by retired theologian Hartmut Zapp, who has spent years fighting the Catholic church over the tax.

Zapp argued that a Catholic should be free to stop paying but remain a member of the spiritual community and that his religious beliefs could not possibly be tied to a tax payment.

The archdiocese responded in a statement that "those who lack solidarity bid farewell to the community of believers".

Moral, ethical dilemma

The tax issue presents moral and ethical dilemmas to millions of German believers, even dividing couples.

Sonja Trott, a 34-year-old teacher from Munich, said she quit the Catholic Church 15 years ago because she no longer believed in its teachings.

"Now I'd like to convince my husband that he also should quit, that would save us a lot of money," she said.

But her husband Christoph, a sales executive, says he cannot imagine refusing to pay on moral grounds because it would seem like a betrayal of his faith. "I don't like paying it, but I do because I fear the step of quitting the church."

Charitable work

He would prefer to donate part of the money to charities "but well, in Germany the payment determines whether I'm allowed to consider myself a Catholic or not."

For other Germans, it's unethical to stop paying the tax but continue to use the church when it suits them.

Christine Solf, a Munich-based consultant, says she doesn't attend services regularly but appreciates the church's charitable work. For her, church membership is also a family tradition.

"I know people who quit for financial reasons but then still want their children to be baptised. That's not OK in my opinion," she said.

  • zipho500 - 2012-09-28 23:04

    Wow,heaven is indeed for sale afterall,pay up people,or hell beckons!!!!

      charlesdumbwin.dumbwin - 2012-09-29 07:55

      No, this is the reason why Martin Luther rebelled against the Catholic Church. They have imposed their own man-made laws on people for centuries. If they would only follow the Bible...

      charlesdumbwin.dumbwin - 2012-09-29 09:05

      But it is inferred. And many others did say it.

      MagdaKus - 2012-09-29 09:18

      Well- in SA any donation is completely voluntary. Hence most of the congregation probably pay car guards more per month than they put on the collection plate p.m. Then they complain when the parish centre is not painted, and say the church should pay for this or that. Then I look at the local photo club- where people pay membership fees- and the organization can afford to organize things... Humans just cannot get the balance right!

      paulus.deboer.3 - 2012-09-29 11:08

      @Charles.. in this case, the Protestants are part of the scam. So Luther's efforts were all for nothing? Sounds like you can just as well join the Catholics again, at least they have more smoke and mirrors in the church. "In Germany, the surcharge for Catholics, Protestants and Jews ...."

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 16:32

      MagdaKus Don't you see the irony? You pay car guards while you are in church flattering the omnipotent, omnipresent invisible sky daddy. BWAHAHAHAHA! What the bloody hell is your god for then? He never actually does anything useful. What does your god actually do?

  • douglas.reid.921 - 2012-09-29 03:44

    The biggest con on the planet. One church used to sell a small indulgence, meaning for a fee you could be naughty and be cleared of any sin. More people have died in the name of god than we would like to believe. Religion kills, just look around the world. Even people of the same religion kill each other. Shows we as human beings still have a long way to go. The catholic church is the biggest business in the world. They even have their own city. Not even Microsoft has its own city.

      Jacob Zooma - 2012-09-29 07:16

      correction, their own Country! the vatican city is the smallest country in the world.

  • zaatheist - 2012-09-29 04:08

    Obviously Uncle Fester and his travelling pederasts are feeling the pinch as millions of Catholics world-wide are abandoning the church, particularly in developed countries. If ever proof was needed that religion is just a money making fraud then this it it. I wonder whether any Catholic apologists will turn up and start defending that hateful organisation and the moral cretins who run it. If they do I expect they’ll accuse us of lies and hate-mongering. They will say that we’re deliberately making the RCC look worse than it actually is. I expect they’ll refuse to address any of the arguments against their position or answer any of the questions put to them.

      don.frost.581 - 2012-09-29 07:59

      You must be the most boring individual on this planet! If God doesn't exist why do you bother so much with proving He doesn't?

      oscar.pretorius.52 - 2012-09-29 09:28

      @don.frost581 Maybe because the God army make it their crusade to hinder human development and introduce archaic teachings back into the schooling system. Oh and I have unfortunately met a lot of church goers in my life and must point out they are by far the most boring individuals on the planet. No personality, no intelligence and they talk about their infatuation with god like a bunch of teenager girls are towards Justin Bieber

      paulus.deboer.3 - 2012-09-29 11:05

      Hey Za... not just the Catholics in this case..."In Germany, the surcharge for Catholics, Protestants and Jews... They are all being scammed there.

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 16:34

      don.frost.581 Well go some place else then. Don;t read it. Actually it pleases me no end to know that I get under your skin. Truth is uncomfortable, hey?

      andre.sunnasy - 2012-10-01 13:19

      zaatheist u tway git!

  • Gerald Jordaan - 2012-09-29 04:40

    What a load of horse sh*t !! If you don't pay you don't pass go !! So much for religion !! Bunch of poefters in dresses !!

  • vusimuzi.malindi.1 - 2012-09-29 05:45

    This church is only for those who can afford only... Whiles the church of the true living God is for everyone both who have and don't have.

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 07:53

      Sorry to break this to you but no gods exist. And you are just being scammed.

  • J.Stephen.Whiteley - 2012-09-29 06:23

    This wouldn't work in SA as too many churchgoers are unemployed. Kathy

      charlesmakgale.radingoane - 2012-09-29 09:39

      let everyman decide with hisheart to give not to be forced. and if we donot know the principle of tithing and giving church is going disappear.

  • may.bee.988 - 2012-09-29 06:29

    It's just another business ..... nothing more!!!

  • Muffin_man_can - 2012-09-29 06:33

    Relgious blackmail! These guys will have to answer to God for the farce they proclaim as truth..

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 07:53

      Sorry to break this to you but no gods exist.

      cathy.dejongh.5 - 2012-09-29 08:24

      @zaatheist Absolutely. I'll say it again - sorry to break this to you but no gods exist.

      burger.vosloosnr - 2012-09-29 09:09

      I agree with you Muffin_man_can. And this is for @zaatheist and cathy.dejongh.5: Atheism: The belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason what so ever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs. Makes perfect sense....

      oscar.pretorius.52 - 2012-09-29 15:38

      @burger I don't know where you get your definition of atheism but I suggest you acquire a proper thesaurus. Your made up definition is wrong by the way...we don't believe in magic as well

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 16:37

      burger.vosloosnr You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, zombies flying through the air and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories. And you think atheism does not make sense. Thank you for playing.

      SarcasticAgnostic - 2012-09-30 12:53

      Burger, your have the wrong definition there. Atheism is merely the lack of belief in a god. It is as much a belief as the colour red is a shade of blue.

  • arthur.salvado - 2012-09-29 07:03

    Now even the churches are on the gravy train. Funny and sad.

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 07:53

      They always have been.

      oscar.pretorius.52 - 2012-09-29 09:08

      They always have been on the gravy train. Five hundred years ago the Catholic church would issue a document to clear you of you the cost of a small godly fee. It always has been a big fat joke....

  • ina.cripps.5 - 2012-09-29 07:27

    The more one hears of the church's money-grabbing greed, the more I wonder where it is all going to end? Most of the churches are placing such a premium on money, it is scary. It is all of them - Catholic, Protestant (especially the charismatic churches) Vatican City with all it's opulence, must surely grieve Jesus who lived such a simple life - who said Himself that He did not even have a pillow for His head! As for most of the charismatic churches, It really is just a moneymaking opportunity. Scaring people with Hell if the do not tithe! No, personally I have lately also had serious doubts about belonging to any church, but I still firmly believe in God. The churches do need to be kept going, they do a lot of good, and need money for that, but the money the collect goes to buying treasures, and opulent houses, and couturier clothing, and business class air tickets, while the contributors most of the time do themselves short to keep the said church leaders in luxury.

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 07:54

      One step more and you will realise the gods are all false too.

      Ari - 2012-09-29 09:04

      @zaatheist - Jeez, dude, you come across as a rabid fundamentalist.

      ina.cripps.5 - 2012-09-29 09:15

      That, Zaatheist will never happen. Other gods may be false, but my God exists.

      charlesmakgale.radingoane - 2012-09-29 09:34

      what is the purpose of tithing and offering?

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 16:39

      ari.potah I am an atheist I'm not an atheist because its cool. I'm not an atheist because of religious extermism or oppression in some depraved corners of the world. I'm not an atheist because because I don't think evil can exist in a world without a god. I'm not an atheist because because I think science can disprove god. I'm an atheist because of a simple fact: There is no proof for the existence of any gods and the burden of proof lies on religion to provide it. If you propose the existence of something you must follow the scientific method in your defence of is existence. Otherwise I have no reason to listen to you.

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 16:39

      Ramona I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours - Stephen Roberts

  • don.frost.581 - 2012-09-29 07:57

    Its exactly this that gives Christianity a bad name! Shame on you!!!!!

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 16:41

      Not different from your form of Christianity. They are all just money making scams. These televangelists say they don't favor any particular denomination, but I think we've all seen their eyes light up at tens and twenties... - Dennis Miller Who can over estimate the progress of the world if all the money wasted in superstition could be used to enlighten, elevate and civilize mankind? - Robert Green Ingersoll

  • Karen Arpin - 2012-09-29 08:08

    how on earth can church leaders - men of God - expect his children to pay for the blessing and teaching He demands to be available freely. It is the most blasphemous things I ever heard. How extremely bitterly angry He must be, you're playing with hell's fire!

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 16:42

      Bad news I'm afraid. None of the thousands of gods made up and worshipped by humans since the dawn of recorded history exist.

  • Mbavhalelo - 2012-09-29 08:38

    This people are religious, the bishops and the followers alike. Going 2 church so dat i will be merried or berried by the church is not christianity. It is only done by ppl who are concerned with earthly things. Are all dis ppl born again? I doubt it

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 16:43

      I see the SA education system failed you.

  • samantha.5243 - 2012-09-29 09:00

    Far back into history the catholic church has always been a money making scheme- u do not need to belong to or sit in church every week to believe in God or to do good- your entrance into \heaven\ if u believe should be judged by how u lived your life - be good, do good, dont murder, hate , steal, etc, not by how much of money you give to the church- aren't men of God supposed to be humble etc, not living in riches while their followers suffer- what they r doing here is ridiculous- to hold people's beliefs as ransom is nothing more than piracy.

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 16:44

      Actually, why believe in god at all? The Catholic Church in fact invented Christianity.

  • oscar.pretorius.52 - 2012-09-29 09:02

    Best idea ever. I wish they would apply it here in South Africa. Why should religion get tax benefits at my expenses? The believers that have a strong conviction in their church shouldn't have a problem with tying up their salaries to their religion. I on the other hand wouldn't mind paying extra tax towards science education and development.

  • kenneth.kgosi - 2012-09-29 09:02

    Such tax'es r trully a blessing. RSA should introduce such tax our country will b blessed i tell u...

      ina.cripps.5 - 2012-09-29 09:17

      With all the corruption in this country? Guess where the taxes collected will go!

      oscar.pretorius.52 - 2012-09-29 09:24

      I'd rather the taxes collected from religion get squandered by corruption than my tax that's suppose to go to fixing roads and paying for eduction of the poor.

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 16:45

      Ramona And what makes any of the churches less corrupt than the government?

  • charlesmakgale.radingoane - 2012-09-29 09:28

    why ppl who are not Christian when there is fenerals or weddings they need pastors to be part of their ceremony. But they cannt support this servants of GOD through out the year but they want to be blessed by them.

      makarapakaplan - 2012-09-29 10:01

      Why do they need "support"!? It's not expected ppl must pay for this service,they must stop being fakes hiding behind god saying they all religious if it's a business!

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 16:46

      Bad news I'm afraid. None of the thousands of gods made up and worshipped by humans since the dawn of recorded history exist

      charlesmakgale.radingoane - 2012-09-29 21:57

      Anti-Christ is already here. Jesus will remain as KING OF KINGS THE LORD OF LORDS. DAVIL came to destroy , to steal and to kill. Jesus is the centre of all who believe in him.

  • logical007 - 2012-09-29 09:48

    Funny thing.....All these people that scream LISTEN TO THE BIBLE forget that Jesus was dirt poor, rode a donkey - not a beautiful Arab horse - Healed people for FREE , - did NOT charge a friggin' fortune, performed miracles for free, NOT for wealth! NOW, churches who use the Lords name do everything for MONEY! Something is not right - Look at REMA as an example; look at the mansion and car Ray McCaually owns??? Come on Religion has become a total money making scheme

      FNWitch - 2012-09-29 11:41

      Quick question - why was Jesus dirt poor. I have asked this question before and am still waiting for answers. According to you Bible the wise men brought him gifts of incense, mirhh and gold as a baby. What happened to all those riches?

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 16:51

      logical007 Religion easily has the greatest bulls**t story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, talk about a good bulls**t story. Holy S**t! - George Carlin

      logical007 - 2012-09-29 17:34

      @ Zaatheist!!! Totally agree with you! Add most religious countries in the world are always at war. WHY!! @ FN witch Gifts were probably stolen???

  • makarapakaplan - 2012-09-29 09:58

    Eish, Religion is indeed a clever tool to extract money. No one questions anything, if thats what they say you must believe just believe and never question!!

      douglas.reid.921 - 2012-09-29 13:16

      Its called a leap of faith...

      SarcasticAgnostic - 2012-09-30 17:56

      No, it's called giving your money away in the hopes that a small portion of it MIGHT be used to help your fellow man.

  • Neal Sing - 2012-09-29 12:44

    Behold the Beast.I have money!Can I please purchase a nice house in heaven!One just overlooking the sea of gold.I promise not to play loud music Mister Popehol

  • Grannatjie - 2012-09-29 13:16

    Can you see the potential for a boom in our wedding tourism industry? We could offer the Germans full access to the local church altars as part of a honeymoon package and discount vouchers if they return within 2 years for a baptism. Off-peak of course.

  • lovemore.mutawu - 2012-09-29 16:32

    Its not really cheap going to heaven!

      zaatheist - 2012-09-29 16:54

      One has to wonder why the invisible sky daddy (who grants wishes) and supposedly created everything cannot create his own money. So we have all these self-appointed preacherman in smart suits, dresses and funny hats who have to collect money for him.

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