Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

The real reason why divorced/remarried German Catholics are leaving the Church

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 22, 2014

From Germany and the Frankfurter Allgemaine Zeitung, via England and The Tablet, comes news that many German Catholics who have divorced and remarried are now formally leaving the Church “because they are afraid that church authorities will find out that they have remarried in a register office and… they may be barred from the sacraments.”

The logic of this explanation is curious. These folks are afraid that they will be deprived of the sacraments. So they are leaving the Church, thereby ensuring that they will not have access to the sacraments. Does not compute.

Moreover, these German Catholics must know that they are already barred from the sacraments, because of their irregular marital situations. Their fear, on the face of it, is that their pastors will learn about those 2nd marriages. In other words, they’ve been hiding something very important, and defying the Church’s moral law. This does not suggest a high level of integrity. Are they saying, in effect, that they know they’re hypocrites, but they don’t want their hypocrisy to be common knowledge?

Or is this a political move, intended to influence the October meeting of the Synod of Bishops? Some German Catholics clearly wish to put pressure on the Synod, urging a change in policy. Maybe if they point to a mass exodus from the German Church, and blame it on the rules (leaving aside the fact that the “rule” in this case was set by Jesus himself), they can induce panic among some bishops. Is that the logic?

But No, I sense a simpler explanation for the departures. The Tablet explains that beginning next January 1, German citizens will have the “church tax,” amounting to 8-9% of their income tax, automatically deducted form their earnings. If they are not officially Catholic, they are not subject to that tax.

That explanation for the exodus may not influence the Synod, and may not cast the departed Catholics in the role of oppressed reformers. But it does have this virtue: It makes sense.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: grateful1 - Apr. 09, 2017 1:19 PM ET USA

    Thanks for letting us know of this -- I hadn't heard of it, and have now donated to it. Such important work on their part -- and yours.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 25, 2014 2:35 PM ET USA

    It is also the German bishops who have been pushing for remarried Catholics to be allowed to take the Holy Eucharist - for the very reason you mention: It is the bishops who are afraid that the tax money will no longer be coming to them if Catholics do not check of "Catholic" on their taxes. They are hoping that by letting in remarried Catholics, the tax money will be restored. In the U.S. we have the opposite: Catholic donations are down, bishops go to the government for tax money.

  • Posted by: shrink - Aug. 25, 2014 11:07 AM ET USA

    As they say, follow the money.

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Aug. 22, 2014 9:01 PM ET USA

    That a Catholic would leave the because of a tax does make sense. Sad. Very sad.