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German bishops: Catholics who formally leave Church cannot receive sacraments

September 21, 2012

The German Catholic bishops have announced that any Catholic who formally withdraws from the Church, by announcing a decision not to pay the “church tax,” will not be allowed the receive the sacraments or hold office in the Church.

With a formal canonical decree, which has been approved by the Vatican and takes effect September 24, the German bishops said that someone who formally removes himself from the Church commits “a grave offense,” and his action should be regarded as “a deliberate and willful alienation.” Such persons, the decree says, will not be allowed to receive the sacraments unless he is in danger of death. Nor can such individuals serve as godparents, members of parish councils, or officers in ecclesial organizations.

The German bishops’ decree was prompted by the mounting numbers of baptized Catholics who announce their formal withdrawal from the Church in order to escape the “church tax.” In Germany, if a citizen is a declared member of a recognized religious body, a portion of his taxes are forwarded to that denomination. The “church tax,” collected by the government, provided about €5 billion ($6.5 billion) in funding for the German Catholic Church last year.

Some Catholics—notably including canon lawyer Hartmut Zapp, who has challenged the “church tax” in court—have argued that registration for the “church tax” involves only a political act, and should not affect one’s spiritual status. Others have protested that the “church tax” supports the “institutional Church,” while they regard themselves as members in a Catholic community that is not necessarily represented by the hierarchical structure of the Church.

In issuing their decree, the German bishops say that it is impossible to withdraw from the “institutional Church” while remaining a part of the Catholic community. The bishops announce that if any individual announces his decision to drop his enrollment in the Church, his pastor should contact him and explain the consequences of this action.


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  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Sep. 30, 2012 10:28 AM ET USA

    After reading this article, this all makes much more sense. PLease read:

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Sep. 23, 2012 5:28 PM ET USA

    My impression is that opting out of the church tax is something that is the prevalent among people in both liberal ("we are church"/"pastors' movement") and ultraconservative dissent movements (SSPX) who don't want to give money to the Church because they don't support the bishops and the actual Church. It is thus a form of rejecting Communion with the Church. Giving to support one's pastors (this would include bishops) is one of the Precepts of the Church. It is not optional.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 23, 2012 7:52 AM ET USA

    There is something upsetting about this story. The excommunication for non payment of "dues" pales in comparison to the defiance of church teaching American politicians get away with. The whole system seems out of whack with the Government collecting a tax and turning in over to the Church. Must be a cultural thing.

  • Posted by: Thomas429 - Sep. 22, 2012 11:12 AM ET USA

    This is actually a deeper problem. The government should not be "collecting" a "Church Tax" then deigning to foreward it to the churches. The Catholic Church in Europe is in the shape it is because of standing beside the crowned heads too long, staying in cahoots with government today. God may in fact have a role in the creation and be directing the hand of these governments. He does move in mysterious ways. But I doubt it.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Sep. 22, 2012 8:46 AM ET USA

    There is a practical side to this in terms of being able to pay for needed services such as legitimate health care and physical upkeep of buildings etc. The concern I raise below is the spiritual primacy of the Church seems to be taking a backseat to paying your dues to being a member of the club. This has to be more complicated than we understand but certainly seems different from how I understand the Church to obtain financial support.

  • Posted by: unum - Sep. 21, 2012 7:28 PM ET USA

    Hmmm. So, like the U.S. bishops who want to delegate care of the poor to the state, the German bishops want to delegate the definition of "a good Catholic" to their government. Whatever happened to "render unto Caesar"? Just asking.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Sep. 21, 2012 6:16 PM ET USA

    Doesn't this bother you just a little bit? They, apparently don't use the term but this seems to amount to ex-communication for not paying the tax. Yes, yes - the terms may be different but the result is tne same. I am not a part of the Church in Germany so I am sure there is more to this than we understand. But it still seems extreme if the porimary purpose and function of the RC Church is eternal salvation.

  • Posted by: Franz10108953 - Sep. 21, 2012 2:43 PM ET USA

    Just as I suspected all along,the one thing that can get today's Catholic bishops to take a strong, unequivocal and united stand on anything is to have money involved. Too bad they aren't so clear about faith and morals. I suggest a hold be placed on Cardinal Dolan's paycheck until he rescinds his dinner/comedy hour invitation to Obama.