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Catholic Tax! German Catholics lose rights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 25th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

If they fail to pay a special tax, Germany's Roman Catholics will be denied the right to Holy Communion or a religious burial. A German bishops' decree has just come into force says that anyone failing to pay the tax, which is an extra eight percent of their income tax bill - they will no longer be considered a Catholic.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The bishops say they have been alarmed by the number of Catholics leaving the Church, and such a step would be seen as a serious act against the community.

All Germans who are officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a religious tax of eight to nine percent on their annual income tax bill. The levy was introduced in the 19th Century in compensation for the nationalization of religious property.

"If your tax bill is for 10,000 euros, then 800 euros will go on top of that and your total tax combined will be 10,800 euros," Munich tax accountant Thomas Zitzelsberger says.

While Catholics make up around 30 percent of Germany's population, the number of the former faithful leaving the church has climbed to 181,000 in 2010. The exodus has been blamed on revelations of sexual abuse by German priests.

The bishops were also pushed into action by a case involving a retired professor of church law, Hartmut Zapp, who announced in 2007 that he would no longer pay the tax -- but said he intended to remain within the Catholic faith.

The Freiburg University academic said he wanted to continue praying and receiving Holy Communion. A legal case between Professor Zapp and the church will reach the Leipzig Federal Administrative Court this week.

"This decree makes clear that one cannot partly leave the Church," Germany's bishops' conference said last week, in a decision endorsed by the Vatican.

The bishops say that unless they pay the religious tax, Catholics will no longer be allowed to receive sacraments, except before death, or work in the church and its schools or hospitals.

Without a "sign of repentance before death, a religious burial can be refused," the decree states. Opting out of the tax could also prevent people from acting as godparents to Catholic children.

"This decree at this moment of time is really the wrong signal by the German bishops who know that the Catholic church is in a deep crisis," Christian Weisner from the grassroots Catholic campaign group We are Church told TV journalists.

Father Lukas Glocker, a priest from Mannheim in south-western Germany said the tax was used to do essential good works.

"With kindergarten, with homes for elderly or unemployed, we've got really good things so I know we need the tax to help the German country to do good things."

While the decree severely limits active participation in the German Catholic Church, it does hold out some hope for anyone considering re-embracing their faith.

Any German Catholic who previously stopped payment faced eventual excommunication. Although the measures laid out in the decree are similar to excommunication from the church, German observers say the word is carefully avoided in the decree.

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