Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Further comment on the German Bishops

I have received some very helpful feedback on the subject of my previous post.

I would refer readers to the latest post by Jimmy Akin, a correspondent with the National Catholic Register, on his blog. Among other things he writes:
As a Catholic News Service story suggests, the German bishops have tried to frame the issue without reference to money and instead frame it in terms of Catholic identity:

"There must be consequences for people who distance themselves from the church by a public act," said Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, conference president, in defending the Sept. 20 decree.

"Clearly, someone withdrawing from the church can no longer take advantage of the system like someone who remains a member," he said at a Sept. 24 news conference as the bishops began a four-day meeting in Fulda. "We are grateful Rome has given completely clear approval to our stance."

The archbishop said each departure was "painful for the church," adding that bishops feared many Catholics were unaware of the consequences and would be "open to other solutions."

"The Catholic church is committed to seeking out every lost person," said Archbishop Zollitsch, whose remarks were reported by Germany's Die Welt daily.

"At issue, however, is the credibility of the church's sacramental nature. One cannot be half a member or only partly a member. Either one belongs and commits, or one renounces this," Archbishop Zollitsch said.
Akin also addresses the issue of manifest grave sin:
Since denying your faith before the state is a mortal sin, it is thus potential matter for canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which provides

"Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion."

If they have denied their faith before the state, it's a grave sin. Because they filed paperwork with the state, it's a manifest sin. And if their pastor has talked to them about it and they haven't turned back then they are obstinately persevering in it.

So I see a possible basis for denying them holy Communion on such grounds. I don't want to go further into canonical waters, however, until I've seen the actual documents involved and seen competent commentary from others.

My point is that the German bishops may have reasonable grounds for their decree, canonically, either because it merely applies existing provisions of the Church's universal law or because it further specifies that law as particular legislation for Germany.
I think this makes very good sense.

The Catholic News Service article reports:
"Conscious dissociation from the church by public act is a grave offense against the church community," the (bishops') decree said.

"Whoever declares their withdrawal for whatever reason before the responsible civil authority always violates their duty to preserve a link with the church, as well as their duty to make a financial contribution so the church can fulfill its tasks."
Akin also quotes several verses of Scripture, including:
Jesus said: “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 10:32-33).
I must say I think he has analysed the case extremely well with his skill as a journalist, and it seems that the German bishops have acted appropriately. As so often, it is the narrative that is the problem but I guess the bishops could not have won this anyway. The media would always spin it as being a case of no tax, no sacraments.

See also Ars Vivendi for an explanation from one who lives in Germany.


  1. One problem is the use to which the Euro 4,9 Bn is put. Inter alia , support for the proliferation of dissident groups and bloated church councils.

  2. I did not know German tax authority records were public. How can I lookup the religious affiliation by id? Ought the Chinese Roman Catholics be held to the same standard? The 8th commandment says I do not have to give the truth to someone not entitled to it (e.g. am I hiding Jews from the Nazis). Does the German taxing authority of the state have the authority to have me answer truthfully, and is this a public or private record?

    Why don't the Bishops simply turn over the list of people registered at the parishes or otherwise affiliated and "Out" these disobedient Catholics. Just put the list on their public web site.

  3. I'm sorry Father but I still feel that the German Bishops are acting unjustly, I put £X in the collection plate each week, it totals X% of my income after tax. I recently felt that God wanted me to put more in the basket so I will, the point is that is between Jesus and Me, not the British State arbitarially deciding that because I am a Catholic I must give %X of my income to the Church.

    Whilst the German Bishops (who in terms of doctine, liturgical practise and morals bear a great resemblance to the apostle who was Jesus's accountant) may be technically correct in corrolating a request to be removed from the Register to apostasy they (like a certain 1st Centuary group of jewish men who called Jesus out for healing on the Sabath) are ignoring the spirit of the matter and in effect holding german Catholics to ransom by demanding that this unjust tax be paid or being designated an apostate even if they have no problems with the Dogmas of the Church.

    My confidence in their excellencies would be somewhat restored if they asked the German state to get rid of this federal tax and ask German Catholics to contribute to the collection plate at the parish level (principle of Subsidiarity).

    1. The more I study this, the more I come to the conclusion that it is not about the tax but about the defection. The Church can't get the state to get rid of it. The state is calling the shots. But to become exempt from this tax you have to go to your church and de-register, saying in effect you no long wish to be a member of the Church. I can see the bishops' point. We are obliged to maintain communion with the Catholic Church, which is of course a communion of faith, sacraments AND GOVERNMENT. We can't say we have the faith, and claim a right to the sacraments, if we have severed communion with the visible Church. For us British, or American, or Australian Catholics, it can seem difficult to understand. But I'm beginning to see it from a German perspective. I will be watching the comments elsewhere and maybe posting a conclusion. I have now seen the German bishops' decree (in German which I don't understand and translated by Google translate which is pretty bad but one can get the sense.)

    2. Father if that was the case then the I would be in agreement, however the fact is that the German Bishops are denying faithful Catholics the choice of how much they wish to contribute to the Church, it would be very easy for the council to say to the government, "we'd like you to stop collecting this tax because we would like to give individual Catholics the choice of how to contribute to the Church", from what I've read there are not a few Catholics in Germany who would like that choice.

      Let take the case of the fictional Herr Schmidt, he is a faithful Catholic who is also a Husband and Father of 5, because of inflation has seen the value of his earnings eroded, he has tried to minimise his outgoings but is still finding the going very tough. If he was a Brit, Yank or Pole he has the choice of reducing for a time the amount he gives to the Church, but as he is German he cannot (because even though he is still earning the same amount as in previous years, his taxes and therefore the Church tax have remaiend the same); and yet his Bishops have the gall to tell him that he MUST pay the tax as deregistering himself as a Catholic (even though he still believes) means that he is an apostate even though he has only done so to spare himself and his family from penury.

      If issue is about defection then their excellencies should deal with it the way that British, American, Italian and Khazak Bishops do, but for the love of all that is Sacred, they should not be running a spiritual racket which makes the Italian Mafiosi look posatively virtuous in comparison

  4. The German Bishops are using the state to steal from their flock. It matters not that they can't change the tax system. They don't have to accept the stolen goods.

    And are they even trying to change the tax system? Are they labeling this tax as theft, which it most certainly is? Of course not -- because they want the money.

    This isn't about Catholics denying their Faith to protect themselves from the state. It's about denying the Faith to protect themselves from their own church!

    Still, it may be a sin to renounce your faith to save some dough, but stealing money is a sin, too.

    An important question: What if the tax was one that is impossible to pay -- such as 50% of your income? Would that be okay because it was decreed by the state? Is there any level of taxation that is unjust or is the state simply entitled to take whatever it wants?

  5. How is it theft?

    And it is NOT 50%, so I don't really see the point of your question. It is not even 8% of your income, but 8% of your total tax bill.

  6. Father Boyle, thank you for responding. In my view, all taxation is theft -- but I realize that's not how the Church sees it, nor do I wish to bog down your blog by spewing my libertarian views

    The real point is that I find it rather shocking that the German Church requires its members to register with the state and to pay a tax as a condition of membership and reception of the Sacraments.

    This may be in accord with Canon law and it may be a sin to renounce your Faith get off the tax rolls, but it hardly seems right or appropriate for the Church to force faithful Catholics into making that choice. (You may protest that it's the state forcing them to make the choice, but the Church is going along with it without a peep.)

    You're right about the tax numbers, but my question is, is there any limit to what the Church can demand as a condition of membership? If the tax was 50% of one's income (or even just 50% of one's tax bill), would the German Bishops hold to their position that you must pay it or you're out? In other words, is there any limit to what the government and Church can demand?

    The Bishops seems to be saying that 1) you must pay whatever the state demands, period, or you can't be a Catholic; and 2) the government gets to decide the conditions for admittance to the Church and to the Sacraments (in this case it's a tax, but it could easily be some other requirement). Both of these seem wrong and indefensible to me.

    1. Whatever the German Church "seems" to be saying (which could seem different to different people), we need to simply pay attention to what it is "actually" saying.

    2. I'm simply drawing implications from what they're "actually" saying because they'd never dare say it as bluntly as I have. If you think my implications are unfair, I'd appreciate hearing why.

      The fact is the German Bishops are demanding a fee for membership in the Church and for access to the Sacraments. Hiding behind the skirts of the state or the legalisms of Canon law doesn't change that.

      And while it may be a sin to renounce one's faith to get out of the tax, this tax requirement is flat out wrong.

  7. Father, I'm disappointed in your last response here. Mr. Petersen is clearly using "seems" in order to leave some leeway for interpretation and intent. Obviously, the cooperation of church and state in the German system is VERY foreign to the American way of thinking. This looks like selling the sacraments to me! I work in a parish in Los Angeles and we make a big deal about the pastor not knowing the dollar amounts that different parishioner give in order to avoid the appearance of favoritism based on giving. That's pretty much the opposite of what is going on in Germany.
    I realize that Germany's approach is long established and the bishops are playing the hand they're dealt by history - but it isn't a pretty picture.

  8. I think the point is: if you go to the tax authorities and declare that you are leaving the Church, you should be taken at your word. It's not selling the sacraments: it's simply acknowledging a publicly declared act of defection and the bishops are right to inform their people of the consequences. Bear in mind the relative smallness of the amount: 8% of your tax bill, not 8% of your income. I should have thought that Catholics ought to be donating much more than that, on average, to their Church.

    The dust will have to settle before clarity descends on this issue, but currently I see it in terms of the act of defection. It could be that, if "defection" is a protest against child abuse, administrative mismanagement, etc., then the "defection" could be judged as simply that, protest. But this would have to be decided by an appeal to higher authority, i.e. Rome. But one's words and actions must be presumed to accord with one's intentions.

    As for the pastor not knowing who gives how much, that is a very laudable practice and I, generally, do not wish to know how much my parishioners are giving. But nowhere is it laid down in law that the pastor should not know the details of the finances of his parish. The pastor has full access to the accounts, including names and amounts. There might be reasons why he should know. If he chooses not to know these details that is fine.

  9. Dear Father Boyle,

    I live in Germany and I pay my taxes (including the church tax...). The point the declaration of the Vatican PCI from 2006 tried to make was exactly that "if you go to the tax authorities and declare that you are leaving the Church", you should NOT be taken at your word. That is, a simple formal declaration of that kind doesn´t necessarily imply the will to ENTIRELY leave the communion of the church.

    As Vatican II and c. 205 clearly state, one can be in communio plena and in communio non plena with the church. Communio non plena is not good, but it is not an equivalent to a total rupture with the Church. What often happens in Germany with people declaring themselves not to be Catholic to avoid paying the church tax is a case of someone loosing communio plena. But in many, many cases, believe me, this does not mean that someone might be, JUST BY THAT FACT, considered to persevere obstinately in grave sin.

    Just one example, that happens more often than you might think: an Italian or Polish immigrant declares not to be a catholic, because he decides to contribute to help maintain the parish of his town of origin in Italy or Poland and doesn´t want to pay the church tax in addition to that. This is certainly an act of disobedience to the Church authority. But would we say this reveals an attitude of "obstination in grave sin"? Would we say that such a person has substantially "denied his faith before the state"? Should such a person be deprived of confession, of the Eucharist and, eventually, of a Christian burial?

    What have the German bishops done with the latest decree? They have ceased to consider such a person excommunicated, but have maintained all or almost all the practical consequences of excommunication!

    Is this just and according to the Law of the Church?

    In Christo

    1. This is certainly a coherent argument, and I cannot fault its logic. The status of the doctrine contained in the PCLT letter needs to be established.


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