German bishops enforce religious tax
By Eric Wilkins, Staff Writer
In Germany, there was recently a new bishops’ decree stating that all Catholics who refuse to pay the Church tax will, among other things, no longer be able to receive the sacraments of Holy Communion, Penance, Confirmation, and Extreme Unction (unless in danger of death). Needless to say, there has been a bit of an uproar over the announcement.
When I first heard about it, I was a bit shocked. With the Church still suffering from numerous cases of sexual abuse, and hundreds of thousands leaving each year, it seems like a poor time to bring up a money-grabbing scheme. But then I thought about how this isn’t horribly out of place for the Church. Who can possibly forget the infamous corruption that existed when Catholics could buy indulgences and essentially book a ticket to heaven? With that in mind, this current decree almost sounds reasonable.
However, upon further investigation into the matter, I don’t understand what all the hubbub is about. The tax has existed since 1803. Until now, Catholics who failed to pay the tax ended up excommunicated from the Church. Under the new decree, while for all intents and purposes they are excommunicated, no one is formally kicked out. Perhaps I’m just a Westerner who is failing to understand the culture, but it seems like this announcement should, if anything, be taken as a good thing.
It should be noted that this tax does not exist solely for Catholics, nor is it restricted to Germany. In Germany, Jews and Protestants face an identical tax as the Catholics. Similarly, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Italy, and several other countries also have religious taxes in place. At this point, I was searching for a reason why Germany was the only one being roasted over their forced religious contributions, so I took a peek at the numbers. Germans pay between eight and nine per cent. Sweden, on the other hand, only pays up to two per cent (for the purpose of this article, the number will be left at 1.5). The kicker, however, is that Germans pay that percentage on their income tax amount, while Swedes are paying 1.5 per cent on their entire income. Based on earnings of €50,000 a year at 20 per cent, a German would pay €10,000 in income tax and €800-€900 in Church tax. A Swede, on the other hand, would end up with €750 in Church taxes. There doesn’t seem to be a staggeringly massive difference between those two figures.
With the fact established that Germany is not unique in its levying of religious taxes, the criticism lies in whether the practice should exist at all. Granted, I am speaking from a North American point of view, but I don’t feel they are necessary. It seems like a much better system is having churches simply take a collection at each service. Those who want to contribute large sums of money can, and those who wish to toss in a dollar or two are free to do so as well. Either way, the money received is willingly given, free of coercion. Doesn’t that seem to fit religion better? People don’t belong to religion because they have to; they belong because they want to. A religious tax is like volunteering for a charity and then being beaten with a stick until you donate to the cause.
Coming full circle, the fact that the tax exists isn’t the major issue. Catholics have traditionally donated approximately 10 per cent as a tithe to the Church anyway. The threat of “pay up or be virtually excommunicated” is the real problem, and perhaps should be reconsidered.