Catholic group criticizes bishops' for excluding believers who don't pay church tax

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BERLIN (AP) -- A Catholic reform group in Germany has criticized the country's bishops for declaring that believers who refuse to pay religious taxes won't be able to receive the sacrament, become godparents or work in church institutions.

A century-old agreement with the state adds up to nine percent to the income tax bill of Germany's 25 million registered Roman Catholics, earning the church more than euro4 billion ($5.2 billion) annually. The same tax applies to Protestants and Jews.

The churches use the income to pay employees' salaries and fund social work such as care for the elderly. The churches themselves aren't taxed by the state but instead pay an administrative fee for the collection of religious tax. Donations represent a far smaller share of the churches' income than in the United States.

The Catholic bishops' decree in Germany last week is part of an attempt to stem the steady flow of people who opt out of paying religious taxes. It declares that they have committed a "grave lapse" and effectively left the church.

Critics of the bishops say many German Catholics choose not to pay religious taxes because they disagree with the church's actions, not because they have lost their faith.

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