Here’s how it works in Germany: If you are a formal member of a church, a portion of your taxes gets redistributed to that denominational body. Some German Catholics are refusing to pay this tax, and so are withdrawing from the church rolls. Wackiness ensues:
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 other words, they’re spiritual but not religious. Good luck with that.
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.
Wow. Talk about blunt. But should this come as any surprise? Catholicism takes the visible church very seriously. Because it takes the sacraments very seriously.
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.
This sounds like excommunication to me—or is it some lesser censure? Suspension? When Catholic clergy use the word “grave,” you had better make sure you don’t enter yours without making a good confession.