Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Poorer Church...

There is another issue which I have been pondering, and it is not unrelated to that just mentioned in my last post: the issue of the Church tax in Germany. 

At the moment the German government requires its citizens to declare which Church they are members of, if they are members, and a percentage of their salary is then taken at source and passed on to their Church.  This is the main source of income for the Church in Germany, and it has made the Church there very wealthy.  German Catholics who object to this have no option but to formally leave the Church in order to prevent the tax being taken from their salary.  Not an ideal situation. 

The Church in Germany has since become a major contributor to the Holy See, passing on large donations from the funds it has collected in taxes.  Now given the nature of the human condition, I’m sure we all know the effects such generous donations can have, and so when the phrase “The Rhine flows into the Tiber” is mentioned, a number of things are implied.  The Papacy may well, at times, have found itself under pressure from the north, and that is not good.  Is such pressure being applied now in the issue of Communion for the divorced and remarriage, an issue close to the hearts of the German bishops?  One couldn’t possibly speculate. 

The Church tax is problematic; being in the pay of the secular authorities, or relying on it for one’s income, has never been good for the Church.  Often bishops and priests have been tempted to side with the source of income when disputes arose between secular powers and the faith.  There is also the concern that if a tax is being collected and paid to the Church, the expectations and desires of those who pay it may assume more importance than the Gospel.  In our consumerist age those who pay expect a service and expect it to be carried out in the a particular manner which accords with those expectations.  If these expectations and desires are out of synch with Church teaching, that puts pastors who rely on the tax in a dilemma: what do they do?

I personally believe the Church in Germany must renounce the Church tax and rely, as the Church does almost everywhere else, on voluntary donations.  Yes, it may well mean a poorer Church in Germany, but also a freer Church, one where the paymaster does not decide the direction the Church goes in, but rather the Gospel.  Pope Francis, with his emphasis on poverty, is the very man who could persuade the German bishops to renounce it.

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