BERLIN (AP) – The road to heaven is paved with more than good intentions for Germany’s 24 million Catholics. If they don’t pay their religious taxes, they will be denied sacraments, including weddings, baptisms and funerals.
A decree issued last week by the country’s bishops cast a spotlight on the longstanding practice in Germany and a handful of other European countries in which governments tax registered believers and then hand over the money to the religious institutions.
In Germany, the surcharge for Catholics, Protestants and Jews is a surcharge of up to nine percent on their income tax bills – or about (EURO)56 ($72) a month for a single person earning a pre-tax monthly salary of about (EURO)3,500 ($4,500).
For religious institutions, struggling to maintain their congregations in a secular society where the Protestant Reformation began 500 years ago, the tax revenues are vital. [Full story here.]
You can avoid paying the tax by requesting the government to de-list you as a church member, something a growing number of Germans are doing. The exodus has the Catholic bishops worried enough to play hardball:
“This decree makes clear that one cannot partly leave the Church,” the bishops said in a statement. “It is not possible to separate the spiritual community of the Church from the institutional Church.”
Remember that in Catholic theology, the sacraments are key to salvation. So no taxes means no sacraments means no pie-in-the-sky for you, cheapskate! Have fun spending all that extra money at the gift shop in Hell!
Catholic and Protestant churches in other European countries aren’t going as far as the German bishops, though maybe they will if this little game of spiritual blackmail pays good dividends.
I’ll say one thing for the United States. We may be a far more religious country than Germany, but at least our federal government isn’t running the ticket counter for a gang of swindlers who pretend they have God in a box, and are charging admission for a peek.