By Harry Stevens
“It is the glory of vain men never to yield to truth. Such vainglory is a deadly passion for those it dominates. It is a disease that, in spite of every effort, is never cured–not because the doctor is inept, but because the patient is incurable.”
‘City of God’ by Saint Augustine of Hippo
In Germany, Catholics are leaving the Church in droves, as an average of 140,000 formally abandon the Faith annually.* This is easy to track, because numbers are publicly reported in a system where Germans pay 8-9% of their income tax to receive the Sacraments. The church tax is administered by the State on behalf of the Church through a payroll deduction, for a lucrative 2-3% processing fee.
And there is no tax relief. This was clarified at the highest levels when a Catholic canonist asked for relief of his Church tax in 2007. In response, the German bishops’ conference issued a decree stating that those who have declared to a government registry office that they are no longer members of the Catholic Church will no longer be able to actively participate in Church life nor receive the Sacraments. Period.
Why are Germans abandoning the Faith? The proximate causes range from well-publicized sex abuse scandals (touched off at a prominent Jesuit boys’ high school in Berlin) to a simple lack of faith. Largely un-catechized and uninterested, German Catholics would rather save the money, it seems.
But that’s not all there is to the story. Closer inspection reveals a German Church which is extremely wealthy and completely unregulated. Digging a little deeper reveals some questionable activities, mostly having to do with profiting from pornography and abortion.
Follow the Euros
Money is pivotal to this discussion. In 2013, the German Catholic Church collected a whopping 5.2 billion euro in church tax, in addition to 100-200 million euros per year in State subsidies from a still-valid 1803 agreement. Other income was derived from multiple sources, including Church ownership of no less than ten banks, several breweries, a mineral water company, and multiple insurance companies.
Unlike the beleaguered German taxpayer, the Church does not pay tax on Church property. Nor does it pay corporate or capital gains taxes. Everything it does as a public corporation in Germany is considered charitable and tax-exempt and guaranteed by the German constitution.
Also, unlike other public corporations like universities, the Church is not subject to any state supervision of its finances.
As for German bishops, “Most Americans would be a bit shocked to learn that German bishops make between €8000 ($10,965) and €11,500 ($15,763) a month, depending upon their seniority. That comes to between $131,000 and $189,000 a year…. In short, the German clergy may have a real financial interest in keeping the flock happy so they continue to pay that tax and not drop out.”*****
Catholic Church, Inc.
This all means a tremendous amount of money in the German bishops’ hands. The Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church combined are the second largest employers in Germany, with the Catholic Church employing 650,000 people, plus another 600,000 volunteers. In 2011 (the latest date available) the Church spent 129 million Euro in its dioceses.
The Catholic Church provides many social services for the elderly, infirm, and youth through organizations such as Caritas (‘Catholic Charities’ in the USA). Through these channels, the bishops’ influence reaches far and wide within the German Catholic community of 24 million. (Though only a tiny fraction — 2.8 million — actually attend weekly Mass.)
The Publishing Business
While it might seem that the German Church has more than enough revenue, apparently this has not been the case. Weltbild was the second largest bookselling company in Germany in 2011, with annual sales of $2.1 billion. Until that year, it was 100% owned by the German bishops’ conference.
In addition to a lucrative pornographic book publishing company that carried some 2,500 titles, Weltbild also sold books promoting satanism, the occult, esotericism, and anti-Christian atheist propaganda.
After years of public complaints, articles in Der Spiegel and a rebuke from Pope Benedict,** the German bishops’ conference finally announced that they had sold the company. Many believed the bishops’ shares were liquidated in 2011.
As of November 2013, however, it was still being reported that the Diocese of Augsburg, and the Archdioceses of Munich and Freiberg still owned parts of Weltbild. On January 19, 2014, parts of the company filed for insolvency.***
Profiting from Abortion
After German reunification in 1989, new laws came into effect stating that abortion would be legal within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, but only after the woman received counseling on her decision.
Naturally, counseling would be well-compensated, paid for by the German State. The Catholic Bishops promptly organized a counseling service, which for a decade received state moneys for issuing certificates which permitted women to have abortions.
On January 26, 1998 Pope John Paul II asked the German bishops to withdraw from this lucrative side business. Cardinal Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation for the Faith, was given the task of carrying out the Pope’s instructions.
More than a year later, the German bishops finally responded, unanimously rejecting the Pope’s demand. On November 20, 1999, JPII specifically instructed the German bishops in a letter that in the future pregnant women should no longer be issued any certificates by the counseling service of the German Bishops.
It wasn’t until March 8, 2002 – four years later — that the German bishops finally removed themselves from this counseling business in all dioceses. ****
The Root of All Evil
Reviewing these facts, it is easy to conclude that the Bible is correct; the love of money may well be the root of all evil. Bearing this in mind, perhaps there is a bit more to the steady exodus of German Catholics from the Church than what the German media reports.
For, in addition to the fact that Catholics are getting very little for their money, there are very serious ethical questions indeed about how it is being used by the German Church.
*All statistics from the official website of the German Bishops’ Conference, which has reported Catholics leaving as follows: 2010 (181,193); 2011 (126,48 ) and 2012 (118,3350). The website can be found here: in German (all years) in English (2010)
****Article by Stephan Köhnlein at Cathcon: http://bit.ly/1poIiCQ