Rorate Caeli

Church of Germany, Church of Simony

All talk of "poverty" and "humility" from the highest echelons of the Church must be dismissed as the irrelevant talk it is until the greatest money-related scandal in the Church, the German Kirchensteuer (Church Tax) system remains in place. No item is more single-handedly responsible for instability in the Church today than the Simoniacal Church Tax, which both renders "excommunicates" those German Catholics who refuse to pay it and makes the German Hierarchy use their immense wealth and financial resources as a tool of subversion and blackmail of the whole Universal Church.

A system that has emptied the Church in Germany at the same time as its wealth becomes a tumor threatening the health of the whole Church. When a Pope dismantles or at least decides on an overhaul of the Kirchensteuer system in Germany (and elsewhere where it works in the exact same simoniacal way), then all the talk of poverty will at last become believable.

Rich Church, Empty Church

Simone Varisco
Caffè Storia
Protagonists of the recent Synod: the contrast between the principal exponents of the German Catholic Church, from Mueller to Kasper, Brandmuller to Marx, is measured also on their different visions of the crisis in the German Church and the possible solutions.

According to the latest data from the German Bishops' Conference, in 2013 there were 24,2 million Catholics (1), a drop compared to the previous years (24.3 million), attesting to 29.9% of the population (they were 42.7% before the reunification of Germany in 1990), again distributed in greater percentages in southern Länder, like the Saarland, (Catholics 62%) and Bavaria (54%).

Moreover, significant among those who declare themselves Catholic, the percentage of the faithful that regularly attend at least Sunday Mass has been heading in the direction of single digit numbers for years now. So it is not by chance that compared to the previous year, parishes and other places of pastoral care have diminished by 137 units (11.085 in 2013, in a total population of more than 83 million Germans. In Italy there are 25.677 single parishes in a population of over 60 million inhabitants).(2) Baptisms of children born into families where there is at least one Catholic parent and marriages celebrated in the Catholic rite are increasingly fewer.

Also the diocesan priests and religious in 2013 registered a further drop compared to the already problematic 2012. Improving, but on the road to decline, is the data regarding the permanent diaconate, that even if there has been an increase in numbers on a national basis (+ 66 deacons compared to the previous year), for years it has been moving into progressive stagnation, especially among those that hold the office full-time (+ 15 deacons compared to 2012).

Within this rather discomforting picture, the economic indicators instead stand out. With 5.5 billion euros of net income in 2013, in continuous growth since 2005, the German Catholic Church is among the richest in the world (in second place is the German Evangelical Church , with 4.8 million in net income in 2013).

It’s worth remembering that on the basis of Kirchensteuer, the tax on religions presently in force in Germany, the State is not the direct main player in the financing of religious communities within its territories, but is the means between them and their respective believers for the collection of taxes between the members on the lists of the respective communities. Paying the Kirchensteuer, the faithful acquire the right to a series of “religious services”, some of which are otherwise known as Sacraments.

Cancellation from the list implies the exoneration of paying the tax for the citizen, but also the ceasing of the “religious services” (except in the case of impending risk of death) and the impossibility of covering specific roles, such as godfather or godmother or being employed in ecclesiastical offices. With such implications, that which may appear as simply an administrative act in the relations between the citizen, the State and the contributions system, to all intents and purposes, means a defection from the Church - with a tough stance taken by the German Episcopal Conference, in the view of “preserving the faith and the Catholic education of children.” (3)

The economic prosperity which stokes the Country and the great machine of the German Catholic Church is the same material prosperity that is emptying the churches, to the point that many of the great cathedrals in the Country are visited more by tourists than by believers.

Also sustained by the economic success that distinguishes vast areas in Germany from the greater parts of western European economies, is the ever-increasing fragile balance between the growth of wealth per capita of German citizens and the drop in the faithful (it is so far holding up). However it’s not hard to predict that if the hemorrhage of the faithful continues as it has in recent years, in the near future the German Catholic Church will also near the shadow of financial collapse.

It is absolutely necessary to take this factor into account when considering the confrontation shown recently at the Synod - if nothing else but for the false sense of urgency to change tendencies. At the Synod, the German Catholic Church proved itself to be among the most disposed to the requests of the modern world - a Church that the mass-media didn’t hesitate in defining as “open”; and yet a “ sick” Church - according to a terminology dear to the present Pontiff - “closed” in a prosperous society increasingly tempted by the uselessness of the faith and eroded by some of those same forces that are pushing in the direction of change

It’s a sure bet that in the debate, which has been going on for some time in the German Church, as well as the Universal Church, the main protagonists of the Synod which has just finished are somewhat intent in not being in the roles of simple spectators. Neither on one side nor on the other.
1. For these and subsequent data: Katholische Kirche in Deutschland. Zahlen und Fakten. 2013/14, Secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference, Bonn.
2. Archives of the Central Institute for the support of the clergy ’
3. Allgemeines Dekret der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz zum Kirchenaustritt, II, 2.

[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]