German Catholics are reportedly leaving the church in droves as bishops continue to challenge the Vatican by questioning the church’s teaching on marriage.
A new capital gains tax levy, which came into effect in January and revealed to Catholics in 2013 via the media rather than church authorities, was reportedly a factor in causing 178,000 Catholics to formally leave the church in 2013, up 60,000 from the previous year.
The new tax will further increase revenue to the German Church, which is already one of the wealthiest in the world — deriving 70 percent of its income from the state church tax. Revenues in 2013 amounted to approximately $6.71 billion, making it one of the wealthiest churches in the world. Its wealth has led many to question how far short it falls of Pope Francis’ call for a “poor church for the poor”.
The church maintains that it carries out a great deal of amount for the poor and marginalized. Matthias Kopp, spokesman for the German bishops, pointed out to me that 27 German dioceses offered 73 million euros for refugees who have sought asylum in Germany. But he omitted to mention the high expenditure of various German dioceses which eclipses many projects for the poor.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich, is reported to have spent 130 million euros on a service center in his archdiocese. He, himself, lives in a palatial 90 square meter apartment, recently renovated at a cost of 8 million euros paid for by the state of Bavaria.
The German prelate reportedly has an income of 11,500 euros per month and lives rent free. His cars include a luxury 730i BMW. Meanwhile, the archdiocese says it has a guesthouse in Rome worth 9.7 million euros but denies it is a luxury, insisting it was paid for by diocesan assets and not tax revenues.
The opulence of the German Church has led to it being accused of complacency and arrogance. Mass attendance is declining — only 10 percent now attend weekly — but a guaranteed income from the church tax, considered vital to maintain over a million people on the German Church’s payroll, means bishops do not have to worry about declining participation.
To ensure the funds continue, the hierarchy also appears willing to accede to secular trends. One example came to light last month when the European Union issued a directive mandating the morning-after pill to be available over the counter in all member states. Polish bishops reacted by issuing a strong statement condemning its use a “grave sin” and the EU directive a violation of Polish criminal law. By contrast, the German bishops were largely silent, simply saying they had “serious concerns”.
Other areas also point to compromises with secular values. It’s highly likely the bishops will change the church’s labor law to allow employment of divorced and remarried Catholics and those in same-sex relationships. Opponents fear the move would directly undermine church teaching in this area, but the bishops appear intent on passing the reform in April. They are also openly pushing for a change in the church’s approach to remarried divorcees
The bishops have insisted they want the divorce and remarriage issue, important to the October Synod on the Family, to be debated among the faithful. But critics firmly believe this is simply theater and that the bishops will press ahead with reform anyway.
The corruption of the German Church is also not going unnoticed in Germany. In a highly critical Dec. 29th article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Markus Günther said the Catholic Church in Germany today is comparable to the former Communist East Germany “in its later days.” It looks stable, he wrote, “but it stands on the verge of collapse.”
As they did in the dying days of the East German regime, many officials “are fooling themselves,” Günther added. “Pastors and bishops, as well as many active parishioners, see blooming landscapes where there is nothing but desert. Love, as they say, is blind. And where existential threats are concerned, a calculated optimism often clouds a sober view of reality.”
“As long as they believe that everything is fine, people from both sides of the spectrum will depart,” a source close to the German hierarchy told me. “Those who dissent from church teaching will leave because they don’t want to pay the church tax, and those faithful to church teaching will want to leave because they won’t want to belong to an institution emptied of faith and led by prelates wanting to adapt the teaching of the church to ensure the institution survives.”
The Pope and Vatican officials, some of whom are sympathetic to the bishops’ concerns, are unlikely to rein in the German Church. Their influence is likely to grow as the next synod draws closer. All of Germany’s bishops are to meet the Pope in September on their yearly visit, likely using the occasion to push their agenda. Observers say the German Church is meanwhile moving slowly but irrevocably towards collapse.
“The autumn of Christendom in Germany has begun,” wrote Günther. “The common faith has largely vanished into thin air.”
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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