A reform group within the Catholic Church in Germany criticized the German bishops Monday in the wake of a controversial decision by the Church. In a policy some are calling “pay to pray,” the bishops have decreed believes who refuse to pay religious taxes can be denied the sacraments and face other restrictions in the Church.
The Huffington Post reports that a century-old agreement with the German government has registered Catholics and Protestants in Germany pay an additional income tax — sometimes up to nine percent — as part of their membership. The Associated Press reports that because of the tax, Catholic and Protestant churches receive more than 4 billion euros each year.
The catchy name of “pay to pray” is a misnomer however, as no restrictions have been placed on a Catholic’s right to pray, just on how they interact with the Church.
Churches use that money from the so called pay to pray tax to pay staff and fund social work, like programs to care for the sick or elderly. In Germany, the homeland of Pope Benedict XVI, donations do not make up as large as share of Church income as in the US.
The group making noise, called ‘We are the Church,’ says that rather than penalize Catholics with sanctions, bishops should try and understand why Catholics are leaving the Church in the first place.
“Instead of seeking to understand the reasons for the high number of people leaving the church, this decree by the bishops represents a threat to the church’s members,” it said.
The group adds that many leave the Church official, but remain active, because they disagree with Church actions, not because they lost their faith. Some, however, could also be leaving to save money by not paying the tax.
“The decree clarifies that one cannot partially leave the church,” the bishops said in a statement last week.
In the future, Catholics who elect to opt out of the tax will get a letter asking them to reconsider, and informing them of the consequences, which include not having the right to a Catholic funeral unless they repent before death.