Top German court backs Catholic Church against religious tax opt-outs
Germany’s top administrative court agreed with Roman Catholic bishops on Wednesday that German believers who refuse to pay a special church tax could be shut out of Catholic worship.
The verdict, based on German corporate law, upheld the system by which the state collects religious taxes from registered Catholics, Protestants and Jews with their monthly returns and distributes them to the religious communities.
Reformist Catholics have decried the tax, introduced in the 19th century to compensate for confiscated church properties, as a “pay to pray” system. Conservative critics have asked why tax opt-outs are shut out but dissenting theologians are not.
“Whoever wants to officially leave a religious community that is registered as a statutory corporation cannot limit this withdrawal to the statutory corporation and remain a member of the faith community,” said the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig, the top appeals court in such issues.
The Church hailed the verdict as confirmation of its tax rule, which the bishops reconfirmed last week with a decree saying members who opted out of the tax could not receive sacraments, work in the Church or have a religious burial.
“The Church is a community of faith that exists in Germany in the form of a statutory corporation – they cannot be separated,” Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the bishops’ conference, said after the verdict was announced.