FaithWorld

German churches and trade union both claim victory in strike case

(A sign reading ‘Arbeitsgerichte’ (Labour courts) is pictured in the late evening in Hamburg September 1, 2012. REUTERS/Morris Mac Matzen)

Germany’s main churches and a union that represents their employees have both claimed victory after the Federal Labour Court issued a Solomonic decision on whether church employees are allowed to strike.

The Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches greeted the ruling as an endorsement of their system of resolving wage disputes through mediation, while the union said it confirmed church workers had the right to industrial action.

German media reflected the split on Wednesday. “Church can ban strikes,” read the headline in the conservative daily Die Welt. “Church workers can strike,” wrote the liberal Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

The two churches, with a combined total of about 1.3 million staff in schools, hospitals and social services, are effectively the largest employer in Germany after the public sector.

New Anglican head Welby mixes conflict resolution role with business skills

The Bishop of Durham, and the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, smiles during a news conference at Lambeth Palace in London November 9, 2012.  REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Rowan Williams once said the next Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the fractious Anglican wing of world Christianity, needs “the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros”.

He overlooked the calm and patient negotiating skills that probably helped his successor Justin Welby clinch the job.

Chancellor Merkel urges German churches to agree on Luther anniversary

(Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at a news conference at European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels October 19, 2012.  REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germany’s Protestant and Roman Catholic churches on Monday to stress their common beliefs at ceremonies marking the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation.

Although still five years away, the date has already prompted debate between Protestants preparing major celebrations and Catholics who rue the rebellion of the German monk Martin Luther in 1517 as the start of a painful split in western Christianity.

Strong Swiss franc forces Reformed church group out of Calvin’s city Geneva

Geneva, dominated by St. Peter’s Cathedral, 6 February 2007/Tom Purves)

The Swiss city of Geneva has a long history of affording refuge to religious dissenters, most notably the 16th-century reformer John Calvin, but the strong Swiss franc currency has made it hard on his followers.

The exchange rate of the Swiss franc to other currencies has forced the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) to move its global headquarters, which has a staff of seven, to Germany from the city known as “the Protestant Rome” when Calvin ruled it as a strict theocracy.

A WCRC statement on Monday said the group, which represents about 80 million Christians in Reformed, Presbyterian and other churches around the world, would move its office to Hanover by December 2013.

German Catholics wary about major Luther festivities planned for 2017

Martin Luther, painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529

It’s rare to be invited to an event five years off and even rarer to bicker about its details, but Germany’s Catholic Church finds itself in that delicate situation thanks to an overture from its Protestant neighbors.

German Protestants are planning jubilee celebrations in 2017 to mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s launching of the Reformation, a major event in the history of Christianity, of Europe and of the German nation, language and culture.

The Protestants have invited the Catholics to join in, a gesture in harmony with the good relations the two halves of German Christianity enjoy and the closeness many believers feel across the denominational divide.

German Jewish leader deters anti-Semitic attack with gun

(Berlin’s New Synagogue, 21 April 2010/Sarah Ewart)

A leading member of Germany’s Jewish community had to point to a gun he was carrying to ward off a young man shouting anti-Semetic abuse, the latest in a string of racist incidents in Berlin that has shocked Jews and city authorities.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany said its general secretary, Michael Kramer, had endured a barrage of threatening insults from the man after leaving a Berlin synagogue with his two daughters on Wednesday.

“The man threatened us and made clear he would have lashed out if the children had not been there,” the council quoted Kramer, 44, as saying on its website.

Top German court backs Catholic Church against religious tax opt-outs

(The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig, Germany, 18 November 2011/Templemeister)

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.

German Catholic activists rap decree excluding church tax opt-outs

(The cathedral in Fulda, where German bishops are holding their autumn plenary meeting/ThomasSD)

Liberal and conservative Roman Catholic activists in Germany criticised a decree that came into effect on Monday to deny sacraments and religious burials to people who opt out of a “church tax”.
The German bishops issued the decree last week warning Catholics who stop paying the tax they would be excluded from all religious activities, also including working in a church job, becoming a godparent or taking part in parish activities.
“‘Pay and pray’ is a completely wrong signal at the wrong time,” the reformist movement We Are Church said on Monday. The decree “shows the great fear of the German bishops and the Vatican about further serious losses in church tax revenue.”
A conservative group called the Union of Associations Loyal to the Pope asked why Catholics who stop paying the tax would be punished but those it called heretics could stay in its ranks.
“So sacraments are for sale – whoever pays the church tax can receive the sacraments,” it said in a statement, saying the link the decree created “goes beyond the sale of indulgences that (Martin) Luther denounced” at the start of the Reformation.
German tax offices collect a religious tax worth 8 or 9 percent of the annual regular tax bill of registered Catholics, Protestants and Jews and channel it to those faiths. An official declaration that one is leaving the faith frees the citizen from this tax.
Defending the decree, bishops had earlier said they were spelling out the consequences of a worshipper choosing to leave the church to avoid paying.
Some Catholics had tried to remain active in their parish despite officially quitting the church.
But “it’s rubbish to assume one could leave the institutional Church and remain a Catholic,” said the secretary of the German Bishops Conference.
“Whoever leaves the Church,” Rev Hans Langendörfer told the  Catholic radio station in Cologne, “leaves it completely.”
The annual total of Catholic church leavers, usually around 120,000, rose to 181,193 two years ago as revelations about decades of sexual abuse of children by priests shamed the hierarchy and prompted an apology from German-born Pope Benedict.

“EXCOMMUNICATION LITE”
Church taxes brought in about 5 billion euros ($6.5 billion) for the Roman Catholic Church and 4.3 billion euros for the Protestant churches in 2010, according to official statistics.
With such full coffers, the German Church runs a large network of schools, hospitals and charity organisations at home and is one of the biggest contributors to the Vatican and to Catholic projects worldwide.
Some commentators suggested the bishops issued their decree to sidestep a looming legal case by a retired theology professor challenging the right of the Catholic Church to excommunicate those who opt out of the tax.
The German bishops had long told Catholics they would be excommunicated from the Church if they officially declared they were leaving it.
But the Vatican ruled in 2006 that a simple declaration to a tax office that one was leaving the Church was not enough to justify excommunication, Rome’s stiffest punishment. The church leaver must also declare this to a priest, it said.
That prompted retired canon law professor Hartmut Zapp to file a legal case against the German Church, saying it could not excommunicate him for leaving simply to avoid paying the tax if the Vatican did not agree he deserved that punishment.
After contradictory lower court rulings, Zapp’s case will go on Wednesday before the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. A ruling in his favour could throw into doubt Germany’s whole church tax system, which was introduced in the 19th century.
The bishops’ decree, described as “excommunication lite” by the German media, could however undercut Zapp’s case because the exclusions it listed were not described as a formal excommunication.
The German bishops are due to open their autumn plenary meeting in Fulda on Tuesday and the issue is expected to play a part in the discussions over the following three days.
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German bishops get tough on Catholics opting out of their church tax

(Detail of the western portal of the cathedral in Limburg an der Lahn, Germany, 24 April 2011/Beckstet)

Germany’s Roman Catholic bishops have decreed that people who opt out of a “church tax” should not be given sacraments and religious burials, getting tougher on worshippers who choose not to pay.

Alarmed by a wave of dissenting Catholics quitting the faith, the bishops issued a decree on Thursday declaring such defection “a serious lapse” and listed a wide range of church activities from which they must be excluded.

Austria OKs circumcisions after multifaith appeal

(Boys in traditional attire attend a ceremony a day before their circumcision ritual at Eyup Sultan square in Istanbul July 8, 2011. REUTERS/Murad Sezer)

Doctors in Austria’s westernmost province have been cleared to resume circumcisions after the Justice Ministry reassured them that they can perform the religious practice without risking criminal charges, officials said.

Spooked by a regional court ruling in neighbouring Germany that the practice supported by Muslims and Jews amounted to physical abuse, the governor of Austria’s Vorarlberg province last week advised doctors to suspend it, triggering a heated debate.