BONN, Germany (ChurchMilitant.com) - As Catholics fill German pews in ever-fewer numbers, the country's bishops say they have no intention of lowering the Church tax for certain groups.
On Monday in Bonn, the German Bishops' Conference told the German Catholic News Agency they have no intention "to reduce the Church tax for young professionals."
The church tax (Kirchensteuer) in Germany is a legally established levy on officially registered members of religious denominations. The amount one pays depends on wages or income.
The German Bishops' Conference said only members able to pay the Church tax do so, accounting for "almost half of the Catholics" in the country. Generally, they added, those exempt from wage or income tax such as low earners, retirees and the unemployed are not Church taxpayers. Only those officially registered with a religious denomination pay the Church tax, which is the greatest source of revenue for the Church in Germany.
In 2019, the Catholic Church in Germany reached a record high, receiving the equivalent of nearly $8 billion from the Church tax. But last year also marked a record high of Catholics officially leaving the Church.
A Munich statistical office reported in May that nearly 11,000 Catholics formally withdrew from the archdiocese of Munich in 2019.
Having studied the trend for years, Dr. Yasemin El-Menouar from the Bertelsmann Foundation's religion monitor posited most leave owing to disappointment with clergy sex abuse and cover-up or having been away for too long. They no longer wish to pay the Church tax and so they withdraw officially.
German prelates such as Bp. Heiner Wilmer of Hildesheim and Cdl. Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising have a history of dubious statements and heterodox sympathies.
"I consider the reform process in the Church to be essential," said Wilmer in a recent interview with German newspaper Rheinische Post. "I am in favor of an open discussion and personally trust in the Holy Spirit," he added, explaining everything must be brought to the table, including the ordination of women and eradication of mandatory priestly celibacy.
For Wilmer, the mission of the Church is "to be with the people and make sure that the increasing cold in our society is transformed back into warmth." Never mentioning the mission of the Church to save souls, the bishop added that "[p]eople, not institutions, must be at the center of all reforms."
He ended the interview by praising the Church tax, saying, "the German system with the Church tax is very reliable and enables the churches in this country to fulfill their mission for the people and society in a good way."
In February 2018, Cdl. Marx backpedaled when faced with pushback on his suggestion to bless gay partners.
Asked on Bavarian Radio, "So, you really can imagine that there might be a way to bless homosexual couples in the Catholic Church?"
"Yes," he answered. "There are no general solutions, and I think that would not be right because we are talking about pastoral care for individual cases, and that applies to other areas as well, which we cannot regulate, where we have no sets of rules."
But in the face of opposition, Marx told Catholic News Agency's English translation was incorrect.
In September 2019, Marx voiced support for married priests.
"I can easily imagine that one can come to the conclusion that it makes sense, under certain conditions, to allow married priests in certain regions," he said. "It's not about celibacy alone, but about the future of the priestly way of life."
The majority of German bishops, who hold similar views to Wilmer and Marx, have embarked on what they call "der Synodale Weg" (the Synodal Way), which one Catholic journalist described in a tweet as an "agenda that aims to change the Church's teaching on sexual morality."
Claiming to "save itself [the Church] from perpetual decline," German bishops are using the synodal way to encourage the faithful to question some immutable Catholic teachings and long-standing disciplinary traditions, including an all-male priesthood, areas of sexual morality and priestly celibacy.
But there are a few German prelates warning against the synodal way. Cardinals Gerhard Müller, Walter Brandmüller and Rainer Woelki have warned that the synodal way could lead to schism.
In late February, a group of prominent German scholars, journalists and pro-family activists came out publicly to voice their opposition to the synodal way, resisting what they call a plan to "Protestantize" the Church.