James Akin has written a clarifying article about the confusing predicament of German Catholics.
In the 19th century, Germany seized Catholic property. To compensate the Church for this, the German state agreed to collect a "church tax" for the Catholics and doll it out to the bishops. This is where the problem begins.
German citizens mark on their tax return that they are Catholics and by doing so their moneys are filtered to the Catholic bishops of Germany.
Some Germans, angry with a number of problems in the Catholic Church in Germany, have begun to declare on their tax returns that they are no longer Catholic. This reduces the reveneue flowing to the Deutsche Bischofskonferenz (the German Bishops' Conference).
The German bishops have rightly confirmed that by declaring "not Catholic" on a public government form, you are denying Christ and thereby leaving the Catholic Church. The bishops are correct, but the whole thing makes them look greedy and unpastoral.
Here is what it sounds like: "We German bishops have moved around pedophiles, and we tolerate heresy and liturgical abuse. We German bishops were even implemented last year in a scandal wherein we owned and operated a secular business that sold pornographic erotica. But when it comes to tax revenue for our us, we're ready to lay down the canon law. No taxes. No sacraments."
What should be done? Perhaps the bishops, as apostolic men, should should modify the playing field. They are successors of the Apostles with spiritual jurisdiction, right? If they were heroic bishops, they could stand up to the government and refuse the German church tax arrangement in and of itself! The State handling Church money in itself is ungodly. Should Caesar mediate funds between the laity and the bisohps? If German bishops rejected this arrangement, then German citizens would not be placed into an occasion of sin with regard to public apostasy on their tax return.
Sure, the German bishops would lose even more money, as Germany would never go for it. But it's worth it to be free from the yoke of the state.
If the Catholic Church in Germany cleaned up her house and refused the state's "service" of tax collecting, I bet you the Church their would grow, people would see heroic action, and sanctity would be sowed once again in that great nation wherein the Faith was planted by Saint Boniface.
Meanwhile, the German bishops lose even more credibility and their sheep will continue to wonder about clerical motives and eventually wander away.
I'm not saying that it is morally permissible to deny one's Catholic faith on a public tax return. That is a mortal sin. Those Catholics who have done so on their tax forms have committed a mortal sin. "If you deny before men, I will deny you before the Father," says Christ our Lord. Yet the very arrangement, and the German bishops' endorsement of that arrangement, is lamentable.
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