German court upholds Catholic Church membership tax

Judges at the Leipzig Federal Administrative Court in Germany agreed with Catholic bishops that German Catholics who refuse to pay a special church tax can be banned from Catholic worship.

A report by Reuters said the verdict, which was 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.

“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 country’s 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.

The legal challenge to the tax began in 2007 when a retired professor of canon law told his local tax authority that he wanted to quit the institutional Catholic Church and stop paying its tax, but continue to practice the religion.

If the Leipzig court had ruled against the Church, it could have prompted a wave of departures from the religions that charge the tax, which amounts to 8 or 9 percent of earnings, the report said.

The German church levy was introduced in 1803 in compensation for the nationalisation of religious property.

In 2011, the Catholic Church received 5bn euros (£4bn; $6.4bn) and the Protestant Church 4.5bn euros from taxpayers, each adding up to the bulk of the churches’ income, the BBC reported.



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