By Roberto de Mattei (Munich, January 18, Acies Ordinata)
I make an appeal to German Catholics, asking them to stop paying the so-called Kirchensteuer, the withdrawal of a part of their income based on their religious conviction. It is inadmissible that the only way to exempt oneself from this forced withdrawal is by a obligatory declaration of abandonment of the Church (Kirchenaustritt) which is automatically followed by a de facto excommunication.
The German Bishops’ Conference has decreed that those who subscribe to the Kirchenaustritt may no longer go to confession, receive communion or confirmation and, when they die, they may not receive a Catholic funeral. Without explicitly pronouncing the word “excommunication” the German Bishops’ Conference is punishing those who leave the Church for financial reasons by excluding them from the sacramental life, which is the essence of the punishment of excommunication (can. 1331 § 1). They may be readmitted to the sacraments only after retracting their declaration and pledging to meet their financial obligations.
According to the Synodaler Weg, divorced and remarried Catholics who pay the Kirchensteuer may receive the Sacraments, but practicing Catholics who refuse to pay this tax are rigorously excluded from the sacramental life of the Church. Heretics and notorious schismatic, including priests and bishops, are not sanctioned, while the punishment of excommunication is applied to an act that, even in the worst cases, qualifies merely as an act of lay disobedience, against which canon law provides no punishment.
Itis true that the duty to materially support the Church is part of the Catholic tradition and was placed in the new Code of Canon Law in canons 222, §1 and 1260, but the tradition of the Church has never considered the violation of thus duty to be a crime punishable in itself and the Code does not name any penalty against those who transgress it.
Unless it is argued that what is being sanctioned is not the refusal to pay the tax, but the act of resignation from the Catholic Church, assimilated to the crime of schism or apostasy, which the Code punishes with excommunication /atae sententiae (can. 1364 § 1). But the Kirchenaustritt, in order to have canonical relevance, must be a free and conscious choice, and not an act into which someone is forced who, for whatever reason, wants to avoid paying an unjust tax.
For its part, the German state is acting in contradiction with its Constitution (Grundgesetz) which assures the non- discrimination of citizens because of their religion. A non-confessional state does not have the right to interfere in the private sphere of citizens, knowing that the consequence of their indicating their religious faith to the ecclesiastical authorities will be either the loss of money or else severe canonical sanctions. In this situation, the civil authority is acting as the secular arm of the Church.
The Church, for its part, sacrifices the fundamental right of the Christian to not undergo meddling by the state in questions that concern faith and morals and violates the religious freedom of the faithful by forcing them to make a public declaration renouncing their membership in the Church for merely economic reasons.
The criterion of belonging to the Catholic Church is based on the gift of faith that every Catholic receives at the time of Baptism and cannot be reduced to the paying of a tax. Only a profoundly secularized institution can equate belonging to the Church with the payment of a portion of one’s income. The German Church, economically rich but spiritually ever more poor, appears in the eyes of the Christian to be a bureaucratic and corporate apparatus subjected to public opinion and the civil authorities. Furthermore, whoever subordinates the sacramental life to the payment of a tax falls into the sin of simony (Acts 8: 5-24), the selling of spiritual goods that has characterized all the ages of great crises in the Church.
The name Kulturkampf is remembered in history as the persecution against Catholics carried out by Chancellor Bismarck in the last thirty years of the 19th century. The communist theoretician Antonio Gramsci claimed in his own turn a new Kulturkampf against the Catholic Church, never imagining that the ones who would realize his plan of the secularization of society would be the bishops themselves. The crucial question that must be asked is this: can a Catholic be an accomplice in the process of de-Catholicization of their own country?
We understand that this is a painful problem of conscience. However, paying the Kirchensteuer means directly cooperating in the process of secularization of the Church in Germany and in the world that the German bishops promote on the ideological level and support on the financial level. Paying the Kirchensteuer means, in this moment, supporting the Synodalen Weg.
For this reason, the refusal to financially support the German Bishops’ Conference does not mean turning one’s back on the Church and even less does it mean abandoning the Catholic faith, but actually is the way to defend it. And it is the good of the Church — not only the Church in Germany, but the universal Church — that impels us to make an appeal to German Catholics: stop paying the Kirchensteuerl We place this appeal at the feet of Mary, Patrona Bavariae, she who is the invincible protectress of Germany and the Mother of the Church.
The most convincing study of the Kirchensteuer has been made by the Swiss theologian and canonist Msgr. Eugenio Corecco (1931-1995): Dimettersi dalla Chiesa per ragioni fiscali (3. Dimettersi dalla Chiesa per ragioni fiscali I Eugenio Corecco). The principal document on the abandonment of the Catholic Church is the Actus Formalis Defectionis ab Ecclesia Catholica, issued on March 13, 2006, by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (Actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia catholica).
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