I've been writing a lot lately about reasons to quit the Catholic church, and judging by the demographic trends in many Western countries, there are a lot of people whose thinking runs along similar lines. I didn't think the church would ever deign to acknowledge its apostates, but it appears that I was wrong.
I found this out from reading this story out of Germany, which taught me something I didn't know: in that country, if you officially record your religious affiliation as Protestant, Catholic or Jewish, then a percentage of your income tax payment, about 9%, goes to the governing body of your chosen denomination.
Note that this isn't a case of money that would normally go to the government being diverted to the church: churchgoers' income tax bills actually increase to pay this levy. Also, if you were wondering when people officially become government-registered church members, the most common answer is of course when they're baptized as infants - i.e., the decision is made for them before they can consent to it. Anyone can stop paying this tax by going to a government office and declaring that they no longer wish to be counted as church members, but even so, it's more of an imposed opt-out than an freely offered opt-in.
As you might imagine, this system is very profitable for the churches: it brought in about 5 billion euros for the Catholic church in 2010 alone. It's this fact, more than anything else, that probably explains why Germany's bishops are so rattled by the number of people officially disassociating themselves from the church (which had been running at around 120,000 a year, but jumped to over 180,000 in 2010). Hence, they've issued the following decree:
Catholics who leave can no longer receive sacraments, except for a special blessing before death, the decree states.
They cannot work in the church or its institutions, such as schools and hospitals, or be active in church-sponsored associations such as charity groups or choirs.
They cannot be godparents for Catholic children and must get a bishop's permission to marry a Catholic in a church ceremony.
"If the person who left the Church shows no sign of repentance before death, a religious burial can be refused," it added. (source)
The remarkable thing is that, as far as I can tell, church officials aren't saying that people can continue to participate in church life if they opt out of the tax but put their own money in the collection plate instead. No, the German bishops are saying that people have to pay the officially assessed tax rate if they want to be church members.
The bishops may think that this arrogant, clumsy threat will keep people in the fold, but I rather suspect it will do the opposite. They've just declared, in effect, that Catholicism in Germany isn't a welcoming community or a free association of people, but an expensive country club with annual dues. I think this is more likely to push wavering Catholics out the door than compel them to stay, since it communicates to them that their continued membership depends not on their faith, but on the contents of their wallets.
But if this wasn't enough inducement, here's a gentle push: German Catholics, it's time to leave the church! Don't give your money or your support to this corrupt, dictatorial, medieval institution. This is your best chance yet to make a clean break. If you've been meaning to quit but have been putting it off, do it today. They deserve to know exactly how you feel.
UPDATE: In the comments, Steffen offers this important advice to people who decide to quit the church.
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