“How I would like a poor Church for the poor” exclaimed Pope Francis (L’Osservatore Romano, March 17, 2013). The antithesis of his ideal however, is embodied precisely by the church closest to him – the German one. The German Episcopal Conference, which sponsored ideologically and economically last October’s Synod on the Amazon, is in fact the wealthiest and most privileged enterprise in all of Germany. This wealth comes from the Kirchensteuer, a tax that the State devolves to the Church, by retaining a figure amounting to 8-9% of the overall tax burden of German Catholics. The taxation though is obligatory, unlike other countries, where Churches are financed through the generosity of the faithful, freely choosing to pay out a part of their income.
In Germany, those who want to be exempt from the Kirchensteuer must sign a statement showing their abandonment of the Church (Kirchenaustritt), which, as a result, deprives them of the Sacraments. On September 20, 2012, the German Bishops decreed that those who asked no longer to be registered in order to avoid paying the ecclesiastical tax, can no longer confess, receive Communion or Confirmation and, at their death, cannot have a Catholic funeral; they will not even be able to do voluntary work in a Catholic association, let alone work in a Church institution, such as a school or hospital.
In an interview published in Schwäbische Zeitung of July 17, 2016, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, denounced this glaring contradiction in these terms: “How does the Catholic Church in Germany react with those who don’t pay the Church tax? With automatic exclusion from the ecclesial community, which means excommunication. This is excessive – incomprehensible. Dogmas can be questioned and no one is thrown out. Is perhaps the non-payment of the Kirchensteuer a graver infraction than the transgressions against the truths of the Faith? The impression is, that, as long as what’s at stake is the Faith, it isn’t so tragic, but when money comes into play, then it is not to be trifled with”.
If the slogan of the American Colonies in the 18th century was “No taxation without representation”, the slogan of the German Bishops today is “No Sacraments without taxation”. If you pay you receive the Sacraments, if you don’t pay you are deprived of them. The wealth of the German Church is founded, in a word, on simony.
Simony is a sin that has accompanied the history of the Church throughout the centuries, being associated frequently with the so-called “Nicolaism”, the concubinage of priests. The first synods of Gregory VII (1073-1085), the great reformer Pope of the Middle-Ages, were precisely dedicated to the fight against the simoniacal German Bishops, transgressors of ecclesiastical celibacy. A much graver plague than the selling of indulgences, which offered the pretext for Luther’s Revolution.
The term simony comes from Simon Magus, who, it is written “offers money to the Apostles” (Acts, 8.18) to acquire spiritual power. St. Thomas Aquinas, who dedicates an entire question in his Summa Theologica to simony (q.100, II-II), explains that simoniacs are both those who buy or sell spiritual things: “Those who sell spiritual things are like Simon Magus in intentions, whereas those who buy them are like him in actions” (q. 100, a. 1). According to St. Thomas “to receive money for the spiritual grace of the Sacraments is a sin of simony which cannot be excused by any custom: since “custom does not prevail over the natural or Divine Law” (q. 100, art. 2, resp.). “Wherefore the custom, if such there be, of demanding anything as the price of a spiritual thing, with the intention of buying or selling it, is manifestly simoniacal, especially when the demand is made of a person unwilling to pay” (art. 2, ad 4).
Given that the Kirchensteuer extorts against the will of the taxpayer, the statement of abandonment of the German Church (Kirchenaustritt) signed by those who want to avoid payment, is devoid of value in the eyes of the Church. The Pontifical Council for the Holy See’s legislative texts, in a document dated March 13, 2006, explained that the abandoning the Catholic Church, for it to be validly configured as a true actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia, must be concretized in the following elements: a) an inner decision to leave the Catholic Church; b) the outer actuation and manifestation of this decision; c) direct reception of such a decision on the part of the competent ecclesiastical authority.” *
Every act that does not come from an inner motivation, but is obligatory, cannot be considered a free inner decision to leave the Catholic Church and is invalid. Furthermore, the parish priest should establish if there truly is the will to leave the Church, which never happens in Germany. The German Catholic who signs the Kirchenaustritt must not then fear being schismatic, if he does not have a real intention of abandoning the Church, but wants only to separate himself from the perverse financial system which ties him to the Episcopal Conference, for that matter, directed by Bishops who are not only simoniacs but also heretics and schismatics. The synodal path initiated in Germany by Cardinal Marx aims in fact at turning the sexual morality of the Church upside down and of subverting its hierarchal structure. It is a process of self-dissolution, which Catholics, in conscience, cannot collaborate with.
Many German Catholics criticize the Kirchensteuer, but state that they cannot help but pay it in order not to be deprived of the Sacraments. But with this they become accomplices in the simony of the Bishops. St. Thomas explains, for example, that “ since nowise ought one to sin, if the priest be unwilling to baptize without being paid, one must act as though there were no priest available for the baptism. Hence the person who is in charge of the child can, in such a case, lawfully baptize it, or cause it to be baptized by someone else [..]And if he is unable to have recourse to another, he must by no means pay a price for Baptism, and should rather die without being baptized, because for him the baptism of desire would supply the lack of the sacrament.”
Will it be really impossible though, in and outside Germany, to find priests and bishops willing to administer the Sacraments to the conscientious objectors of the Kirchensteueur? We do not believe it; as nothing is impossible for those seeking first the Kingdom of God and His Justice (Mat.6, 33).
The French writer Ernst Hello (1828-1885) states that renunciation is the devil’s word. “God never renounces. The devil always renounces, even when he appears to act. He is the one who renounces. The man who renounces cannot do much and impedes everyone. The man who does not renounce lifts mountains” (L’uomo, [Man]Edizioni Paoline, 1958, p. 287).
What I fear the most today are the resigned and defeatist Catholics. Who are the defeatist Catholics? Those who are convinced that there is a disproportion of forces between us and our adversaries (which is true) and that we can do nothing more than accept the de facto situation (which is not true). The defeatist Catholics criticize the Kirchensteuer in private, but think it useless to criticize it publically, because they think nothing will change.
On January 20, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, said this in his homily for the Feast of St. Agnes: “with the blood of her young life, St. Agnes witnessed Christ, Son of God and only Savior of the world. And so she encourages also us here in Rome and Europe, to profess our Catholic faith publically, without fearing men.”
In Germany those who criticize the German Episcopal Conference publically and refuse thus to pay the Kirchensteuer, do not risk death, like St. Agnes, but risk being deprived of the Sacraments and in particular, of being censured socially. It is a hard trial certainly, but perhaps we ought to take example from those Catholics in England at the time of Elizabeth I, or in France, under the French Revolution, who were deprived of the Sacraments and persecuted, but stayed faithful to the Catholic faith. Secularized Europe needs heroism, not defeatism.