Will the German Church give up Church tax?
Faced with a significant decline in faithful—2008 marked a watershed in people leaving the Church—and a ground breaking lawsuit, the German bishops’ conference has gathered in Fulda for its autumn plenary with that question at the forefront of its agenda.
A Freiburg-based, retired canon lawyer Hartmut Zapp, refused to pay his Church tax but said he was still a member of the Church. Church tax is an annual tithe that is part of income tax unless one opts out (and it seems that the Church can choose to refuse you the Sacraments if you are no longer formally a member). Zapp’s bishop, who also happens to be the head of the German bishops ‘conference, disagreed. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said that Zapp could not stop paying tax while claiming to still belong to the body of the Church. Zapp contested this, pointing to what he sees as a weakness between canon law and secular law.
He was taken to court earlier this summer. Zapp won the case. It was unprecedented in Germany.
Despite heavy discussions this week, Archbishop Zollitsch has said that they would appeal against the Court’s ruling. He said: ”We want to see if it is in fact possible in terms of state law to leave the Church in legal terms but to say simultaneously that it is not a departure from the Church.”
According to the German newspaper Die Welt, Zapp does not count himself to the rebels. His truck is with the uncomfortable relationship between the German Church’s identity as a body in the law and its spiritual role. He believes the German bishops, not he, are the ones in breach of the Vatican’s vision for the Church. He told the Welt earlier this summer, “My criticism is geared towards generally equating leaving the legal structure of the Church with a separation from the Church, as well as the threat of unjust application of the heaviest sanctions (which to my mind are not covered by the canon law) at lessened support of the Church.”