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More on the German Church of Simony

by Christopher A. Ferrara
February 10, 2017

The system by which the corrupt German hierarchy, the world’s richest, feeds off the people through government coercion warrants further treatment here as an example of precisely the worldliness, clericalism and Pharisaism that Francis is constantly denouncing when it comes to orthodox Catholics, but never seems to notice where it actually exists.

Yesterday’s column discussed the German “church tax” and how German Catholics who refuse to pay it are denied the sacraments and are thus effectively excommunicated. I noted that Father Hans Langendörfer, S.J., General Secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference, when asked by Edward Pentin “And you’re at risk of excommunication if you don’t pay it?”, answered: “Yes. We regard this [non payment], as it always was, as a public withdrawal of Church attendance….” I noted as well that Langendörfer characterized the tax as a “membership fee” — in essence a mandatory payment of money in return for sacraments and other benefits of Church membership, which is the very definition of simony.

A bit more background is in order on how the corrupt German bishops extract nearly $6 billion a year from German Catholics under this bizarre system:

German taxpayers who identify themselves as Catholics are subject to an annual income tax surcharge of 8 to 9 percent of their income, which is then remitted to the Catholic Church by the German government. The only way to avoid the tax is to declare to the government — not to the Church — that one no longer identifies as Catholic.

This religious tax collection system resulted in litigation in the German court system. As The New York Times reported back in 2012, a German appellate court held that, as a matter of religious freedom, Catholics were free to avoid the tax by declaring that they had left the Church. The court further observed, however (apparently in obiter dicta), that the same religious freedom would allow a recusant Catholic to continue attending Mass and receiving the Sacraments despite his declaration to the government.

Faced with a potentially huge loss of revenue following this decision, the German Bishops’ Conference, to quote the Times, promptly “issued a crystal clear, uncompromising edict, endorsed by the Vatican. It detailed that a member who refuses to pay taxes will no longer be allowed to receive communion or make confession, to serve as godparents or to hold any office in the church.” The rationale stated by the decree was that “Whoever declares they are leaving the church before official authorities, for whatever reason, impinges on their responsibility to safeguard the community of the church, and against their responsibility to provide financial support to allow the church to fulfill its work…”

Before the issuance of this decree, however, German Catholics who engaged in this tax dodge were only liable to excommunication, which had to be formally declared by ecclesiastical authority, but they were otherwise not barred from the sacraments by any sentence of Church authorities.  That situation was changed by the decree. As the BBC reported: “Until now, any German Catholic who stopped payment faced eventual excommunication. Although the measures laid out in the decree are similar to excommunication from the church, German observers say the word is carefully avoided in the decree.”

While the word ‘excommunication’ was “carefully avoided,” the effect is the same as excommunication: denial of the sacraments, including even a Christian burial, if “the person who left the Church shows no sign of repentance before death.” There is also a bar to being godparents or to holding any office in the Church — in short, an excommunication in all but name. The German media call this “excommunication lite,” according to Reuters.

Now it might be pointed out that declaring you are not a Catholic on a government form would constitute, at least objectively, the sin of apostasy­: i.e., a total renunciation of the Catholic faith, not unlike renouncing the faith under the threat of martyrdom. But what if a German Catholic doing so does not subjectively understand the consequences of his action? What if he continues to hold the faith but decides to dissemble on a tax form, perhaps because he cannot afford to pay 8 to 9 percent of his income to the Church over and above the already onerous German income tax? Is he subjectively guilty of apostasy? And what if the same Catholic leaves Germany and moves to, say, the United States? Does he then magically regain his membership in the Catholic Church or does the German tax form he filed years before still bar his admission to the sacraments in America on the grounds that he is an apostate? If not, then can he really be said to be, subjectively speaking, an apostate who must repent of his apostasy as opposed to a tax dodger guilty of lying to the German government?

Strange questions about a bizarre situation. I have no answer to them. But the bottom line is this: the corrupt German hierarchy demands a “membership fee” in the form of coerced tax payments amounting to a substantial portion of personal income, failing which one can be denied access to the sacraments. That is simony, pure and simple. Martin Luther, who exploited the legitimate practice of indulgences to justify his revolution against the Church, would have had a field day with what the German bishops are doing today­.

What but neo-Pharisaism is involved in the ridiculous hairsplitting by which the German bishops seize upon the declaration on a tax form effectively to cast someone out of the Church, while open heretics and public adulterers remain undisturbed in their Church membership — so long as they pay their “membership fee”! — and many of these same bishops openly promote heresy and sacrilege themselves?

Without providing evidence for the charge, Francis once condemned the alleged practice of posting in parishes “a price list hanging there for baptism, blessings, Mass intentions” (which this writer has never seen in any parish). But what of the practice of extracting up to 9 percent of a Catholic’s income through government coercion as a “membership fee” under penalty of being denied the sacraments and even a Christian burial? From Francis, not a word of condemnation.

But then, the German bishops who have become wealthy under this scheme are among Pope Bergoglio’s closest collaborators in the process of institutionalizing the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and “remarried” Catholics living in a state that even the Catechism of John Paul II describes as “public and permanent adultery.”  

Consider this absurd situation as but one of innumerable signs of the unparalleled ecclesial crisis foretold in the Third Secret of Fatima — including the “final battle” over “marriage and the family” of which Sister Lucia warned Cardinal Caffarra.