The Catholic Church in Germany is special in many ways. Church Tax, automatically collected by the state for the Catholic Church and diverse religious communities, is one of them.

Not always does the Catholic Church spend the revenues from Church Tax wisely. Worse than that, some of the money also goes to “Catholic” groups and activities that are in more or less direct opposition to the teachings of the Church. So what if some faithful Catholics would find their conscience does not permit them to contribute to funding these activities, and, instead of paying Church Tax, want to donate the equivalent amount of money to orthodox Catholic charities and groups?

To do this, they would have to go to the registrar and, either verbally or in written form, declare that they wished to leave the Catholic Church (I guess, verbally the formulation could be somewhat adapted). Until 2012, the position of the Church in Germany was that the consequence of this was automatic excommunication. However,  in 2006 the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts decided that this is not the case:

The substance of the act of the will must be the rupture of those bonds of communion – faith, sacraments, and pastoral governance – that permit the Faithful to receive the life of grace within the Church. This means that the formal act of defection must have more than a juridical-administrative character (the removal of one’s name from a Church membership registry maintained by the government in order to produce certain civil consequences), but be configured as a true separation from the constitutive elements of the life of the Church: it supposes, therefore, an act of apostasy, heresy or schism.

When a retired canon lawyer sued the archdiocese of Freiburg for having excommunicated him nevertheless (a lawsuit that moved up to the Federal Administrative Court of Germany), the Bishops’ Conference seems to have become really eager to settle the matter. In September 2012, they published a document(“Allgemeines Dekret der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz zum Kirchenaustritt”) stating that someone not paying Church Tax, (while not truly excommunicated) is still barred from receiving the sacraments unless in immediate danger of death.

Apparently, this decree has the blessing of Rome – says the German Bishops’ Conference, claiming that the decree was shown to the Holy Father before publishing and citing a decree of the Congregation of Bishops of 28 Aug 2012, Prot. No. 834/84. Unfortunately, this decree is not available online – nor, apparently, was a group of laymen (never mind their agenda for the moment) given the opportunity to read this decree, after letters to the German Bishops’ Conference, the nuncio, and others. On another website, the authority of the Congregation of Bishops to countermand the 2006 decree of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts was questioned.

So, all is very murky.

My questions to the valued knowledgable readers of this blogs are therefore:

  • Is someone not paying Church Taxes in Germany (for reasons and under conditions described above) sinning?
  • Would it be licit for a priest to administer the sacraments to such a person, in spite of the decree by the Bishops’ Conference?

I would be very much obliged for clarifying replies.