• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

How rich is the Catholic Church in Germany?

The Local · 18 Oct 2013, 09:19

Published: 18 Oct 2013 09:19 GMT+02:00

The €31-million bill for Franz-Tebartz Van-Elst's residence, including €15,000 on a bath tub and €350,000 on built-in-wardrobes, has put the finances of the Catholic Church, much of which comes from taxpayers and state subsidies, into the spotlight.

Carsten Frerk, an outspoken critic of the Catholic Church in Germany, estimated its wealth at around €430 billion with about €140 billion of that in capital, the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper reported.

Frerk researched the church's ledgers for a year for a book published in October 2010. But only a small part of the church's finances are public and many of their records remain secret.

The opaqueness of the church's finances was no surprise to Frerk. "For the big churches, transparency is very damaging to their business plan. Nobody wants to donate to a rich organization," he said.

But some details of the church's vast holdings and investments are publicly known.

Bild newspaper reported on Thursday the church was Germany's second-biggest employer after the state, running everything from schools and kindergartens to Tellux, the TV company which makes the Tatort crime drama.

It also makes money from its breweries and selling mineral water called Adelholzener.

The church also owns ten banks, countless insurance businesses and 30 housing associations, Bild reported.

€5 billion collected in taxes

But the bulk of the current controversy is over the extent to which the church is financed by the public purse and what it then does with that money.

The church's largest public form of income is the "church tax", a system whereby taxpayers register their membership of a church or religious group, and a percentage of their tax goes to that church.

The tax dates back to the medieval tithes, a one-tenth share of goods collected by churches in the Middle Ages.

Anti-Church campaigner Peder Iblher told The Local there was little appetite among the country’s main parties to reform or scrap the “church tax”.

"All attempts to bring into question the church tax fall on deaf ears with conservatives, but also with large parts of the SPD,” he said.

Germans may avoid the tax by registering as having "left" the church, but it costs money to do so - in strongly-catholic Bavaria, opting out will set you back €31 in fees.

The Catholic Church collected €5.2 billion in church tax in 2013, a 15 percent increase on 2000. But in order to keep up with inflation, it would have needed an increase of 22 percent.

"In the long run, we'll see a structural decline of the church tax, and churches need to consider that in their financial plans," a spokesman for the diocese of Cologne told the Frankfurter Allgemeine.

But the church has no need to worry about bankruptcy, since it also receives a state subsidy every year, a throwback from a still-valid 1803 agreement between them and the government of the day.

The subsidies paid to the Catholic and Protestant churches out of the treasury this year hit a record high of €481 million, €6.6 million more than in 2012, reported the Humanist Union of Germany (HVD).

Alongside these benefits, the church enjoys exemption from corporation, trade, income and capital gains tax thanks to its status as an "organization of public rights." Universities also have this status, but have their finances are partially controlled by the state, while the churches do not have this oversight.

But Franz-Tebartz Van-Elst’s spending, leading him to being dubbed the “bishop of bling”, appears too much for the politicians. Chancellor Angela Merkel warned this week the scandal was damaging the Catholic Church.

And a spokesperson for Merkel’s CDU party told the Frankfurter Allgemeine: "The churches should keep in mind the standards that apply across society, with regard to the use of their own money."

But they added: "We should keep a sense of proportion here, and not just bring the entire state support for the church into question.”

Story continues below…

The scandal has also led to some churches revealing the extent of their reserves. Cologne, the largest and reportedly richest diocese in Europe, said on Tuesday it had reserves of €166 million in 2012. The the small diocese of Trier had a reserve of €84 million, Reuters reported.

Tebartz-van Elst's seat, in the small town of Limburg - with a population less than a thirtieth of Cologne's - holds reserves of €100 million.

READ MORE: Catholic bishop spends €350,000 on wardrobes

Alex Evans/tsb

Follow us on Twitter @thelocalgermany

Like The Local Germany on Facebook

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
German spies want right to keep tabs on teens
A person looking at an image of fighters on a laptop screen. Photo: DPA.

Spies should have the right to keep communications data relating to minors aged under 16, a senior member of Germany's domestic intelligence service has said.

Algerian man cleared of New Year's sex assault in Cologne
The trial in Cologne on Friday. Photo: DPA.

A German court on Friday threw out sexual assault charges against an Algerian man stemming from New Year's Eve violence in Cologne after the victim said she could not identify the defendant.

History
German Mother’s Day: Florists to Nazis and back again
A heart that reads. "For my loving mother". Photo: DPA.

American Mother’s Day: started by a grieving daughter. British Mother’s Day: stemmed from Christian tradition. German Mother’s Day: started by some florists looking to sell more flowers.

Germany 'expects Turkey to stick to EU refugee deal'
Photo: DPA

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expects Turkey to stick to a deal to limit refugee flows to the EU even after the announced resignation of its prime minister, her spokesman said Friday.

The voices who bring English movies to German ears
Voice actor Gerrit Schmidt-Foß is better known as Leonardo diCaprio to most Germans. Photos: Marco Justus Scholer/DPA

Expats often complain about dubbing at the movies in Germany. But one artist wants to make us all value their hard work.

Brit in critical condition after driving on wrong side of road
Firefighters examine the wrecked British car. Photo: Polizei Adenau.

A British man is in life-threatening condition in southwest Germany after he caused an accident by mistakenly driving on the left side of the road.

Right-wing AfD leader verboten in Munich beer hall
Left: Frauke Petry, DPA photo. Right: Hofbräukeller, photo by Jorge Royan/Wikimedia Commons.

The manager of a Bavarian beer hall said he's had enough with the "right-wing mindset".

Most Germans don't have any Muslim friends
84 percent of non-Muslims have never seen the inside of a mosque. Photo: DPA

Almost two-thirds of non-Muslim Germans don't know any Muslims personally, a new survey has showed, casting light on increasing unease over the religion's place in society.

Frankfurt police hunt gunmen after broad-daylight shooting
Police forensics officers examine the victims' car, with bullet holes clearly visible in the windscreen. Photo: DPA

Police are hunting for unknown gunmen who shot and seriously wounded two men in broad daylight in central Frankfurt on Thursday.

More Germans doubtful on EU-US TTIP pact: poll
Tens of thousands of Germans have taken to the streets in protest against the pact. Photo: DPA

Only 17 percent see "mostly advantages".

Sponsored Article
What's the best way for expats to transfer money abroad?
Culture
The 6 German words you need to know for spring
Sponsored Article
Becoming an expat: where to start
Culture
6 weird and wonderful ways Germans celebrate May 1st
Gallery
Feast your eyes on Germany in springtime bloom
Sponsored Article
How to launch your international career
National
4/20: Five things to know about weed in Germany
Berlin
Police break up hipster swarm at vegan restaurant opening
Politics
Merkel allows Erdogan case against German satirist to go ahead
Travel
7 of Germany's most jaw-dropping national parks
Hamburg
Gay penguins move to Hamburg to settle down
Business & Money
See-through €5 coin has collectors lining up
Health
Vegan hemp powder recalled over fear toddlers getting high
International
6 ways Mexico and Germany are secretly the best of friends
Munich
Drunk man falls onto tracks, 3 trains pass before anyone notices
Culture
The 7 most German things that happened at the 'German Grammys'
National
Could Germany ban diesel cars from city centres?
Travel
Eight things you never knew about the German Autobahn
Society
Police force naked driver to trek to brothel on foot
National
Bavarian town finally strips Hitler of honorary citizenship
Society
Brandenburg faces wrath of Flying Spaghetti Monster
International
German retiree 'fed to dog' by Russian wife in Mallorca
National
Ordinary Germans toast love online in face of Brussels bombings
National
Germany calls for "strength in unity" after Brussels bombings
7,825
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd