• Germany edition
 
How rich is the Catholic Church in Germany?
Photo: DPA

How rich is the Catholic Church in Germany?

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.”

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
Radicalized Germans join jihadist cause
Iraqi fighters near Tikrit. Photo: DPA

Radicalized Germans join jihadist cause

Hundreds of Germans have left their home country to fight alongside jihadists in Syria and Iraq, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. READ  

Germany frees female Russian spy early
Photo: DPA

Germany frees female Russian spy early

A Russian spy, jailed in Germany with her husband last year, has been freed early and allowed to return home, media reports said Friday, suggesting a possible prisoner swap. READ  

Germans face flogging after Singapore charge
Andreas Van Knorre being transported by Singapore police. Photo: Wallace Woon/DPA

Germans face flogging after Singapore charge

Two German men were charged Saturday with breaking into a Singapore metro depot and spray-painting graffiti on a train, offences punishable by jail time and flogging with a cane. READ  

Last-minute lawsuit filed over Nazi-era art hoard
The Museum of Fine Arts in Bern. Photo: Gian Ehrenzeller/DPA

Last-minute lawsuit filed over Nazi-era art hoard

A relative of late German art collector Cornelius Gurlitt lodged a claim Friday for his inheritance, a Nazi-era art hoard which he has bequested to a Swiss museum, a spokesman said. READ  

Schweinsteiger poised for Bayern return
Photo: Andreas Gerbert/DPA

Schweinsteiger poised for Bayern return

Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger is set to make his first Bundesliga appearance since the World Cup final on Saturday, Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola said. READ  

Suspected ETA identity forger detained
Photo: DPA

Suspected ETA identity forger detained

German state prosecutors on Friday said they have taken a Spanish national suspected of forging identification papers for Basque terrorist movement ETA while working at a university into custody. READ  

False teeth trigger school ‘poisoning’ scare
Photo; DPA

False teeth trigger school ‘poisoning’ scare

Emergency services showed up in force at a Ruhr school on Friday after a schoolgirl mistakenly treated her friends to grandpa’s denture cleansing tablets rather than vitamins. READ  

German bikes to carry Ebola lab samples
A doctor at a Guinean Ebola clinic in October. Photo: DPA

German bikes to carry Ebola lab samples

Germany has sent 400 motorbikes to the areas of West Africa worst hit by the Ebola epidemic to speed up testing for the virus. READ  

Merkel’s 1.5 tonne Xmas tree hits the road
Photo: DPA

Merkel’s 1.5 tonne Xmas tree hits the road

Donated by a private forestry concern, the 21-year-old fir was felled and loaded on a truck on Friday and dispatched to Berlin. READ  

Police arrest man over Russia-proof bunker
Weapons found by police in the bunker. Photo: DPA

Police arrest man over Russia-proof bunker

Police in Kelheim said on Friday they had arrested a man who hoarded guns, ammunition and bomb-making material in a nuclear-proof family bunker he built fearing an attack by Russia. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Win your Christmas list: €250 at Marks & Spencer
Photo: DPA
Politics
Can 'sorry' ever be enough for the Linke?
Sponsored Article
Shop Christmas gifts at Debenhams international store
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
Offer: Unlimited airmiles through December 19th
Sponsored Article
Ever wanted to try out home exchange?
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1989
Photo: DPA
Berlin
The Local's series on 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo: DPA
National
Which city is the worst for car crashes?
Photo: DPA
National
The folly of the foreigner road charge
Photo: DPA
National
The man who stopped Germany's trains
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
How to replace retiring baby boomers
Photo: DPA
Hamburg
Finger slicer's insurance scam fails
Photo: DPA
Gallery
See how Berlin has changed in 22 photos
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Want to study in Germany? These are the subjects to choose
Sponsored Article
International School on the Rhine: a legacy
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,269
jobs available
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists
Click here for the full job description
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd