• Germany's news in English
 

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
Dad who leapt from bridge with kids named
The man jumped 95 metres from the Rombachtalbrücke. Photo: Störfix / Wikimedia Commons

Dad who leapt from bridge with kids named

The identity of a man who last weekend jumped off a railway bridge with his children's bodies after stabbing them to death emerged in media reports on Wednesday. READ  

Court jails couple over son's 'new age' treatment
Photo: DPA

Court jails couple over son's 'new age' treatment

A couple have been jailed for three years by Germany's highest court after they broke off medical treatment of the woman's 12-year-old child's cystic fibrosis in favour of 'new age' treatments. READ  

Chief prosecutor sacked in media treason row
Harald Range (l) and Heiko Maas. Photo: DPA

Chief prosecutor sacked in media treason row

Germany's justice minister on Tuesday fired the chief prosecutor in an escalating row sparked by a controversial treason case against a blog accused of revealing state secrets. READ  

Greece crisis
Berlin's tough line splits European public opinion
Angela Merkel and Alexis Tsipras. File Photo: DPA

Berlin's tough line splits European public opinion

A study released on Tuesday shows that Germany's firm stance on Greek reforms has split European public opinion. But of all the main parties to the negotiations Berlin still fared best in the polling. READ  

Woman tries to take pony abroad in a car boot
Photo: DPA

Woman tries to take pony abroad in a car boot

A woman from Lower Saxony was stopped by police on Tuesday – for trying to carry a Shetland Pony out of the country in the boot of her Fiat Panda. READ  

Hamburg bunker blast and fire injure 38
Photo: DPA

Hamburg bunker blast and fire injure 38

UPDATE: A fire and explosion in a World War II-era bunker injured at least 38 people in Hamburg on Tuesday morning. READ  

Local list
Germany's top refreshing summer drinks
Photo: DPA

Germany's top refreshing summer drinks

Just like countries all over Europe, there's no shortage of multinational cola and other global thirst quenchers to be had in German shops. But what do you sip when you want a little local flavour? Read on to find out... READ  

Forest tragedy as best man kills groom-to-be
File photo: DPA

Forest tragedy as best man kills groom-to-be

A family outing turned into tragedy on Monday, when a best man in Thuringia accidentally killed the groom-to-be just days before his wedding. READ  

Slash CO2 emissions to save oceans: scientists
A humpback whale breaching. Photo: Wwelles14/Wikimedia Commons

Slash CO2 emissions to save oceans: scientists

German scientists said on Monday that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must begin falling immediately if mankind is to have any hope of preserving Earth's oceans as we know them today. READ  

Weekend heatwave to follow Tuesday showers
Sun shining through an apple tree in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA

Weekend heatwave to follow Tuesday showers

Germany can expect a cooler Tuesday with heavy showers in the west of the country before returning to high summer conditions over the weekend, the German Weather service said. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Business & Money
Start-up helps new Berliners short cut bureaucracy
National
The 1,000s of Germans massacred after the Second World War
Sport
Germany star scores own goal with PR gaffe
Features
'Women-only' parking: sensible or sexist?
Politics
Satire and reality blur in parody party's strife
National
13-year-old boy detained for trying to join Isis
Culture
Berlin restaurant serves up Greek Crisis Menu
Rhineland
Doctor on trial after woman wakes in morgue
Society
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Outsourcing drives Apreel's Europe growth
Society
Police bust kinky Bavarian couple over painful love-making
Politics
Merkel brings Palestinian girl to tears
Hamburg
Amateur archaeologist finds Nazi gold hoard
National
Could Merkel learn a lesson in love from this doppelganger?
Travel
Why you should stay in Germany for the summer holidays
Sport
German press tell Schweinsteiger 'good riddance'
National
Hamburg gets a bouncing 100kg baby girl
Society
In North Germany, money sometimes DOES grow on trees
National
Hero mechanics stop Bavaria shooting spree
International
Denmark says that border controls are coming
National
Did hackers take control of German missile battery?
Politics
Munich gives gay pride green light
Business & Money
Berlin rent controls hit prices hard
National
Fighting to breastfeed in public without shame
Society
Ice cream for dogs 'gobbled up in one gulp'
Education
Are hotpants a feminist issue?
Rhineland
Lion cub reunited with mother
National
How the heatwave is cracking Germany's Autobahns
International
Why the French are more sympathetic to Greece than the Germans
Sponsored Article
Crans-Montana: International expat hub
Gallery
Police seize pensioner's WW2 heavy weapons haul
National
How to survive the Europe-wide heatwave
Sport
Is Schweini already out of the door at Bayern?
Politics
How German media shaped the Greece crisis
National
Car assembly robot crushes worker at Volkswagen
Rhineland
Weathermen red-faced over heatwave snow warning
Society
An eye for an eye? Mum protects child in playground with pepperspray
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's final day in Germany
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's second day in Germany
National
Queen Elizabeth II's first day in Germany - as it happened
National
Bus passengers tell fake racists where to get off
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

7,097
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd