Catholics who decide to skip the tax will be unable to receive Communion, be confirmed or go to confession, Die Welt newspaper wrote on Thursday. The rule, which takes effect on September 24, also bars non-payers from becoming godparents or belonging to a Catholic congregation.
Critics have argued that believers can still count themselves as members of the Catholic community and practice their faith without paying the church tax – which amounts to 8 or 9 percent of a person's income, depending on the state.
A “general decree” published on Thursday by the German Bishops Conference says church-leavers have violated their obligation to make a “financial contribution that allows the church to fulfill its role.”
Die Welt reported that Pope Benedict XVI personally approved the document, which puts an end to months of wrangling over the issue.
Couples can receive an exemption to be married in the church, as long as they pledge to maintain their faith and raise their children as Catholics. But the powers that be can deny church tax dodgers a Catholic burial “if the person who has left the church has not shown any sign of remorse before death.”
Though the bishops' text avoids the word “excommunication,” the consequences of the all-or-nothing rule are essentially the same.
If a Catholic notifies the registry office that he has chosen to renounce his faith, thereby allowing him to stop paying church tax, he will receive a letter from a priest that includes a list detailing the consequences of his decision – and an offer to meet for “reconciliation” talks.
More than 100,000 people have left the Catholic Church in Germany each year since 1990 – with more than 126,000 deciding to part ways with the church last year.