National Secular Society - UK December 23, 2010
Pope faces more protests on his visit to Germany next year
The Pope will be paying a “state visit” to Germany next September, which means he’ll be leaching off the taxpayer again on the basis that he is a “head of state” and only the “head of a religion” when it is more convenient.
Just as in Britain, there are stirrings of opposition to the visit. Democratic politicians are up in arms at the prospect of “His Holiness” speaking to the Bundestag (Parliament). Volker Beck, the Green party floor leader, has protested that inviting a religious leader to address the Bundestag is unprecedented and the wrong place to speak about religion.
“The German Bundestag is justifiably cautious when inviting a foreign head of state,” Beck told the German daily Die Welt. “Firstly, the pope is the head of a religion and, secondly, the head of a state.” He added that he didn’t know which other religious leaders would then need to be invited to address parliament in the interest of religious diversity if Benedict speaks.
More pressure could come from outside groups, especially those opposed to the Vatican’s policies toward homosexuality. “The invitation for the pope to speak in the German parliament is completely incomprehensible,” Manfred Burns, the spokesman of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, said in a statement. “The Bundestag genuflects before a religious leader who refuses to acknowledge our constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination.”
Beck, who is openly gay and a longtime gay rights advocate, said that his party wasn’t “for or against” the pope but that religion is a debate that belongs outside of the Bundestag.
Other groups may raise their voice as well. The decision by a government-appointed panel to start a €120 million fund for children abused while in foster care, the majority of which were in Protestant or Catholic church-run homes, sparked outrage by a victims’ group, claiming that the compensation was too little. The pope has also recently been criticised for allegedly letting a known paedophile priest continue to work with children while he was archbishop.
Other bad news for Benedict is that the number of Catholics leaving the Church in Germany is continuing to increase. It is thought that a combination of repulsion at the continuing child abuse revelations and a desire not to pay taxes to support the Church are behind the increase in defectors.
Recent studies by the Frankfurter Rundschau daily and the Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa) news agency show that more people left the Church in 2010 than in any previous year.
The Bavarian diocese of Augsburg, where Bishop Walter Mixa was forced to stand down in April over physical abuse and embezzlement accusations, recorded some of the highest figures: As of mid-December, 11,351 had left the church, compared to 6,953 in 2009. In the south-western Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese, 17,169 Catholics had left the church as of mid-November, almost seven thousand more than in 2009. Trier, Wuerzburg, Osnabrueck and Bamberg all recorded significant increases in departures in 2010.
German citizens who are members of a religious group officially recognized by the government in Berlin automatically pay a “church tax” deducted from their salary.
Carsten Frerk is Co-Chairman of Korso, the Coordinating Council of Secular Organizations in Germany, wrote an article in Frankfurter Rundschau about the jaw-dropping financial perks that the Church has managed to wangle for itself at the taxpayers’ expense. Here is a provisional translation of the article provided by the European Humanist Federation, to which the NSS is affiliated.
On the face of it, the churches and their two charities seem to be the largest non-Government providers of health and welfare services in Germany. For example, in 2009, two-thirds of the 50,000 child care centres were run by private institutions. In turn, more than half of these day care centres were under the auspices of the churches; so in total 36 percent of children are in religious care. But this is just one example of a myth, the “Caritas myth”. If a nursery is “nursery of the Church of St. Hedwig”, it does not mean that the parish funds this day care centre.
The state, and therefore all taxpayers, in 2009 gave a total of 3.9 billion euros for denominational day care. The funding rules are the responsibility of the individual states (Lander) and they have different rules. In Hamburg and Bavaria Christian day care centres operate without any money from the churches, in North Rhine-Westphalia, they provide twelve percent of the budget of “their” day-care centres. That is all. But the churches never tire of protesting that they need their church tax for church hospitals, day care and other social institutions. Well-meaning Christians also believe this.
In a representative survey, church members were asked whether they would leave the Church if the churches gave very little from the church tax to their social services. 47 percent of the respondents said they would leave. If that were true — as it is — they would quit the Church. In the 14–27 age group as many as 60 percent said they would leave. This could explain why the churches are silent about the public and state financing of their social and health facilities or even write untruths.
The links between church and state became closer last year when €19.3 billion was provided to the churches. Of this €9.3 billion was in the form of church members’ payments of the church tax to Protestant and Catholic churches. The other €10 billion was made up of allocations, assumption of costs, and grants from the state. There is virtually no facility or service useful only for the churches that is not largely — sometimes completely — financed from taxation.
Thus €510 million was provided for a few theological schools, religious colleges, and training schools for church music. Religious education in schools received €1.7 billion from the state. Even religious schools are largely funded by the federal states. They meet 84–95 percent of costs, which total to €2.3 billion a year. Church adult education receives around €100 million. And for the “overseas work” of the two major German churches, the Christian relief and mission agencies received €270 million from the state.
The most striking example of the public funding of church affairs is the so-called “state benefits”. These are based on legal entitlements dating from feudal times, when there was an identity of interests between the nobility and the church. The end of the monarchy in 1918/19 was also the end of the (Protestant) established church. The programme called “a free church in a free state” was intended to end the financial and other ties between state and church completely. But the constitutional mandate to end those old contracts has been ignored since 1919.
Activists for church rights have converted this “order for separation” as it is called by experts, into other forms of guarantee. In 2009, the state also paid €443 million so that staff, including Catholic bishops and archbishops, could receive their salaries from the state. The connections between state and church have therefore, contrary to that constitutional mandate, again become close. The churches meet only one-third of the costs that are ascribed to them by the general public as their own contribution. This is not only undemocratic, but also dishonest.
A modern, democratic clarification of the relationship between state and church in Germany is long overdue. The first step must be to stop government transfers arising from alleged obligations to the church. It is not only the grants for staff costs: there are construction subsidies for about 3,000 places of worship, which amounted last year to €100 million. Both payments are based on a feudal identity of monarchy and church (the union of throne and altar), which has not existed since 1919.
Carsten Frerk is Co-Chairman of Korso, the Coordinating Council of Secular Organizations. His “Purple Book of Church Finance – How the state finances the churches” was published by Alibri Verlag.
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