Canon lawyer: German Church tax dispute needs more reflection

Dr Edward Peters CNA US Catholic News 9 27 12 Canon lawyer Ed Peters, who teaches at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Mich.

A leading canon lawyer has called for further reflection on the German Church's decision to refuse the sacraments and Christian burial to Catholics who do not pay the country's Church tax.

Dr. Edward Peters, a canon lawyer and the first layman to serve as a consultant to the Church's highest court, explained that excommunication is invoked today "only against the gravest ecclesiastical offenses, things like abortion, desecration of the Eucharist, or certain illegal conferrals of Holy Orders."

"To invoke the consequences of excommunication, even if that term is not used, against those who object to paying a civil Church tax, raises some very serious questions about justice toward the faithful," Peters said.

At present, all Germans who officially register themselves as Catholic pay a religious tax of 8 to 9 percent of their annual income tax bill. Therefore, if a German Catholic has a tax bill of 10,000 euros per year, they will also incur an extra 800-900 euros in Church tax. The money is used to by the Catholic Church to help run its network of parishes, schools, hospitals and welfare projects.

In recent years, however, some Catholics have stopped paying the tax, saying they're disillusioned with the Church over issues such as clerical abuse. Meanwhile, the German bishops have become increasingly concerned at the number of Catholic immigrants to Germany, including many Polish workers, who also do not pay the tax.

"At issue …is the credibility of the church's sacramental nature. One cannot be half a member or only partly a member. Either one belongs and commits – or one renounces this," Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, President of the Germans Bishops' Conference, said Sept. 24.

Dr. Peters says the issue is "very complex" and "needs to be thought through by both sides very carefully," since "the obligation of Catholics to contribute to the support of the Church is itself a serious one."

Peters, who was recently appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as a canon law expert for the forthcoming synod on the New Evangelization, suggests that all sides should continue further discussion while avoiding hasty decisions or actions. 

"Long-standing civil-canonical mechanisms for rendering that support – even if those mechanisms are in need of reform – should not be challenged piecemeal, lest greater confusion about the duties of the faithful and the proper role of the state in regard to religion be spread thereby," he said.

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