On October 4 I posted a blog that came from a letter written to me by a dear friend who grew up Catholic and then left the Catholic Church to become an evangelical Protestant. The friend I refer to is named Rick. As I noted before Rick returned to the Catholic Church several years ago and is an active communicant member. Rick and I spoke on the phone last week about this letter and the response that some of you offered to it. I also personally spoke to several Catholic leaders, including knowledgeable priests, who are my close friends because of my ecumenical mission. After I posted Rick’s initial letter (10/4/12), and read the several responses some of my Catholic readers offered, I felt further information was needed regarding the German bishops decision regarding Professor Hartmut Zapp.
It is important to say that this decision of the German bishops is not final. There is a proper appeal process and the Vatican will follow this procedure for dealing with this decision to ex-communicate Dr. Zapp. This means the decision is not final. This point underscores why it is so important to press the issue in public. So in the interest of further consideration, prayer and encouragement I now share Rick’s follow-up letter.
My father was from Germany; I made my first trip there in 1985, when he was 83.
I was able to see my relatives face-to-face for the first time. Since then, I have been
going back on both business and pleasure, and some relatives have visited me in
California. My last trip was in 2007; I attended a wedding at the church in Regensburg
where Pope Benedict’s parents are buried.
Our family has kept a few students from Germany (winners of their equivalent of
our National Science Fair; they have gone on to become scientists in their country).
We still keep in touch with some of these former students and have visited them in
I was not unaware of the state collection of a church tax in Germany. However I
wasn’t aware that opting out “used to” result in automatic excommunication from
the Catholic Church.
When I first heard of the new decree, I Skyped my cousin in Germany, but he had
not yet heard the news. He got back to me the next day after consulting with both
a Catholic and a Protestant pastor. They said: “It’s just the way it is in Germany, like
joining a club; you pay your dues.”
The new ruling does not mention excommunication, and it could even appear to
be reaching out (to those who opt out of paying the tax) if it weren’t for the threat
of “no sacraments”, among other things. Why did the bishops need to mention
that up front? There could have been dialogue and the possibility of reconciliation…
that is what grieves me about this decree.
Father Francis J. Moloney, SDB, in his book: “A Body Broken for a Broken People“,
in the chapter on “Embracing Sinners”; page 196 says:
“It is of deep concern to me, as a committed and practicing Christian, to preserve and
even defend the tradition of exclusion from the Eucharist of those who knowingly,
willingly, consciously, deliberately, and freely break ‘communion’ with those who believe
in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and Savior. Yet it is of equal concern to me
that the Christian church recognize the truth of the New Testament’s precious insight:
the Eucharist is always a gift of the Lord to his failing community. It is my perception
that this tradition has been lost, to be replaced with other traditions that show little
or no dependence upon the person and teaching of Jesus as they are recorded in
the New Testament. Somehow, a balance must be kept in an understanding of the
Eucharist not only as a place where sinners gather to be both nourished and challenged
by their Lord but also as a sacred encounter that must not be cheapened through the
admission of those who have no right to such a ‘communion.’ ”
I may be wrong, but I believe that retired Professor Dr. Hartmut Zapp was not wanting
to get out of his obligation to support the church, but was trying, in a small way, to
begin the process of separation of church and state, especially regarding apostasy.
He won the first time around; see this August 28th, 2009 article:
Zapp argues that the question of what constitutes a formal act of leaving the church was decided conclusively in a letter from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts dated March 13, 2006, to Bishop William Skylstad, then president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, but circulated to all episcopal conferences by order of Pope Benedict XVI.
The letter (Actus Formalis Defectionis ab Ecclesia Catholica) states:
3. The juridical-administrative act of abandoning the Church does not per se constitute a formal act of defection as understood in the Code, given that there could still be the will to remain in the communion of the faith.
The following quotes are from a September 29th, 2009 article in a German newspaper,
the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which appeared in Concordat Watch (URL below):
Zapp wanted to continue praying, going to confession, receiving the Holy Communion and eventually be buried by the Church. Yet his faith, his salvation should not be linked to his petty role as taxpayer.
It may sound like a legal quibble, but there’s much more to it than that. Zapp is only one of many churchgoers who ask themselves: How is it that my belief is linked to a compulsory contribution, whose use I cannot designate? “It disturbs me that a member of the Church of Christ loses his salvation as a result of a declaration before a government agency”, he says, What, if you please, have the German tax authorities to do with his religion? “The German bishops are the only ones in the whole world who hold this opinion.” And the bishops also set themselves explicitly against the will of Rome.
“The church tax can be an inducement to leave the church”, admits Thomas Begrich, who leads the Finance Department of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). “But not the reason.” Many people, he said, had simply lost their relationship to the church and didn’t really think about their membership. “But as soon as they have to pay church tax, then they decide to leave.”
However, even more worrying to the church authorities are the real faithful like Zapp. Among them are to be found the most vehement opponents of the church tax. They complain that the churches, thanks to their concentrated financial power from taxes, subsidies and care contributions have turned into omnipresent, profit-oriented social service concerns. Their central function, matters of faith, is thereby neglected.
Hartmut Zapp considers that actually he’s already won the big quarrel about him leaving the Church: “Above all I wanted to provoke a debate inside the Church. It was dumb of
the Freiburg Diocese to go to court. Otherwise it’s likely that no one had become interested in my case”.
Norbert Lüdecke, a professor of canon law at Bonn University, said that while every disobedient Catholic is to be punished based on the sin committed, the bishops’ decree effectively placed refusal to pay church taxes nearly on par with the most severe offenses in the church.
“Now refusing to pay taxes is considered an offense only slightly less bad than denial that Jesus Christ is the son of God,” Mr. Lüdecke said. “While at the same time, there is no specific punishment for other offenses, such as, for example, the sexual abuse of minors by clerics.”
At this point, I agree with Canon lawyer Ed Peters (who is presently at the Synod in
Rome); he says: “The German Church tax dispute needs more reflection”
“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.
NOTE: See the comments at the end of the article, especially: Johannes H.
The following blog by Inge, in the Netherlands, is very insightful (also see her bio):
It’s not a bad idea if the Catholic Church would encourage the practice of tithing more. I give 10% of my net income to charity and the church. I did that even when I was on welfare, only earning 50% of minimum wages. It’s not that hard to tithe. Many Protestants think it’s normal as a Christian to do so and I also know a lot of American Catholics who tithe. Stress personal responsibility instead of relying on weird structures like Church Tax.
In the mean time, the Catholic Church in Germany got another dent in her image, because the message wasn’t communicated the right way by German bishops and not understood by a lot of international media outlets. If you do a Google search, lots and lots of results repeat the same: only people who pay taxes have access to the Sacraments, a statement which simply isn’t true. The reason why this mistake is being repeated is that the German bishops’ conference did a poor job explaining why people who defect from the Catholic Church exclude themselves from the Sacraments. Miscommunication again, something the Church seems to excel in.
Well John, I think that’s enough from me for now. I am looking forward to what canon
lawyer Ed Peters, from Detroit, has to say on the subject when he gets back from Rome.
I’ve also written to a couple of sources in Germany in an effort to acquire the Bishop’s
decree in English.
I know that all of the above is far from a laughing matter, but I’m exhausted; would
you permit me to close with a smile? My evil side wants to order some T-shirts (they
were common in the workplace) and send them to certain bishops in Germany:
“The flogging will continue until morale improves.”