Is the Catholic Church Reversing Itself on Freedom of Conscience?

John ArmstrongUncategorized

A dear friend of mine, who grew up Catholic and then left the Catholic Church some years ago, became an evangelical in his adult life. This good friend then returned to his birth church several years ago. His reasons are both thoughtful and prayerful and compel me to respect him and love him all the more. My friend continues to be a lover of all of Christ’s people, thus of the global catholic church. He supports me personally and profoundly challenges my vision in ways that he doesn’t even know. I count this brother, who I almost never get to see in person as I would like, to be a unique and true friend. He recently sent this important and passionate email to me:

Dear John–

Your charitable handling of things Catholic in your blog and the Act 3 Weekly help to “reign in” my anger and frustration, but this has been a difficult week.

On Sept. 24th the German Bishops declared that if you don’t pay the church tax, then you cannot receive the sacraments.  Since 1933 the state collects taxes for the Jewish, Catholic, and Evangelisch (Lutheran); I don’t know about the others. So you have to declare on your taxes if you are Catholic. [The story can be read here.]

In 2007, a professor of theology challenged the system. He went to the authorities to get his church tax removed. On the form, he added a comment: “I am only leaving the tax system, I am still a practicing Catholic.” (or similar to that). It caused a conundrum and he got off the hook after going to a civil court.

Since the abuse scandals in the church, many folks have been leaving or refusing to pay the tax; as a result the church is trying to protect their income. To remain a Catholic in good standing it is not a matter of merely professing your faith, you must also pay the state collected church tax in Germany.

Professor Hartmut Zapp, who challenged the system, stated that he would voluntarily support the church but that he does not believe that it is right to do it under duress. Prof. Zapp [was] in court in Leipzig on Wednesday, Sept. 26th for a final ruling on the matter. You can read the story here.

I wrote to Professor Zapp yesterday just to try and do something to show my concern. If you read the news links that I included, you’ll see that both liberal and conservative Catholics are upset and voicing their concern regarding the bishops’ action. In case anyone wonders, I do believe that if you are a member of a church you should support it. [My friend also cited an interview with the recently deceased Cardinal Martini that he notes gave him a measure of hope. I concur. You can read that  interview here.]

My friend wrote Dr. Zapp the following email:

Dear Professor Dr. Hartmut Zapp,

I am very saddened by the news that I have read coming from the Bishops of Germany
this week.

I am a Catholic layperson who is involved in “one on one” dialog with Protestant and
Evangelical Christians. It has been very difficult (because of all the scandals) to
constantly try to defend the Catholic Church and to assure Protestants that things
have changed for the better. Now, it will be next to impossible with the “rebirth of Tetzel” !

I am writing to express my appreciation for your efforts and to assure you of my prayers (and “Yes”, I will also be praying for the Bishops…but with more difficulty).

If God is to be glorified, we must offer Him a free gift, not a compulsive tax.

May Grace and Peace be multiplied to you !

Honestly, it pains me to write a blog like this one. I am concerned about this decision and believe it not only hurts the Catholic Church but the mission of the whole church in Europe. The overwhelming majority of young people have already abandoned the church. I believe this decision will potentially reach far beyond Germany. Will the Catholic Church now move away from the decree of Vatican II that I wrote about last week? This new decision is surely a step in the wrong direction. I share my Catholic friend’s deep concern. If you are Catholic, and love your church faithfully, I would urge you to also express this concern to everyone in leadership that you can. This is not a left/right partisan issue. Don’t let Hans Kung’s non-orthodox theology, which I profoundly reject regarding doctrinal issues such as the Trinity and the incarnation, keep you from the wisdom of his expressed concerns on this particular issue. This is an issue of fidelity to the ongoing reformation of the Catholic Church, a stance that the Catholic Church committed itself to with regard to freedom in 1964 at Vatican II. I pray the Vatican, and the bishops, will reverse this stance. There is a synod of bishops, gathering to discuss evangelization, that begins in Rome on October 11. Several of my Protestant friends have been invited as guests to offer response to the bishops. I sincerely hope this gathering will address this German tax issue with deep concern. I believe it truly threatens the church’s good intentions with regard to new evangelization. I speak as a true friend, not as an enemy.