Germany’s “Pay to Pray” Regime

Fr. Gerald E. Murray’s excellent article Bad News from Deutschland may suggest another, more urgent topic for the next Extraordinary Synod of Bishops: the collapse of a Church that has broken the relationship between its teaching mission and its union with the universal Church. Toward that end, it’s worth pondering some further, quite disturbing elements in this already sad story.

Murray is absolutely right when he summarizes the report sent to the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the family and evangelization by the German Episcopacy:  “The widespread rejection of Church teaching revealed by this report is a self-indictment of the Church in Germany. Obviously, very little has been done in the last fifty years to explain and promote Church teaching on marriage, family, and sexual morality.”

And it’s also true that in this report there is “a total absence of regret or remorse” and no “self-criticism.” It is much, much easier to blame Rome’s “intransigence” than the bishops’ own failure as teachers and shepherds. But the result will certainly be the ongoing collapse of the Church in Germany. Such rebellions against Church doctrine inevitably lead to disunity and loss of faith.

The unspoken truth is that, over the past fifty years, the German hierarchy, as well as in other European countries, has been virtually silent on Humanae vitae and other authoritative documents that have set forth the Church’s perennial teaching on human sexuality in the clearest possible terms. The exodus of German Catholics from the Church over this same period witnesses to the connection between moral anarchy and the loss of faith.

The experience of the Anglican Church surely should be an object lesson to those bishops of the German Church who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Everything they are effectively calling for in this document already exists in the Anglican Communion, and has for decades. The Anglicans long ago embraced the whole program set forth in this German document, resulting in a wholesale defection from the Church of England, which leaves it today virtually a skeletal church, a hierarchy with almost no laity.

Church leaders need to understand that Church unity is not simply a matter of unity of dogmatic teaching, but a unity of life based on unity of moral teaching. You simply cannot have a truly unified church where there is no unity in the moral life of its members. And where this unity of life disappears, the faith of the members simply cannot hold. If the German Church were to succeed in revising the Church’s moral teaching on human sexuality, to adapt to the desires of its already virtually apostate members, the result would not be greater unity but less, not fuller churches but emptier churches, as in England today.

Moreover, the effect of the virtual abandonment of the traditional norms of human sexuality held by all Christian churches until the last century has also led to the new demographic crisis that all European countries now are beginning to face. There will be fewer German Catholics in the churches, not only due to the loss of faith, but to the decline of the German population in general.

       Cologne Cathedral

Now do the bishops take any responsibility for this crisis, partly due perhaps to their silence on the relationship between marriage and procreation, love and generosity toward life?

Recent news stories from Germany may provide a clue as to one reason for this decades-long silence and current call to change teachings on human sexuality. The British newspaper the Guardian recently assailed the German hierarchy for what it and other European publications are referring to as a “pay to pray decree” by the German Bishops’ Conference.

It reports that the Conference has now issued a decree that warns German Catholics who choose to opt out of paying the German “church tax” that they face exclusion from the sacraments, a religious burial, and parish life.

We might translate that as: they will not be excluded from the sacraments if they vote for abortion and euthanasia, but they will be denied the sacraments and Christian burial if they don’t pay the church tax. You can see why this is such big news overseas.

Some European journals are also calling for a reconsideration of the close financial link between Church and State in Germany. The Church draws a hefty income from this so-called church tax, and the clergy are paid rather large salaries by the state. Most Americans would be a bit shocked to learn that German bishops make between €8000 ($10,965) and €11,500 ($15,763) a month, depending upon their seniority. That comes to between $131,000 and $189,000 a year. Priests make less – but still far more than their American brother priests.

In short, the German clergy may have a real financial interest in keeping the flock happy so they continue to pay that tax and not drop out.

Granted, there may be no direct link between the silence of the Shepherds and the fact that their salaries depend upon the taxes paid by their sheep. But given human nature, it’s not so easily disregarded either.

I would bet that these same bishop and priests would readily agree that the affluent life style of bishops and cardinals during the Renaissance played a role in the corruption of the Church and the emergence of the Reformation. Perhaps they might reconsider their life styles today. And just take an honest look at their courting the voters over the last few decades by a tacit and unholy agreement: we say nothing, you stay with us.

Fr. Mark A. Pilon (1943-2018) was a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA. He received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He was a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at