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

Fr. Mark A. Pilon

Fr. Mark A. Pilon, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA, received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He is 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

  • Manfred

    The German people are certainly easy targets, what with Luther, the Jewish genocide, the progressive (read: modernist) ideas at Vat. II. However, they are merely following one of the “teachings” of Vat II: COLLEGIALITY. Each of the “churches” are separate, and the bishop serves as the “pope” in that church.
    The authority in the Church, formerly considered vertical with Rome at the apex, would now be considered horizontal with the Pope being the “first among equals”. The German bishops have not taught moral theology for fifty years? Cdl Dolan admitted that the American bishops had not taught moral theology since 1968.
    The Church in Germany is collapsing? The Germans want to allow divorced and remarried catholics(sic) to receive Communion? The US Church led the world in granting annulments for decades. Cdl Dolan stated that pro-abortion, pro same-sex marriage, living with a young woman not his wife Gov. Cuomo “a Catholic in good standing.” It is really well past the time when we point our finger at anyone other than ourselves. The apostasy is endemic to the entire Church.

  • Mack Hall, HSG

    Here in 501C3-Land we all pay for thousands and thousands of tax-exempt denominations because Brother Cletus and his Snakes o’ Salvation are morally equivalent to the ancient Faith. I’m not sure our ecclesiastical funding makes any more sense than Germany’s.

  • Jim

    It would be worthwhile to learn whether the German bishops (and priests) receive, in addition to their cash salaries, the allowances American bishops and priests receive for housing, food, clothing, and car, plus cook, maid service, and lawncare.

  • Aramis

    Cut out cancer where you find it before it infects the rest of the body.

    Make Germany a special province of the Franciscans selected for vows of poverty. Immediately sever financial dependence upon the post modern state, then prepare for persecution.

    On the plus side, the logistics of this would not be so difficult considering that once some fire is applied to the situation the true church in Germany will be revealed as incredibly small.

  • DS

    The recent scandal involving the lavish spending of German Church funds by Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst (popularly known as “Bishop Bling”) on his residence illustrates the magnitude of the money problem. Such episodes are highly corrosive to the small remnant of authority of the institutional Church, especially when clergy live better than the vast majority of their flock.

    It’s not limited to Germany. Archbishop Myers of Newark is expanding the bishop’s vacation home (which will become his full-time residence upon retirement) to a whopping 7,000 sq. ft. and will include indoor and outdoor pools, a hot tub, five bedrooms, a three car garage and an elevator.

    When the shepherd acts in such ways, is it really surprising that some of the flock falls away?

    The power of money corrupts the entire life of the Church, including its ability to teach effectively about sexual morality. Perhaps that is why Jesus taught much more about the former than the latter.

  • Kay

    No wonder they persecuted Ratzinger the way they did. We have the Chinese approved Catholic Church and evidently, the German approved Catholic Church linked with their governments. And, we have the “American” Catholic Church. Maybe that is the church Dolan was referring to. They certainly are willing to take $ from the government for their programs.
    Wise Benedict to know what is coming for his beloved homeland. Blessed be our Francis who has come to safe the Church today. May we be smaller and mightier!

  • cermak_rd

    Mark Hall, not morally equivalent, the government doesn’t make that determination. Legally equivalent? Yep. It’s an all comers policy. I certainly don’t want the government determining which religion is worthy and which isn’t.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Fr. P:

    How beautifully stated: “a unity of life based on unity of moral teaching.”

    The small Church is of course what really exists everywhere now – it lies hidden in the ossified husk of the legacy Church – much of which clings in an ungodly symbiosis with the increasingly hostile host organism – the gigantic and universal state.

  • ron a.

    It would be interesting to hear how those that do justify this arrangement and find it compatible with authentic Christianity. It seems to me, they either no longer believe, or, have twisted their minds, in such a way, so as they could believe and accept most anything—as long as it assured their survival.

    It must be hard to truthfully live the Faith in Germany. I suggest that those that do need our respect and admiration and, most of all, our prayers.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    Only when we begin to hear about the martyrdom of our bishops will the Catholic Church is on its road to recovery. Let’s pray.
    Lest any of them think that more accommodation is going to be a viable course for the Church of the future, we’ll just point them in the direction of any of the protestant denominations for re-education.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Church in Germany is image of “progressive-political-theocracy.” Highly paid clergy and Bishops doing bidding of the new “god” – the state.

  • Suzana

    Many have drawn very obvious conclusions in the comments, especially as to the Angican Church and our ‘American Catholic Church’. Our good Pope Emeritus, Benedict, made many profound and true statements, which sadly received little notice at-large. In the Postmodern First World countries of the West the Faithful will become a stronger, but a smaller (and persecuted) remnant Church. We must not forget that Jesus declared “I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Have no fear, little flock.

  • Hen

    “Have no fear” while still keeping a sense of humor, since our own good Pope Francis directly contradicts his good predecessor the Pope-Emeritus Benedict as to Church size.

  • Bruno

    I’m beginning to think that state funding for the Church is an evil snare. If priest celibacy and Rome centeredness allow for a Church independent from the secular powers, “church tax” has the opposite effect. The Church doesn’t need this kind of support, she is under the care of the Lord. Perhaps this arrangement was one of the factors contributing for the mundane character of the Church of Germany.

  • John Hinshaw

    What I have been asking for since the German Bishops issued their “report” (like “reporting” dogs walk on four legs) is a survey showing the percentage of German Catholics who accept the authority of their local Bishop. I’m sure the percentage would be roughly equal – any chance they’ll call for a re-examination of Church teaching there?

  • A sinner

    It seems they have no respect for the religious freedom of Catholics whose beliefs they cannot tolerate. Protestants who reject Protestant teachings can and do become Catholic, why can’t Catholics who believe Protestant teachings become protestant, even if they are bishops.