The Synod: German Bishops and German Taxes!
Several Synod watchers are suggesting that consensus may not be attainable for two of the Pope’s reform initiatives: Communion for divorced Catholics and a more welcoming attitude towards gays.
The Communion proposal seems to have generated more than its fair share of criticism from the floor.
Yet it has the backing of its leading proponent, Germany’s Cardinal Walter Kasper; and the German Conference of Bishops. But no other conference seems to have weighed in.
Why this focused German concern at such high levels?
Could there be profane and perhaps sordid considerations?
As the end of the Synod (“The 14th ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops”) approaches with a closing Mass in San Pietro next Sunday, October 25, astute media observers are suggesting an impasse due to the unwillingness of the Synod fathers to come up with two-thirds voting approval of the Pope’s two signature ‘reforms’ presented at the beginning:
The Sacrament of Communion for divorced Catholics; and a more welcoming attitude towards gays.
The face-saver at Synod’s end could be a study group ‘for deeper discernment’. In other words, kicking the proverbial can down the road.
Most of the negotiating energy during this Synod has been consumed on the issue of Communion for the divorced.
In the U.S. some 40% of Catholic marriages hit the rocks, below the national average of 50% for all marriages. But this Synod initiative has its strongest sponsorship from the German episcopate, in particular from Cardinal Walter Kasper, with active and vocal support from a clear majority of the German Bishops’ Conference:
“…the majority of German bishops favor […] Kasper’s proposal to allow some divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics to receive Communion” (National Catholic Register, February 2015);
“…we are not just a subsidiary of Rome” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx (ibid.).”
No other national bishops’ conference has been this outspoken on the most contentious issue in the Synod.
Warum? Perché? Why?
Well, ‘follow the money’.
Germany suffered from the Berlin Wall for almost thirty years, but in some matters there is no wall of separation between church and state. As is widely known, there is a national Church Tax levied upon the taxpayers, between 8 and 9% of income; almost a tithe. When a Catholic child is baptized the civil authorities are informed, and this follows the baby to adulthood and the joys of paying income taxes.
If, for whatever reason, the individual wishes to avoid the tax, he/she must go to the authorities and basically ‘renounce’ the faith for which they had been signed up.
A small matter, you say? Not so…for the five-year period running from 2009 through 2013, more than 820,000 adult German Catholics have dis-enrolled as Catholics by filing a formal statement.
To make things worse, the scope of the 8-9% Church Tax bite on income was expanded about a year ago, to include capital gains on asset sales.
For the most recently reported year, 2014, a total of almost 218,000 German Catholics formally renounced their faith, while also walking away from a hefty capital gains tax liability. The 2014 adult Catholic dropouts (technically apostates, I suppose) amounted to a jump of almost 40,000 over the 2013 total of 179,000.
So how is all of this connected with the Synod?
In past years, by anecdotal evidence divorced Catholics in smaller communities were on the receiving end of unfriendly scowls from other worshippers, and sometimes were denied Communion since their illicit status was widely known in the parish.
Keep in mind that the heaviest concentration of Germany’s Catholics is in the Deep South dioceses of Munich, Regensburg, Freiburg, Trier, and Würzburg – all of which are much more rural than most other areas of the Federal Republic.
Now put into the mix the recent extension of the income tax bite to capital assets, which can hit folks close to retirement pretty hard as they downsize but then watch almost 10% of their gain go to a Church that is decidedly unwelcoming. And you don’t need a financial adviser to do the math.
This would seem to explain the vehemence of the German bishops in support of Communion for divorced Catholics. A stretch?
Well, why has no other national episcopal conference weighed in so heavily, to the point of telling Rome to ‘buzz off’, “we are not just a subsidiary of Rome?”
Do you hear echoes of Martin Luther, whose 500th comes up in less than two years?
In any event, as Sherlock famously commented, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. “