Anything But an Example For the World. The German Church Is a Black Hole

Anything But an Example For the World. The German Church Is a Black Hole

Money, bureaucracy, worldliness, excommunications for those who do not pay. The biting accusation of Joseph Ratzinger against Catholicism in Germany. The same one that enjoys the favor of Pope Francis

by Sandro Magister

ROME, October 11, 2016 – “In Germany some persons are always trying to destroy me,” pope emeritus Benedict XVI has said in the book-length interview released in recent days.

And he has cited the example of the “fabrication” mounted against him by some of his countrymen when he changed the old prayer of Good Friday against the “perfidi Iudaei.”

But in the same book Joseph Ratzinger has lodged against the German Church an accusation much more general in its scope: that of being too “worldly” and therefore of having disregarded the strong appeal for “de-mundanification” that he issued during his last journey to Germany as pope, in the memorable address in Freiburg on September 25, 2011:

> Meeting with Catholics engaged in the life of the Church and society

The key passages of that “revolutionary” address – his definition – of the pontificate of Benedict XVI are reproduced further below.

But first there is another point of the book-length interview that calls for attention. It is the one in which Ratzinger speaks out against the system of ecclesiastical taxation in Germany and its nefarious effects:

“In effect I have serious doubts about the correctness of the system as it is. I do not mean that there should not be an ecclesiastical tax, but the automatic excommunication of those who do not pay it, in my view, is not sustainable. [. . .] In Germany we have a Catholicism that is structured and well-paid, in which Catholics are often employees of the Church and have a union mentality in regard to it. For them, the Church is only an employer to be criticized. They are not motivated by a dynamic of faith. I believe that this represents the great danger of the Church in Germany: there are so many collaborators under contract that the institution is turning into a worldly bureaucracy. [. . .] This situation saddens me, this excess of money that yet again is not enough, and the bitterness that it generates, the sarcasm of the circles of intellectuals.”

There is a striking contrast between this tough criticism and the favor that the German Church itself enjoys today from the pope who succeeded Benedict, as if this were the avant-garde of the desired renewal of Christianity worldwide under the banner of poverty and mercy, when instead it is plain for all to see that in Germany the Church is for the most part neither poor nor merciful, but if anything suffocated by its own apparatus and above all on its knees to the world on many crucial questions of morality and dogma.


In order to understand Ratzinger’s criticisms better, it must be kept in mind that in Germany the Kirchensteuer, the ecclesiastical tax, is obligatory by law for all those who are registered as members of the Catholic Church or the Protestant Churches.

This tax brings the German Catholic Church more than 5 billion euro per year. An imposing sum, more than five times as much, for example, than the revenue brought in by the Italian Church with a state system of contribution – the “eight per thousand” – that is not obligatory but voluntary, and with a constituency of Catholics more than double that of Germany.

But since in Germany those who do not want to pay this tax must cancel their membership in the Church with a public act before a competent civil authority, and since these cancellations have been increasing in recent years, with the effect of reducing revenues, the German Catholic Church has implemented a countermeasure to discourage this attrition.

It did so in 2012 with a decree that stipulates for the leave-takers a series of deadly canonical sanctions, as if they were excommunicated and infected, without sacraments or even burial:

> Decreto generale della conferenza episcopale tedesca

To begin with, those who cancel their membership in the Church “may not receive the sacraments of penance, of the Eucharist, of confirmation and of the anointing of the sick, except in danger of death.”

And if then, after an attempt at reconciliation made by the local pastor, the restoration of the reprobate to the fold should fail, there could be even worse in store for him:

“When in the behavior of the believer who has declared his departure from the Church there should be seen an action that is schismatic, heretical, or of apostasy, the ordinary will see to taking the corresponding measures.”

A long way from mercy. In Germany, the divorced and remarried receive communion everywhere with no worries, homosexual marriages are increasingly blessed in church, but woe to anyone who removes his signature from the payment of the Kirchensteuer.

In an interview in the “Schwäbische Zeitung” of July 17, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Ratzinger’s prefect of the pontifical household and personal secretary, also denounced this glaring contradiction:

“How does the Catholic Church in Germany react to those who do not pay the tax for the Church? With automatic exclusion from the ecclesial communion, which means: excommunication. That is excessive, incomprehensible. Dogmas can be called into question and no one is driven out. Is it perhaps that the non-payment of the Kirchensteuer is a more serious infraction than transgressions against the truths of faith? The impression is that, as long as faith is at stake, the matter is not so tragic, but when money comes into play, the time for joking around is over.”

Not to mention the influences that the German Church can wield over many dioceses in the southern hemisphere, which it finances with its revenues, in addition to the Holy See itself, of which it is a prominent benefactor.

But now let’s hear from Ratzinger and his “revolutionary” address in Freiburg of September 25, 2011, as unheeded as it is of extraordinary relevance, not only for the Church of Germany.


For a Church “detached from the world”

by Benedict XVI

For some decades now we have been experiencing [in Germany] a decline in religious practice and we have been seeing substantial numbers of the baptized drifting away from church life. This prompts the question: should the Church not change? Must she not adapt her offices and structures to the present day, in order to reach the searching and doubting people of today? […]

Yes, there are grounds for change. There is a need for change. Every Christian and the whole community of the faithful are called to constant change. […] But the fundamental motive for change is the apostolic mission of the disciples and the Church herself.

The Church, in other words, must constantly rededicate herself to her mission. […] “Preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).

Through the demands and constraints of the world, however, this witness is constantly obscured, the relationships are alienated and the message is relativized. […] In order to accomplish her mission, [the Church] will need again and again to set herself apart from her surroundings, to become in a certain sense “unworldly”.

The Church’s mission has its origins in the mystery of the triune God, in the mystery of his creative love. […] It has come down to humanity, to us, in a particular way through the incarnation and self-offering of God’s Son, […] not merely to confirm the world in its worldliness, […] but in order to change it. The Christ event includes the inconceivable fact of what the Church Fathers call a “sacrum commercium”, an exchange between God and man. The Fathers explain it in this way: we have nothing to give God, we have only our sin to place before him. And this he receives and makes his own, while in return he gives us himself and his glory. […]

he Church owes her whole being to this unequal exchange. She has nothing of her own to offer to him who founded her. […] Her raison d’être consists in being a tool of redemption, in letting herself be saturated by God’s word and in bringing the world into loving unity with God. […] And therefore she must always open up afresh to the cares of the world, to which she herself belongs, and give herself over to them, in order to make present and continue the holy exchange that began with the Incarnation.

In the concrete history of the Church, however, a contrary tendency is also manifested, namely that the Church becomes self-satisfied, settles down in this world, becomes self-sufficient and adapts herself to the standards of the world. Not infrequently, she gives greater weight to organization and institutionalization than to her vocation to openness towards God, her vocation to opening up the world towards the other.

In order to accomplish her true task adequately, the Church must constantly renew the effort to detach herself from her tendency towards worldliness and once again to become open towards God. […] One could almost say that history comes to the aid of the Church here through the various periods of secularization, which have contributed significantly to her purification and inner reform.

Secularizing trends – whether by expropriation of Church goods, or elimination of privileges or the like – have always meant a profound liberation of the Church from forms of worldliness, for in the process she as it were sets aside her worldly wealth and once again completely embraces her worldly poverty. […]

History has shown that, when the Church becomes less worldly, her missionary witness shines more brightly. Once liberated from material and political burdens and privileges, the Church can reach out more effectively and in a truly Christian way to the whole world, she can be truly open to the world. She can live more freely her vocation to the ministry of divine worship and service of neighbor. The missionary task, which is linked to Christian worship and should determine its structure, becomes more clearly visible.

The Church opens herself to the world not in order to win men for an institution with its own claims to power, but in order to lead them to themselves by leading them to him of whom each person can say with Saint Augustine: he is closer to me than I am to myself (cf. Confessions, III, 6, 11). […]

It is not a question here of finding a new strategy to relaunch the Church. Rather, it is a question of setting aside mere strategy and seeking total transparency, not bracketing or ignoring anything from the truth of our present situation, but living the faith fully here and now in the utterly sober light of day, appropriating it completely, and stripping away from it anything that only seems to belong to faith, but in truth is mere convention or habit. […]

All the more, then, it is time once again to discover the right form of detachment from the world, to move resolutely away from the Church’s worldliness. This does not, of course, mean withdrawing from the world: quite the contrary. A Church relieved of the burden of worldliness is in a position, not least through her charitable activities, to mediate the life-giving strength of the Christian faith to those in need, to sufferers and to their carers. […] Only a profound relationship with God makes it possible to reach out fully towards others, just as a lack of outreach towards neighbour impoverishes one’s relationship with God.

Openness to the concerns of the world means, then, for the Church that is detached from worldliness, bearing witness to the primacy of God’s love according to the Gospel through word and deed, here and now.

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