When money and faith clash – Archbishop Gänswein on “disproportionate measures”

Strong words from Archbishop Georg Gänswein about the notorious German Church tax, the Kirchensteuer, in a recent interview. More specifically, the Prefect of the Papal Household criticises the measures taken against people who refuse to pay the tax: excommunication.

The Kirchensteuer is a state tax for the benefit of faith communities (not just the Catholic Church). When a citizen is officially registered as a member of a church of faith community, he is obliged to pay this tax. The only way to avoid paying this tax is to stop being a member of a church or faith community. Archbishop Gänswein explains the Catholic Church’s response to this:

gänswein“How does the Catholic Church in Germany respond to someone leaving the Church? With an automatic exclusion from the Church community, in other words: excommunication. This is excessive and incomprehensible. One can question dogmas, that hurts no one, no one is kicked out. Is not paying the Church tax then a greater misdemeanor against the faith than violations of the truths of faith? The impression created is this: it’s  not so tragic when the faith is at stake, but as soon as money is involved, the game is over. The sharp sword of excommunication when leaving the Church is disproportionate and in need of correction.”

This, and the entire fact of the Catholic Church making use of the Kirchensteuer, does more bad than good, in my opinion. Not only does it create the impression that money is more important than the individual and the various reasons that people may have to not want to pay the Church tax, it also ensnares the Church in the fiscal policies of the state, curtailing its freedom to perform her mission. Of course, money is a necessity, even for the Church, but it should never be a goal in itself. And this whole business of  excommunicating people with a simple stroke of a pen gives the impression of the latter.

Archbishop Gänswein continues:

“When the goods ultimately oppose the good – the faith – there remains only one option: one must free oneself of it. Full coffers and empty churches, this is a terrible gap, that can no longer continue going well. When the cash registers ring and the pews grow ever more empty, there will some day be an implosion. An empty church can not be taken seriously. Who is served when a diocese is extremely rich, but the faith has gradually seeped away? Are we so secularised that the faith barely plays a part anymore, or is even considered to be ballast? Ballast is cast off when it is no longer needed. Are we no longer in a position to proclaim the faith in such a way that people see that it is something great, something beautiful, which enriches and deepens life?”

These comments probably continue to make him unpopular among his brother bishops in Germany, but Archbishop Gänswein is unfazed. When asked about the probability of him being appointed to a diocese in Germany, he is clear that that is not going to happen, since no cathedral chapter is likely to choose him.

“It is indeed true: I have made no secret of my convictions. I have somehow been  branded in public as a rightwinger or a hardliner, without there being concrete examples for that. If the reason is that I do not speak in a roundabout way, but with clarity, than I have to say: Yes, that’s right. That is what I stand for. Now and also in the future.”

Nor does he have a desire to return home to be ordinary of a diocese. He is content with his duties at the side of Pope Francis and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI.

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German bishops on Ad Limina

dbk logoThe German bishops have announced the dates for their Ad Limina visit to Rome, later this month. The five-day pilgrimage to the graves of Saints Peter and Paul, as well as meetings with the Curia and several audiences with the Pope, will take place from 16 to 20 November. The last time the German Bishops’ Conference made an Ad Limina visit was in 2006, almost a  decade ago, almost double the time that should theoretically separate visits.

With 67 members, the Conference is so large that there will be three audiences with Pope Francis, with a final joint meeting on the 20th.

There are four Masses planned, one in each of the Papal Basilicas:

  • Tuesday 17 November, 4pm, in Saint John Lateran
  • Wednesday 18 November, 4pm, in Saint Paul-Outside-the-Walls
  • Thursday 19 November, 7:30am, in Saint Mary Major.

The Mass at the tomb of St. Peter, presumably on the 20th. is not open to the faithful because of limited space. The other Masses are open for attendance.

A press conference will be held on the final day, with Cardinal Reinhard Marx as president of the conference, in the Collegio Teutonico.

While the meetings with the Curia and the audiences with the Pope are private, the texts of the Pope’s addresses will undoubtedly be made public (whether he actually gives them or not – with the Dutch bishops in 2013 he did not give his planned address, after all). Pope Francis will find the German bishops firmly on his side in the refugee crisis, and he is not unfamiliar with some of the bishops – first of all Cardinal Marx, who is a member of the Council of Cardinals advising him about the reforms in the Curia – or their schools of thought. But as the German dioceses are among the world’s richest (and among the greatest financial donors as well), and the German state’s church tax causes unique and sometimes troublesome situations, Pope Francis may also have a thing or two to about income and expenses.

The Nuncio speaks – Archbishop Eterović on the state of the Church in Germany and abroad

eterovicArchbishop Nikola Eterović has been the Apostolic Nuncio to Germany since November of 2013. Katholisch.de interviewed him about a variety of subjects. I share some of his comments.

About his impressions of the German Church, which has been viewed critically across the world, he says:

“I consider the Catholic Church in this country to be very dynamic and involved. That is not easy, as Germany is very secularised, especially in major cities like Berlin. But the Church is well organised and wants to live according to the Gospel. That is seen, for example, in her role in society, by which she gives witness of Christ. In addition, the Church in Germany and also across the world, provides real aid, for example through Caritas and the relief agencies like Adveniat, Renovabis, Misereor, Missio, Church in Need, Bonifatiuswerk and others.”

Of course, as a diplomat the Nuncio needs to speak carefully. But that does not mean that the efforts of the Church in Germany are negligible. But there is always more than just the laudable work she does in the fields of charity, peace and justice, which becomes clear when Pope Francis’ recent comments that Europe is old and tired appear. Archbishop  Eterović says,

“In Germany the Church shows a decline in active faithful. And recently events have led to people leaving the Church because they no longer want to pay the Kirchensteuer [“Church tax” – ed]. I think that is quite problematic, and we need a new dynamic in catechesis, pastoral engagement, a new evangelisation. On the other hand I also see a certain passivity in individual faithful across Europe. In the end, more than 70 percent of the citizens of the European Union belong to a Christian confession. We must make use of that to better participate in society, for example to influence legislation when proposals do not meet with Christian ethics. In that way the “fatigue”, that the Holy Father spoke about, can be overcome.”

The Church tax, I have come increasingly to believe, is more than just problematic. Although the financial revenue may be used for good, it is a burden in the Church’s pastoral activities, as well as the faithful’s  access to the sacraments. The new dynamic mentioned by the Nuncio is the same “new evangelisation” that has been promoted by Pope Benedict XVI, and which now seems to have snowed under a bit. But we can’t allow it to be: we must take it up and make it happen.

The Nuncio also plays in important role in the selection and appointment of new bishops. In Germany, three dioceses – Berlin, Hamburg and Limburg – are awaiting a new bishop. Archbishop Eterović remains – rightly so – close-lipped about the state of these appointments:

“We follow the canonical rules and the respective concordats. The processes are ongoing, and I hope that the dioceses of Hamburg and Berlin will get new bishops in the coming year. The situation in Limburg is somewhat different. There is an Apostolic Administrator there, who is doing good work.”

Worldwide the Church is involved with politics, especially when it comes to peace, justice and development, as we have seen recently in the easing of relations between Cuba and the United States. But what about the influence of the Church on the regular faithful?

“We must in any case work on our pastoral care. Especially young people want to know what the Christian faith really means. With his charisma Pope Francis continuously manages to clarify the actuality of the Gospel and the message of Jesus. And I believe that the people out there are only waiting to rediscover this message: fraternal love and the love, justice and solidarity of God”.

Archbishop Nikola Eterović was born in Croatia in 1951 and ordained a priest of the Diocese of Hvar in 1977. In 1999 he was consecrated as Titular Archbishop of Sisak, and appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine. From 2004 to 2013 he was Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, and in 2013 he returned to the diplomatic service as Apostolic Nuncio to Germany. In 2009, he was given a new titular see, Vinkovci, as Sisak was re-established as a proper diocese in Croatia.