Hornberger's Blog

Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
Here's the RSS feed or subscribe to our FFF Email Update to receive Hornberger’s Blog daily.

Catholic Dependency on the Dole


A classic example of the horror of dependency that comes with a dole society comes out of Germany. According to a fascinating article in the New York Times, Germany’s Catholic bishops are up in arms over a decision of a German court to permit Catholics to leave the church.

What do the courts have to do with German Catholics leaving the church?

Well, it turns out that part of the income tax that the German government imposes on German citizens goes directly to the Catholic Church within the country. The tax amounts to 8 or 9 percent of the income taxes paid by the citizenry.

How long has this arrangement been going on? For more than a century. According to the Times, “Like many European countries, Germany’s churches are independent but function in partnership with the state, which collects taxes from members of established religions and then funnels the revenues back to the religious organizations, for a fee, in keeping with a 19th-century agreement following abolishment of an official state church.”

How much is involved here? $6.3 billion for the Catholic Church and $5.5 billion for Protestant churches. According to the Times, “The money goes to support hospitals, schools, day care, and myriad other social services, but a sizable amount of the Catholic money is channeled to the Vatican.”

The problem is that many German citizens don’t like paying the tax. So, they’re just resigning as formal, registered members of the Church, which enables them not to pay the Church tax.

That’s got the Catholic bishops all riled up. They see the court’s decision that upheld the right of Catholics to leave the church (and thereby avoid paying the tax) as a threat to Catholic influence on society.

Unfortunately, the bishops have decided to retaliate rather than turn the other cheek. The Times reports: “The Catholic Bishop’s Conference in Germany issued a crystal clear, uncompromising edict, endorsed by the Vatican. It detailed that a member who refuses to pay taxes will no longer be allowed to receive communion or make confession, to serve as godparents or to hold any office in the church. Those who leave can also be refused a Christian burial, unless they ‘give some sign of repentance,’ it read.”

Do you see what dole dependency does to people? Imagine that — refusing communion, which the Second Vatican Council proclaimed is “the source and summit of the Christian life,” to Catholics simply because they refuse to pay a state tax that funds the Church.

Let’s break down what is happening here.

We begin with the proposition that taxes are based on force. The government forces people to pay taxes. If you don’t pay your taxes, the government will initiate force to effect collection of them. It will, for example, impose a lien on your home. It will foreclose its lien with a foreclosure sale. The highest bidder at the sale will become the new owner of your home. The new owner of your home will secure a writ of possession, which will be served by a team of U.S. marshals. It will command you to immediately vacate your home (because legally it’s no longer your home). If you resist, they will place you under arrest. If you resist with force, they will meet force with force. You will lose. You will lose your life if you use deadly force against the agents.

Now, suppose the Catholic Church forced a person, at the point of a gun, to fork over a portion of his income to fund the Church. Wouldn’t everyone, including the German bishops, immediately recognize the evil in such an act? It would constitute stealing, a grave sin under Catholic doctrine.

But notice how the bishops see nothing morally wrong with the government’s doing the dirty deed on behalf of the Church. It’s a classic demonstration of how the welfare state can corrupt the conscience and moral principles of religious people.

What about the fact that the German Catholic Church uses the money to do good? Does that place the Church in a different position?

Would it make any difference if the Church did good with the money it stole from its parishioners? Of course not. Stealing is wrong even if the thief uses it, say, to help the poor. Why should it make any difference, from a moral standpoint, if the government is doing the dirty deed on behalf of the Church?

The plain fact is that it is morally wrong for the German government to forcibly take people’s money and give it to the Catholic Church.

Why can’t Catholic officials see that? Why not instead call for abolishing the tax completely and then depend on voluntary donations from the Germany people?

Because like the welfare state dole has done to people here in the United States, the dole has caused the Germany bishops to lose their sense of self-reliance and independence as well as their faith in freedom, free will, and God Himself.

After all, here in the United States the government doesn’t fund the churches. They rely on voluntary donations from people to fund their operations. What if people don’t voluntarily donate to the churches? Then they go out of business. That’s what freedom is all about.

But the churches in America haven’t gone out of business. Americans have voluntarily chosen to fund them with donations. That’s how they get built. That’s how they operate. Yes, there is a tax deduction involved, but don’t forget that before the income tax was adopted, the churches, museums, opera houses, libraries, and foundations were funded entirely by voluntary donations.

(Note: Americans are forced to fund Catholic Charities, a nonprofit foundation, through their taxes, just as Germans are forced to fund their churches. Unlike Germans, however, American taxpayers cannot opt out of funding Catholic Charities.)

So, why don’t the Catholic bishops in Germany operate like the churches here in America? Because after more than a century of the Catholic Church’s being on the government dole in Germany, the bishops cannot imagine life without it. It’s a sad testament of what socialism does to the human spirit.

No doubt there is also a corrupting effect on the German people themselves. I’ll bet that they donate very little to the churches, which would be another factor instilling fear and anger within the bishops. But the likelihood is that the German people think to themselves, “Why should I donate to my church when the government is already taxing me to fund it?”

Would the Catholic Church in Germany survive without the legalized plunder and loot that currently fund its operations? Would Protestant churches, which are on the same government dole, survive? Would Jewish synagogues make it without their church tax and subsidy?

Well, consider Muslim mosques in Germany. For some reason, the German government’s tax collection-dole system doesn’t apply to them. They depend entirely on voluntary donations to operate. It’s precisely what the Catholics, Protestants, and Jews in Germany should be doing as well.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.