WARSAW, Poland (CNS) – The German bishops’ conference defended a controversial decree that said Catholics who stop paying a church membership tax cannot receive sacraments.
“There must be consequences for people who distance themselves from the church by a public act,” said Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, conference president, in defending the Sept. 20 decree.
“Clearly, someone withdrawing from the church can no longer take advantage of the system like someone who remains a member,” he said at a Sept. 24 news conference as the bishops began a four-day meeting in Fulda. “We are grateful Rome has given completely clear approval to our stance.”
The archbishop said each departure was “painful for the church,” adding that bishops feared many Catholics were unaware of the consequences and would be “open to other solutions.”
“The Catholic church is committed to seeking out every lost person,” said Archbishop Zollitsch, whose remarks were reported by Germany’s Die Welt daily.
“At issue, however, is the credibility of the church’s sacramental nature. One cannot be half a member or only partly a member. Either one belongs and commits, or one renounces this,” Archbishop Zollitsch said.
Catholics make up 30 percent of Germany’s population of 82.3 million, about the same proportion as Protestants, with two percent belonging to Orthodox denominations, according to government figures.
Interest in the Catholic Church revived after German-born Pope Benedict XVI’s April, 2005 election, but baptisms and weddings continue to decline. Church statistics show that about 13 percent of Catholics attend Mass weekly, compared with 22 percent in 1989.
A total of 126,488 Catholics asked to stop paying the membership tax and be removed from registers in the 27 German dioceses during 2011, according to the bishops’ conference. In 2010, some 180,000 Catholics took the same step.