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Catholic Church closes its doors to German nontaxpayers

Roman Catholic churches in Germany have implemented a new decree designed to keep congregants from leaving the faith for tax purposes. If they don't pay the state church tax, they can't go to confession or Communion.

A new decree by the German bishops' conference now bars Catholic adherents from receiving sacraments, such as Communion or Confirmation if they don't pay the "church tax." The new rule went into effect on Monday as an attempt to curb falling attendance.

"This decree makes clear that one cannot partly leave the church," a bishops' conference statement said.

Currently, German citizens who register themselves as belonging to a religious group such as the Roman Catholic Church must pay an amount of roughly 10 percent of their annual income tax bill. The state then redirects the money to the respective religious group. Germany has enforced a "church tax" since the 19th century.

Citizens who opt out of the tax must undergo a formal process to receive the status "nonreligious." Yet, some still attend church.

"It is not possible to separate the spiritual community of the church from the institutional church," the statement added.

Now, clergy members are expected to refuse the sacraments to churchgoers who haven't paid the tax. The decree also bars these congregants from becoming godparents to Catholic children.

'Bad timing'

Following the decision, the Catholic-affiliated organization We Are Church issued a statement that criticized the bishops' decision, saying it showed not only bad timing, but a weak strategy for keeping parish numbers afloat.

"Instead of tackling the reasons for church-leaving in large numbers, this bishops' decree is a threat to the people of the Church," the organization's statement read.

"[The decree] is not going to motivate people to remain loyal or to join the community of those who pay their church tax," it said.

Roughly one-third of Germany's 82 million citizens are registered as Catholic. Dioceses see an average of 120,000 parishioners officially "leave" the Church every year - a number which has risen sharply following the sex-abuse scandals in 2010. News agency reports did not indicate how many of those have left only to avoid paying the tax.

kms/tj (Reuters, AFP, dpa)