for Associated Press on Oct. 11, 2012
BERLIN (AP) — The road to heaven is paved with more than good intentions for Germany's 24 million Catholics. If they don't pay their religious taxes, they will be denied sacraments, including weddings, baptisms and funerals.
A decree issued last week by the country's bishops cast a spotlight on the longstanding practice in Germany and a handful of other European countries in which governments tax registered believers and then hand over the money to the religious institutions.
In Germany, the surcharge for Catholics, Protestants and Jews is a surcharge of up to nine percent on their income tax bills — or about €56 ($72) a month for a single person earning a pre-tax monthly salary of about €3,500 ($4,500).
For religious institutions, struggling to maintain their congregations in a secular society where the Protestant Reformation began 500 years ago, the tax revenues are vital.
The Catholic Church in Germany receives about €5 billion ($6.5 billion) annually from the surcharge. For Protestants, the total is just above €4 billion ($5.2 billion). Donations, in turn, represent a far smaller share of the churches' income than in the United States.
With rising prices and economic uncertainty, however, more and more Catholics and Protestants are opting to save their money and declare to tax authorities they are no longer church members, even if they still consider themselves believers.
Read more: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/no-tax-no-blessing-german-church-insists-levy