Theologian vows to bring tax dispute to Vatican


A GERMAN theologian has vowed to take to the Vatican his battle against the church tax that is deducted from the salaries of all employed German Christians.

Prof Hartmut Zapp, a retired canon law professor from Freiburg, was taken to court by Germany’s Catholic Church for challenging existing procedures for collecting the church tax.

The tax, calculated as up to 8 per cent of income tax, raises approximately €5 billion annually for the Catholic Church; the Lutheran church earns €4 billion.

German Christians may stop their church tax payment by going to their town hall and filling in a form which, when passed on to the church authorities, is interpreted as a Kirchenaustritt or “church exit”.

The person’s name is struck from the church register and they are excluded from church services and sacraments.

Prof Zapp (71), a practising Catholic, challenged this interpretation two years ago by altering his “church exit” form to read “exit from the Catholic Church, a public corporation”.

When challenged by church authorities, he said he was still a believer but was no longer interested in paying an obligatory tax.

As he anticipated, the case landed him in court. Prof Zapp won the first round in Freiburg; yesterday; an appeals court in Mannheim ruled in favour of the church, saying disputes over the tax were an “inner-church matter” to be resolved by canon law.

Prof Zapp has waived his right to go to Germany’s highest appeals court, saying: “All that remains now is the road to Rome.”

He is confident that Pope Benedict will see things his way. In March 2006 the Vatican expressed concern that German bishops, with their “church exit” rule, were effectively outsourcing excommunications to German state employees.

In clear language, the Vatican ruled that leaving the church required a clear expression of loss of belief to a priest or bishop. A month later the German bishops conference defended their existing system, saying that filling in a form in a town hall was adequate “proof of a schism”.

The church tax was introduced in the 19th century to compensate the churches for property seized by Bismarck. It was anchored in the Weimar constitution of 1919 and carried over by the modern German state.

Church authorities ordered Prof Zapp yesterday to start paying church tax again – including back payments to 2007.

However, the professor says he will wait it out, confident that he has forced Germany’s Catholic Church on to a collision course with Rome.