Sunday, March 19, 2017

EU : Thriving German Catholic Church cuts budget

Image result for German Bishops ConferenceCardinal Reinhard Marx tried last week to disarm the crisis that has emerged within the ranks of the German Bishops Conference over the last few weeks.

The conference president was criticized for his budget austerity policy at a time when the German Catholic Church’s income has broken all records. 

Last year, in fact, the 27 German dioceses received a total of 6.3 billion euros from the German church tax or Kirchensteuer.

Ten years ago, the prospect of falling parishioners numbers had led the bishops to adopt economy measures, particularly in respect to the budget of the Federation of Dioceses of Germany (VDD), the umbrella body coordinating the German Church’s activities at federal level.

The VDD will in 2017 have a budget of 127 million euros, which represents around 2% of the total resources of the Church. In Germany, the 27 dioceses control their own finances. 

However, in January, the Federation announced an austerity policy, resulting in incomprehension on the part of the institutions involved.

This policy in effect envisages a 50% reduction in its financial contribution to the Catholic overseas secretariat which finances the pastoral activities of the German-speaking community in 120 countries around the world. 

This budget is slated to drop from 4.9 to 2.5 million euros per year, with rumors of the closure of the German parishes in cities such as Cairo and Auschwitz.

The bishops’ conference has denied these rumors but the absence of detail on the projects under way has failed to reassure overseas German communities. 

Several political personalities have also become involved in the debate, including Stephan Steinlein, secretary of state in charge of foreign affairs, who described the measures as being “against German interests".

Another victim of this austerity policy is the peace movement Pax Christi which was founded after the Second World War by French and German Catholics. 

An annual 60,000 euro grant that the organization receives from the VDD will end in 2018. 

Moreover, it has already been cut by 35% since 2009.

“We know absolutely nothing about the criteria that led to this decision,” laments Pax Christi president Wiltrud Rötsch-Metzler, who is critical of the “opaque” process.

The contribution of the bishops’ conference amounts to 20% of the organization’s total budget with the rest coming from donations and support from its 5,000 members.

“Several very generous people have helped fill the gap,” Rötsch-Metzler explains.

“However the money is only one aspect of the problem", she says, regretting the “lack of recognition” implied by the bishops’ decision.

“The withdrawal of the church tax contribution signifies that the bishops no longer consider our work for peace as being part of the Church’s work,” she says. 

In a sign of protest, Pax Christi has launched a petition that has been signed by 6,000 people.

The budget cuts have also angered Thomas Stenberg, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZDK).

“This withdrawal by the 27 dioceses on their own (local) missions weakens the Catholic Church in Germany,” he wrote in a communiqué.

In the face of these criticisms, Cardinal Marx last week tried to calm fears during the General Assembly of the bishops’ conference at Bensberg near Cologne, where the issue was on the agenda.

“There were errors of communication,” he recognized. “The objective was not to say that the missions involved, particularly those of Pax Christi, are superfluous.

“It is a matter of defining what the Federation should be financing in the current circumstances and what the other possibilities for financing are. It is not just a matter of economizing,” he explained.

Several dioceses may, therefore, reflect on taking over the role of the VDD, particularly regarding the financing of certain pastoral missions overseas. 

However, Cardinal Marx noted that no decision has yet been taken.

“Dialogue will continue,” he concluded.

Rising revenue

In spite of the falling number of Catholics in Germany, the 27 German dioceses received record income of 6.3 billion euros in 2016 from the church tax (Kirchensteuer), up from 5 billion euros in 2008, a 26% increase.

This increase is explained by the excellent financial situation of Germany’s 23.7 million Catholics who pay a religion tax proportional to their income. 

This is unprecedented considering that the German Catholic Church lost 182,000 members in 2015 and one million in total since 2010.

In 2017, the dioceses donated 126 million euros to the budget of the Federation of Dioceses of Germany (VDD) compared with 128 million euros in 2016.