Cardinal 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
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
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
Another victim of this austerity policy is the peace movement Pax Christi
which was founded after the Second World War by French and German
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%
“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
However, Cardinal Marx noted that no decision has yet
“Dialogue will continue,” he concluded.
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
This is unprecedented considering that the German Catholic
Church lost 182,000 members in 2015 and one million in total since
In 2017, the dioceses donated 126 million euros to the budget of the
Federation of Dioceses of Germany (VDD) compared with 128 million euros