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The church charity myth

The churches only subsidise a third of what the public believes is their own charity. This is undemocratic and dishonest, says Dr. Carsten Frerk. In addition, his research reveals the questionable legality of the huge “state benefits” which are paid by all the taxpayers, not for any good works, but simply for clerics’ salaries, foreign missions and the like. A political storm is now brewing.

The head of the Catholic Institute for State-Church Law in Bonn says that these “state benefits” could only be cancelled without violating the constitution if the German states made a substitute payment. [1] This would have to be “a sum in the two-figure billions [of euros] so that the churches can ― with interest rates of 3 to 4 percent ― obtain the same amount as the present ‘state benefits’”. [2]

 The church charity myth

By Dr. Carsten Frerk, author of Finanzen und Vermögen der Kirchen in Deutschland (2002), Caritas und Diakonie in Deutschland (2005), Violettbuch Kirchenfinanzen: Wie der Staat die Kirchen finanziert (2010)

Translation of “Die Caritas-Legende
Frankfurter Rundschau, 19 December 2010.

[Funding of church charities by the state]

On the face of it, the [Catholic and Evangelical (which in Germany means mainline Protestant)] churches and their two charities seem to be the largest non-Government providers of health and welfare services in Germany. [These are the Catholic charity Caritas, the largest private employer in Germany and the Protestant charity, the Diakonisches Werk, the second largest.] For example, in 2009, two-thirds of the 50,000 child care centres were run by private institutions. In turn, more than half of these day care centres were run by the churches; this means that 36 percent of children are in religious care. However, this is just one example of a myth, the “Caritas myth”. If a nursery is “nursery of the Church of St. Hedwig”, it does not mean that the parish actually funds this day care centre.

In 2009 the state, and therefore all the taxpayers, contributed a total of 3.9 billion euros for denominational day care. The regulations about funding are the responsibility of the individual [German] states [Laender] and they have different rules. In Hamburg and Bavaria Christian day care centres operate without any money from the churches, in North Rhine-Westphalia, they provide twelve percent of the budget of “their” day-care centres. No more than that. But the churches proclaim incessantly that they need their church tax for church hospitals, day care and other social institutions. And well-meaning Christians believe this.

In a poll, church members were asked whether they would leave the Church if the churches gave very little from the church tax to their social services. 47 percent of the respondents said they would leave. If that were true — as it is — they would quit the Church. Of those between 14 and 27 as many as 60 percent said they would leave. This might explain why the churches are silent about the public and state funding of their social and health facilities or even why they lie about it.

[State funding of the churches themselves]

[In addition to the grants to the two church charities, the churches have other sources of funding from the state.] Last year €19.3 billion was provided to the churches. Of this €9.3 billion was in the form of the church tax paid by church members to Protestant and Catholic churches. The other €10 billion was made up of appropriations, underwriting of costs, and outright grants from the state. There is virtually no facility or service used only for the churches that is not largely — sometimes completely — financed from taxes.

Thus €510 million was provided for theological faculties, religious colleges, and schools for church music. Religious education in schools received €1.7 billion from the state. Even denominational schools are largely funded by the federal states. [Education is a state, not a federal responsibility.] These state grants meet 84–95 percent of costs, which total €2.3 billion a year. Church adult education receives around €100 million. And for the “work abroad” of the two major German churches, the Christian relief and mission agencies received €270 million from the state.

[New questions about the legal basis of huge “state benefits” paid to the churches]

The most striking example of the public funding of church affairs is the so-called “state benefits”. These are based on legal entitlements dating from feudal times, when there was an identity of interests between the nobility and the church. The end of the monarchy in 1918/19 was also the end of the (Protestant) established church. The programme called “a free church in a free state” was intended to end the financial and other ties between state and church completely. But the constitutional mandate to end those old contracts has been ignored since 1919.

Specialists in church law have converted this order to end payments (Ablösungsbefehl) as it is called by experts, into other kinds of continued guarantees. For example, in 2009, the state paid €443 million in wages; among others the Catholic bishops and archbishops receive their salaries from the state.

This means that, contrary to that constitutional mandate, the connection between church and state has again become close. The churches meet only one-third of the costs that are ascribed to them by the general public as their own contribution. This is not only undemocratic, but also dishonest.

A modern, democratic clarification of the relationship between state and church in Germany is long overdue. The first step must be to stop government transfers arising from alleged obligations to the church. It is not only the grants for the wages [of the clergy and other church employees]: there are construction subsidies for about 3,000 places of worship, which amounted last year to €100 million. Both payments are based on a feudal identity of monarchy and church (the union of throne and altar), which has not existed since 1919 [when the Kaiser stepped down and Germany became a democratic republic].


1. “Kirche zu Staatsleistungen: Wir sahnen nichts ab”, (“Church on ‘State Benefits’: We're not on gravy train“), Fuldaer Zeitung, 22 September 2010.;art25,346120

2. “Neue Berechnungen: Staat stützt Kirchen mit Milliarden”, (“New figures: State supports churches with billions”), Spiegel, 6 November 2010.,1518,727683,00.html

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