Reports eminating from Germany recently suggest that Catholic bishops are demanding the witholding of sacraments and religious burials if the congregation do not contribute to the church tax.
It is a mechanism quite alien to the majority in the UK but the German tax is collected at source (i.e. in pay packets) depending on the church with which you are registered. In the Catholic community, this tax amounts to - according to an interview on Radio 4 - some 5 billion euros per year, from an estimated 30% of the population.
However, an increasing number of catholics are refusing to pay this tax, notably corrollating to the time of the apology from German-born Pope Benedict for the decades of child sexual abuse by Irish Catholic priests, brothers and nuns (though also known to have taken place in numerous other places around the world, notably the UK and the US). Presumably in order to halt the decline in those who pay for this 'service', the bishops are restating their beliefs.
The 'clarification' states that Catholics who leave the church (fail to pay) can no longer receive sacraments, except for a special blessing before death. In addition, they're not allowed to work in the church itself or any of church institutions such as schools or hospitals, or even any charity groups; they're not allowed to be godparents for Catholic children and must get a bishop's permission to marry a (paying) Catholic in a church ceremony.
By demanding a members fee (rather than a donation), the Catholic church in Germany effectively becomes a service to their customers - if you don't pay, you don't get. That raises an interesting question about how a legal complaint would be tackled if someone was to question precisely what service they were getting for their cash.
I believe that threats to withhold sacrements and religious burials are absolutely opposed to supposedly Christian values. With such a wide and varied storyline (from such a wide number of scribes, translators and storytellers over hundreds of years), it's easy to cherry-pick quotes and pieces from the Bible but just a few to illustrate a point:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. — Luke 6:20.
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. - Luke 19:23-27
The sermon on the mount; the sermon on plain ; the parable of the wedding feast - all extolling the virtues of forgoing fortune for faith. It has to be said that there also alternative theories and beliefs within the Christian church, including a branch known as prosperity theology, responsible for televangelism amongst other things, which do advocate the gathering of wealth for the church.
Regardless, the central point remains that a religious church apparently founded on worshipping 'God' and helping 'thy neighbour' (those in need), it appears to be positioning itself in Germany as a 'for-profit' organisation with the beneficiaries being..... whom? Who exactly benefits from the estimated $170 billion p.a. worldwide revenue the Catholic church receives?
To me, the most shocking of all of these is the denial of the ability to help with charity work connected to the church. I can see an argument whereby payment of a fee allows you into the Catholic-club, allows you access to the Catholic burials, sacrements, christenings, etc. However, to deny someone the opportunity to give their time/money/efforts to charity seems diametrically opposed to the Christian belief.
For me, this is another example of the twisted world of religion.
As an interesting footnote, the bishops conference said local pastors would invite all leavers to meet to discuss their reasons for quitting, explain the consequences and offer a chance to rejoin the church; the equivalent to a "leaver's team" for a mobile phone operator. Who could resist their offers? "Come back to us and you too can bathe in eternal glory (for a nominal fee)"
Sources: Irish Broadcaster, RTE; BBC Radio 4;