The German Church has been accused of failing to make church finances transparent as the German bishops’ conference had promised it would in 2014 after Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst – since referred to as the Bishop of Bling - was suspended by the Vatican for spending more than 31m euros (£26m) on renovating his bishop’s palace.
“We feel and understand the faithful’s desire to be informed about the dioceses’ assets and about how the money is being spent”, the German bishops’ conference declared at the time and promised that each diocese would publish its balance sheets by the end of 2016.
In an article of 21 December (2017) entitled “Heavenly Balance Sheets”, the German newspaper, 'Handelsblatt', accused the Church of failing to publish its balance sheets as promised and of hoarding a large part of of its annual surplus from Church tax, which in 2016 (statistics for 2017 are not out yet) came to 6.15 billion euros (£5.5billion).
Church tax is compulsory for any Catholic who works in Germany and is between 8 and 9% of one’s net income. It is deducted at source by the state and passed on to the Churches. As the German economy is flourishing and unemployment relatively low, the surplus for 2017 is expected to be even higher. According to the Handelsblatt, Germany’s 27 Catholic dioceses have assets of “at least 26 billion euros”.
Some dioceses have published their balance sheets, others have partly done so and three have not published them at all.
Inquiries on how the surplus billions are invested usually remain unanswered and are “always unwelcome”, the article says. “The motto seems to be “One does not talk of money.”
The annual increase of the surplus from church tax comes at a time when the Catholic Church is losing members. More than 2.2m Catholics have left the Church since the year 2000. Of the 23m left, only every tenth Catholic regularly attends Sunday Mass according the German bishops’ conference.
PICTURE: Cologne Cathedral is seen across the Rhine ©PA