Church privileges – the special rights of the official churches (archive)

Church daycare centers, schools and hospitals are largely financed from public funds. The churches, however, determine the moral standards of their employees and require their church membership. Are these special rights still up to date?

"I am a trained nurse and then worked in geriatric care for many years. The main problem for me in geriatric care was that the work was very concentrated and that I felt that I was no longer able to meet my requirements."

Clara Koch, as the experienced geriatric nurse is called here, was looking for another job. A friend suggested that she apply for outpatient family help – which supports families in difficult life situations. In the northern German city in which Clara Koch lives, the Catholic social enterprise Caritas is an important vehicle for family help.

"I knew that if I applied, I would have to go to church, and then I would think: Am I ready for going to church or not?"

Clara Koch is not religious. But when working with families – that’s what Koch was expressly told – religion shouldn’t play a role.

"And yes, then I decided that undogmatically (laughs lightly) that I said: Okay, then I’ll go to church."

You have to be a paying member to get a job in a social job

Clara Koch got the job. She now has to pay church tax from her earnings. Of course, every employer can expect their employees to be loyal to the company. But that you have to be a paying member to get a job in a social job – only the churches can demand that. Churches have many special rights in Germany.

Max Steinbeis is a lawyer and journalist in Berlin and runs a constitutional blog. Well over 300 people interested in the constitution have now registered for the discussion platform on the Internet.

In Max Steinbeis’ constitutional blog, religion was often a topic: for example, the freedom to be allowed to practice a religion – like the argument about the headscarf among Muslim teachers. Or also the freedom not to be bothered by religion – like the argument about the crucifix on school walls. Max Steinbeis on religious freedom, as guaranteed by the Basic Law:

"In any case, it’s not just about having the freedom to practice any religious practice in your own private bedroom, as long as you don’t annoy the public. It also means giving the religious communities a place in the public sphere and shielding and protecting them even in the event of a conflict so that they can develop freely."

Believers are free to practice their religion. Exactly what that means is often controversial. The First Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court recently decided: Freedom of belief includes the fact that a Muslim teacher with a headscarf is allowed to teach. Twelve years ago, a Muslim teacher failed in the last instance with her concern to wear a headscarf at work. The interpretation of the Basic Law is on the move!

Constitutional blogger Steinbeis on the conflict over the right balance in religious freedom:

"The point is: who decides what belongs to the faith or not. The state stands up and says: You only claim that this is an integral part of your belief for you, but in reality it is not true. Or is the state obliged to respect what is included in the content of faith, which those who advocate this belief define for themselves?"

Constitutional Court: Hospital may dismiss doctor who remarries after divorce

For the two major Christian churches, legislators and courts often follow what the churches themselves consider to be their right. In October 2014, for example, the Constitutional Court approved a Catholic hospital that fired a chief doctor because of his remarriage after the divorce. That fell under the self-determination right of the churches, Karlsruhe judged.

After the Second World War, over 90 percent of West German church members. Church leaders successfully raised their voices, especially when it came to family and school, sexuality and morality. From the 1970s, the number of believers in West Germany steadily decreased the GDR was only a minority in the church. Nevertheless, the two official churches have played an important role throughout Germany since the fall of the wall. The largest denomination has long been that of non-denominations, and religious life has become diverse – beyond the two large churches.

But the two official churches insist on their privileges. For example when choosing their staff. This does not mean the press spokeswoman or the secretary of a church administration. Rather, it is about the numerous employees at the social enterprises of the churches – the Catholic Caritas and the Protestant Diakonie. They are a significant economic factor in Germany, says Michael Schmidt-Salomon, philosopher and lobbyist for the non-denominational cause:

"You just have to see that the churches are not only official churches, but also very powerful as social groups. Caritas and Diakonisches Werk are the largest private employers in Europe. You have more employees than the entire automotive industry. And they also generate sales that can be measured against global corporations."

1.2 million people work for Caritas and Diakonie – in day care centers, hospitals and old people’s homes. In some places – not only in the country, but also in cities – the church institutions strongly dominate the market, and sometimes even have a monopoly.

A nurse in a German hospital: Church sponsors make church membership a requirement for employment. (imago stock&people) Despite personal rights and data protection: The employer asks about the denomination

The bells of the hospital chapel of the Sankt Joseph-Stift in Bremen ring for the Holy Mass. Felix Pissler is the personnel manager of the hospital. He has his office in the former residential wing of the nuns. The last nuns died years ago, but now four Catholic sisters are working in the hospital again – they come from India. Felix Pissler occupies around 100 positions per year. Religion is an issue at every interview:

"The tendency is, I always see in daily practice, that the denomination is often not stated in the curriculum vitae – then we ask about it."

Despite personal rights, despite data protection. And although the sick want above all to be well looked after – regardless of ideological questions. So why is it important for an ophthalmologist to be a member of a faith group??

"Working on people is a service, and in my view this service has a completely different value under the basic Christian understanding."

Different value than with whom? Are believers better, more loving to heal and care for? Or even better people? No, that’s not the way to say it, says the Catholic human resources manager. It’s about something else:

"In addition to the professional qualifications that we naturally expect and are looking for, we expect employees to bring them into the service community, as is also known in Catholic labor law."

Catholic labor law also means: no works council, no right to strike

Catholic labor law also means: no works council, no right to strike. Probably not unimportant in the competition between hospitals.

Felix Pissler talks about work densification and how difficult it is to provide the sick with such conditions. This is exactly why Clara Koch, the non-religious, had given up her job as a geriatric nurse. But: The concentration of work affects believers and non-denominations alike. All hospitals are financed from the same pots. Christian houses also receive 100 percent of their money from the health insurance companies – and all insured persons pay into it regardless of their worldview. The churches don’t give anything.

In Bremen only 45 percent of the population are still in the church. And skilled workers are scarce. That is why Felix Pissler is now also hiring Muslims and Sikhs. Christian hospital workers who leave the church are asked to speak by the HR manager. But does Felix Pissler really ask about the faith in all the jobs he has to offer – including the cleaning staff?

"So the rooms are probably also very well cleaned from non-catholes." / "But you still ask everyone?" / "Yes."

A prefabricated building in Berlin-Mitte, it goes to the sixth floor. Political scientist Carsten Frerk lives and works here. He has been researching the two major churches for years. It is not about questions of belief, but about money and political power. Frerk meticulously gathers material and information.

I am not a church critic. Because that is one of the lobbyist tricks that you are immediately portrayed as a church critic, church enemy or church fighter in Germany so that you are defamed.

Archdiocese of Cologne: surplus in financial year 2013 at just under 60 million euros

The Catholic Church in Cologne recently received applause for doing something that is taken for granted by other institutions: the General Vicariate presented a balance sheet for the first time in February 2015. It has assets of 3.4 billion euros. Art treasures are not included, the Cologne Cathedral is valued at one euro. The surplus for the 2013 financial year was just under 60 million euros.

The financial overview of the archdiocese of Cologne has been drawn up in accordance with applicable accounting rules, which means: caution is the mother of the porcelain box. Assets tend to be low, liabilities are valued rather high. Carsten Frerk is looking forward to further information:

"The most exciting thing in the next few years will be: How are church properties valued? The archiepiscopal chair alone has a capital stake in the Aachener Siedlungsgesellschaft and has 41.5 percent of the shareholder share, and only needs to show the 15.4 million shareholder share in this publication. However, the company has property assets of 2.6 billion euros."

And that is just one item on the balance sheet of one of 27 Catholic dioceses in Germany. A few years ago, Carsten Frerk presented an estimate of the total Catholic and Protestant church assets – i.e. primarily property, real estate and securities, without art treasures. He assumes 435 billion euros in church assets. For comparison: the federal government’s assets at the end of 2013 were 231 billion euros – a good half.

The churches cannot actually complain about the revenue either. In any case, they have sources of money that others only dream of. For example, the so-called state benefits: 14 out of 16 federal states transfer a total of almost half a billion euros a year as compensation for the expropriation of church property over 200 years ago. Only Bremen and Hamburg do not pay government benefits. The merchants always ruled in the two Free Imperial Cities, there were no prince-bishops’ possessions and consequently no expropriations. Incidentally, government benefits are dynamic, which means that they rise to the same extent as the wages of state officials. Among other things, the churches pay salaries and pensions from the state benefits.

Already in the Weimar Constitution of 1919 it was stated that government benefits should be replaced, i.e. ended with a one-off payment. Today, almost 100 years later, the federal states are still transferring funds. After the reunification, all five new countries adopted this regulation – and they have been paying since then.

For a long time, the state and the churches took state services for granted, especially in Bavaria:

"In the budget plans in Bavaria, government benefits were broken down over five pages into who was given what. The bishops, the auxiliary bishops, the vicar general shares, over pages, you could really look very closely."

In recent years, demands for an end to government benefits have been growing louder. The Bavarian state reacted – in its own way:

"According to Mixa, when it became clear that the man was getting more than 5,000 euros in pension from taxpayers’ money, they said we should now close the lid. State benefits are now only published as a lump sum in Bavaria as in all other federal states."

The state gives the treasurer for the churches with its financial authorities

Call the Bavarian Ministry of Culture, in the budget of which the state benefits are shown: the spokesman confirms the change. The flat rate serves to reduce the administrative burden.

Elsewhere, the state tax authorities, without complaint, assume some administrative effort for the churches: the tax offices collect their membership fees, the church taxes. The state does not run the treasurer for any other organization.

The tax authorities receive two to four percent of church tax revenue depending on their federal state. It is uncertain whether this will cover all of the costs – after all, a reminder must be given that appeals must be processed and data changes entered. However, the financial authorities do not ask the question of costs, in no federal state. It is undisputed, however, that the churches would be significantly more expensive if they had to set up their own departments to collect contributions.

The collection of church tax for banks is really expensive: Legislators have compelled them to collect church tax on investment income without compensation. Since January 1, 2015, the financial institutions have incurred annual costs in the hundreds of millions. They try to bring them back in from their customers – from church members, other believers and non-denominations.

Concordat of 1933: only international Nazi government treaty that still exists

State tax collection was regulated in a 1933 concordat between the Hitler government and the Holy See. It is the only international Nazi government treaty that has not been canceled.

"Then a non-denominational employer had once complained that he had to provide these deductions for the church, and that went very quickly to the constitutional court. And then it was said: You have this duty not towards the churches, but towards the tax authorities, and therefore you cannot escape from it."

The German constitution does not actually provide for such a close connection between state and church. The Basic Law contains several articles on religion and religious societies that have been adopted from the Weimar constitution – and that breathe a completely different spirit: the church and the state are therefore independent of one another. Citizens can live their faith. Or don’t believe. For example, in Article 136, paragraph 3:

Nobody is obliged to reveal their religious beliefs.

It was only legislation and case law in the Federal Republic of Germany after the war that pushed the mutual penetration of state and official churches – also at the expense of non-denominations and non-believers.

"If you come from outside, there is a very simple brick facade at the front. The entrance area is designed in such a way that you see large brick crosses, which then open into the entrance area and when you come in, you will first walk towards the chapel."

Ulrich Anke raves about his workplace, a brick building in Hanover. Before the interview, the President of the Church Office of the Evangelical Church in Germany took a small tour of the administrative center from the 1980s. When asked about the privileges of the churches, the EKD head of administration answers with a counter question:

The President finds it completely normal that the state collects membership fees for the churches and not for other organizations:

"This form is a good form, an efficient, a reliable form of member financing, and I believe it is for a good reason that the end a tradition that continues to be guaranteed as a right of freedom for religious communities of public law character."

But does the trained lawyer understand that there is criticism of church tax collection by the state?

"None of the outside parties has such a disadvantage. Nobody’s rights are violated. And that is why, given the benefits of this form of membership funding, it is good to stick to it."

Anyone who works for church companies must expect attempts at missioning

And that religious interviews are asked for during interviews in the social enterprises of the churches? The President of the Church Office understands that the growing number of non-religiously people criticizes such special rights?

"If Christians with the required specialist qualifications are not available, then this is deliberately opened to a limited extent, even for those who do not belong to a denomination or for members of other religions."

But it doesn’t stop there. Anyone who works for a church company must expect attempts at missionation – even if this is not so called:

"There will be offers that for those who may find access through work, they can actually approach church, Christian offers."

The churches are happy to use their social commitment to criticize their special rights. In fact, Caritas and Diakonie are particularly active in the billion-dollar health and social markets. Their benefits are largely financed, in some cases one hundred percent, from social security contributions and tax money. In addition, the churches are involved in station missions and refugee initiatives. Carsten Frerk has calculated how much church tax goes into such projects:

"From your church tax, only five percent, seven percent go to these social projects."

The administrative headquarters of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference is in Bonn on Kaiserstrasse. Houses from the turn of the last century and after the war, including the Salvation Army, the Südstadt student bar and the Women’s Business Park. Then a modern building with a glass-light front and a pointed roof accent.

Hans Langendörfer is Secretary General of the Bishops’ Conference. The Jesuit has to deal with difficult issues, he gave the crisis manager to the ailing Weltbild Verlag. The Rhenish Catholic is concerned about criticism of his church – and remains tough:

"It is a shame when people feel that the Church is here in a greedy way trying to kill them for their money. I have to say that, it hurts us, we are sorry that the church here, I think wrongly, is subject to greed and excess that does not exist. There is no such thing."

On the contrary, Jesuit Langendörfer wants to make you believe. The automatic collection of church tax on capital gains for him since January 1, 2015 quickly becomes a means of social policy – in the spirit of Pope Francis, who scores so well with social issues.

"It has always been and is important to us that the question of church tax for wealthy people and that church tax is also an obligation for them. We do not want people who are wealthier – regardless of whether this is an important component of their pensions – to be favored over those who earn money simply because they have income from dependent work and then pay their church tax have to."

Automated tax collection prevents church members from forgetting to report their investment income. However, the song of praise for the automated collection of church tax by the banks is not entirely unselfish: Because those with better earnings now pay more church tax.

Bitter, however, for the official churches: After the new tax collection procedure became known, it was mainly older members who had previously remained loyal to them.

The Catholic Church blatantly violates the spirit of non-discrimination

Whether church tax or hiring practice – the general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference is very in agreement with his Protestant colleague Ulrich Anke. That’s where ecumenism works.

But there is another question for the Catholic churchman that does not arise among the Protestants: the one about the monopoly for men and the exclusion of women from all ordained ministries, from the chaplain to the pope. No other large organization in Germany is so blatantly against the spirit of non-discrimination of the Basic Law and general human rights. The Jesuit initially reacts as if he didn’t quite understand the question:

"We would have to clarify that in more detail about where the inequality and discrimination of women in the Church is now."

But then he quickly clarifies:

"We are a male-dominated church. We feel bound to what the founder of our Christian faith has given us and has given us. And that is Jesus Christ. And so, at least in the Catholic Church, we come to the very clear view that the minister, the minister, is a man. And there is no movement in the doctrine that women are unable to become priests."

Other Christian communities do not interpret the Bible so fundamentally. More precisely: no more. The first Anglican bishop was ordained recently. After an hour the interview time is over. When he said goodbye, the Jesuit, who was unmarried according to the rules of his church, told another story from his everyday work: only recently had a young woman applied for a job at the General Secretariat of the Bishops’ Conference. She was newly divorced. He recommended that he try it somewhere else. The influential church man smiles friendly and leaves the room.

Moral ideas and the internal structure of religious communities should not be discussed here. The right of self-determination gives religious communities a free hand on internal organizational issues.

But what if a religious community works in society and runs day care centers there, for example? And elementary schools, moreover state – not private – like in North Rhine-Westphalia? Of course, women also work predominantly in Catholic day-care centers and primary schools, also in leading positions. But the Catholic Church, as the operator, has a 100 percent male quota – in a society that no longer wants to tolerate discrimination in all its forms. So the Catholic Church should actually no longer run kindergartens and schools?

A question for which there are two experts in Germany: law professors who have researched on discrimination and gender issues. But both professors are also judges at constitutional courts. From one of them came this mail to my interview request:

"I cannot give you an interview on this topic. Not only are we judges somewhat cautious with this format anyway. In addition, the subject touches on case constellations that could still occupy the court."

May an organization that discriminates against women actually run daycare centers and schools?

But Nora Markard is also a good interlocutor on the question of whether the massively discriminatory Catholic Church can actually continue to run public daycare centers and primary schools. The junior professor of public law works at the University of Hamburg, she has done a lot of research on discrimination. We’ll meet in your apartment for an interview. To them a hypothetical question, a game of thoughts: May run a day care center and schools in Germany where women are not excluded from the priesthood, but people with dark skin?

"So the bans on discrimination are of equal importance for now. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine that we would tolerate something like this in Germany."

But why is discrimination against women accepted, but other forms of discrimination not??

"Legal principles have a lot to do with grown ideas. These are the traditions that we understand as our customs. So we who live here. And with that, what has been around for a long time is clearly more acceptable, and there is a certain rubber-like tolerance towards what we already know."

Constitutional blogger Max Steinbeis recalls the centuries-old connection between state and church:

"The whole history of the constitution is a story of the conflict between the state and religion. And the institutions of the state have always evolved based on models found in the Catholic Church – and vice versa."

Such a close connection may explain a little bit why the discrimination of Catholic women in their church seems like a blind spot in the public perception. Politics, jurisprudence and the non-Muslim population are very concerned about the possible disadvantage of wearing Muslim women wearing a headscarf compared to Muslim men – Muslim women can at least become imamines, at least in some mosque communities. The massive discrimination against Catholic women in their church is accepted.

Tradition and political power also preserve the financial and labor privileges of the two official churches. But the discussion has started: The two great Christian churches can claim less and less to speak for the people. And it now seems like something out of time, what Clara Koch says about her job at Catholic family help. A colleague had not been asked about her church membership during the interview:

"After a year, it was found that she was not in the church. And initially she had a temporary employment contract, and after one year should be extended. And then she was told: it will only be extended if you enter the church now!"


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Christina Cherry
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