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Just one of the “Fascist concordats” is still substantially in place. Italy has got rid of the Mussolini concordat, Spain has replaced the Franco concordat, Austria has eroded through amendments the Dollfuss concordat and Portugal has scrapped the concordat made with Salazar. Only Germany still retains its Vatican concordat with Hitler.

After World War II some German states considered the Concordat to be no longer in force. However, in 1956 the papal nuncio had the matter brought before the Constitutional Court. It decided that, although the concordat had been brought in after Hitler had suspended democracy, it was still binding.

The German postwar constitution was carefully designed by the Allies to decentralise the country and hence it handed over many formerly federal powers to the individual states. Thus the federal government has lost the constitutional power to revise the concordat. Instead, it is left up to the states to renegotiate directly with the Vatican in areas like education which under their control. This allows the Vatican to push for the maximal concessions obtainable in each region of the country. The Vatican now has a web of more than 50 concordats throughout Germany concerning individual states and even individual institutions. These are further cemented by numerous statutes, regulations, ordinances and other agreements.

Weimar Constitution let German churches become states within the state

However, the enormous power of both Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany today is not due solely to the concordats or church-state agreements. The privileges that these pacts give to the churches are amplified by another fateful German innovation. It was the 1919 Constitution of the democratic Weimar Republic which gave the churches wide latitude in substituting their own regulations for the law of the land.

These articles were incorporated into the present German constitution, including Article 140 (which in the Appendix takes over Article 137 § 5 of the Weimar Constitution) confirming the status of the Catholic and Lutheran Churches as corporations under public law. At the same time Article 19 § 5 extends to these artificial persons, the rights of real ones, thus setting the stage for a conflict between individual and group rights. On the second page of the menu below several articles show how this church autonomy has let faith-based social services remove millions of Germans from the protection of many civil laws.

Finally, in a landmark 2018 decision, the European Court of Justice moved to restrict the power of German churches to require that all their employees be members. It ruled that they could no longer be the sole judges of whether or not their "ethos" was threatened by employing a non-member. If they could do that, the court said, the EU anti-discrimination directives "would be deprived of effect". (In other words, the German churches can no longer mark their own exams.) Henceforth their employment decisions must be "proportional" -- they must balance their own right to religious freedom with the right of their employees not to suffer religious discrimination.

In theory this means that if church employers want to avoid being sued, they can no longer make church memebership a formal requirement for positions that have nothing to do with religion, for example, administrative, cooking or cleaning jobs. In practice, however, not much seems to have changed. There is nothing to stop the churches from quietly giving preference to co-religionists. This fear of being discriminated against in the job market keeps many unwilling Germans in the church -- and forces them to pay church tax.

Useful sites in German:
State subsidies for religious bodiesReligious discrimination in the workplace,  
Summary of a 2012 study on religious job discriminationDr Uppendahl on church employment law

Millions for the bishops: Why the German state pays the wages for the church (2010)

How did Germany become the cash cow of the Vatican? An English transcript of the lively Spiegel video from 7 June 2010 reveals this unknown story. A few weeks after it came out, German politicians broke a taboo and began to publicly question their 200-year-old tradition of taxing everyone for the salaries of clerics at a cost of about €480 milllion in 2014. (This is in addition to, and roughly equal to the “church tax” for members.)

How far can German churches discriminate against over a million employees? (2014)

In 2014 the German Supreme Court confirmed the right of the Catholic Church to police the private lives of more than a million workers in Church-run institutions subsidised by the state. The German churches got themselves exempted from the 2006 antidiscrimination law and now shelter under a constitutional provision meant to allow the churches to regulate their internal affairs.

Europe tells German churches to respect employees’ private lives

In September 2010 the European Court of Human Rights handed down a landmark judgment telling German courts to no longer uncritically accept almost any assertion by the churches that an employees’s private life would damage their credibility. They must take into account many factors other than the church’s “right to self-determination”. Schüth v. Germany (ECHR no. 1620/03)

Money for silence

Former Bishop of Regensburg, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, didn’t tell the police about a priest in his diocese who abused children, but sued the journalist, Stefan Aigner, for calling the secret payments to victims “hush money”. The Bishop got a court to order the deletion of a summary of his actions from a Spiegel article. Here is a translation of a full account of this case which escaped the ban.

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