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Germany

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After World War II some German states considered the Concordat to be no longer in force.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.

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 lets faith-based social services remove millions of Germans from the protection of many civil laws.

Another important feature is the steep German church tax which, at 8-9 % of taxable income, is almost as high as the Mediaeval tithe of 10%. This is the price for receiving Catholic sacraments. However, a quarter of new marriages in Germany are now remarriages, with these "adulterers" officially ineligible to take sacraments. These people have no reason to pay church tax to the church that shuts them out. So the German Catholic bishops broke with Vatican doctrine, and allowed the remarried to receive sacraments in order to keep them. After all, 70% of the income of the German Church depends on these taxes. For the sake of maintaining power over marriage, however, in 2013 the Vatican said it was chastising the German bishops -- but for the sake of the income did nothing more. In 2014 Cardinal Mueller, the doctrinal watchdog, issued "another strong statement", but no one got excommunicated, as can happen when clerics violate Church doctrine.

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.

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 €460 milllion every year. (This is in addition to the “church tax” for members.)

How far can German churches discriminate against more than a million employees? (2013)

German courts impose church regulations on more than a million workers. These employees work in institutions run by the churches but overwhelmingly subsidised by the state. The powerful German churches got themselves exempted from the 2006 antidiscrimination law. Now recent court cases have begun testing how far the churches can go in insisting that the private lives of their employees conform with their teachings.

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 dociese who abused children, but he did sue the journalist who called 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. Update: on 2 July 2012 who, of all people, was appointed by the pope to handle Vatican abuse cases? Yes, really. 

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