Church tax: What is the money actually used for?

  • origin the church tax
  • Development of the church tax
  • What does the church do with the money?
  • Church privileges
  • Conclusion

Many people in Germany still pay church taxes today. resignations 280,000 people from the Evangelical Church and almost 360,000 people from the Catholic Church doesn’t change the fact that revenues remain high. What is the history of the church tax and what is the money used for today?

Development of the church tax

The church tax has its origin in the Middle Ages. There it was called “Tenth”. The term came about because all landowners had to hand over a tenth of their earnings from cattle, grain, field crops and other agricultural yields (e.g. butter or wine) to the respective ecclesiastical sovereign. In the 9th century there was a tithe obligation for all secular and spiritual landowners (e.g. monasteries). This source of income, which was extremely important for the church, served to finance its tasks and was very precisely prescribed. So a part was reserved for the clergy, another part for the support of the poor. From the 13th century, the “tithe” could also be paid with money.

the French Revolution 1789 was a decisive event in the history of church tax. Because the French National Assembly decided within its framework to abolish the church “tithe” in France (Secularization) and declared all church property state property. These resolutions had an impact: by the middle of the 19th century, the “obligatory tithe” had also been abolished in all other European countries. Thus the church lost its most important centuries-old source of income. The church had to reposition itself after losing its income. To this end, the Pope and individual German states (Germany in its current borders did not yet exist) made agreements that aimed to To separate church and state and to guarantee each autonomy. Over time, mainly shaped by the Beginning of industrializationsat population movements with the result that once uniform Catholic or Protestant areas dissolved more and more and became more and more rare. As a result, the church revenues fell again and the financing of the tasks became more and more difficult. In this context, the idea of ​​a church tax arose.

Today’s regulation of church tax is based on the regulations of the Weimar Imperial Constitution. It is designed as a membership fee and thus signals the “Withdrawal of the state from the financing of church tasks“. The churches of the former GDR took advantage of the opportunity to take over the collection of church taxes as part of the reunification. The Church Tax Act was included in the Unification Treaty of August 31, 1990. Since that time, uniform church tax law has applied throughout Germany.

What does the church do with the money?

First of all, it is interesting to know that outside of the German-speaking area a church tax is only levied in a few countries. There are, for example, in France, England, the Netherlands, even in Catholic Poland no church tax. Count in Germany currently the two major Christian churches around 41.4 million members: 21.6 million Catholics and 19.7 million Protestant church members. About 34 million Germans are without a denomination.

In 2021 took the Catholic Church around 6.73 billion eurosthe Protestant Church approx. 5.99 billion euros through the church tax. Despite all justified criticism, especially of the Catholic Church, you should not forget that with church taxes, many meaningful and helpful activities (Schools, day-care centers, further education institutions, culture and pastoral care) are financed. Although some helping hands (approx. 1.2 million people) work on a voluntary basis, many are also with the church employed: The Catholic Caritas employs 600,000 full-time employees, while the Protestant counterpart, the Diakonie, has a good 460,000 permanent employees.

This is how the Church tax receipts among others the Salaries paid to employees in social institutions, hospitals, communities, media and administration. In addition, the church, like other companies, must cover running costs. She also acts as a business enterprise, generates income from this, but also involves effort and costs. The church not only owns forest, land and real estate, but also many companies, holdings and shares. The turnover volume of the church in Germany included according to Deutschlandfunk around 129 billion euros in 2017. For comparison: In 2017 it was Domestic sales of the automotive industry in Germany at 151 billion euros. The Fortune of the churches in Germany was estimated at around 435 million euros for the same year.

Church privileges

Despite the church’s many charitable activities, the use of church taxes has come under criticism. Bad memory is, for example, of luxurious conversion of the bishopric in Limburg (Hesse). Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst therefore had to vacate his bishopric in 2014. In addition, compared to secular corporations, the Church has various ones privileges. For example, church institutions do not pay taxes on interest income or real estate. The fees actually incurred for a building permit, a notary or a court do not apply to churches.

The state, i.e. all of us, also pays annual compensation for expropriations of the churches in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 2019, according to research by Humanist Union EUR 549 million.

Even if the churches are complaining about large numbers of people leaving the church, the coffers remain well filled. Of the Berlin social scientist Hermann Lührs: “We even have a paradoxical connection. If you look at the development of church members over the last 30 years and examine the development of church tax revenue, you will find that, for example […]From 1991 to 2019 the evangelical church lost about 9 million members and at the same time the church tax increased from 3.9 billion in 1991 to 5.8 billion in 2019. […] The situation is similar in the Catholic Church: Here the number of members has fallen by more than a fifth compared to 1991, while at the same time church taxes have risen by around 70 percent.”


The increasing, massive turning away from the churches doesn’t seem to have much financial impact. Churches can continue to fulfill their original tasks. This charitable and social work of the churches undoubtedly represents a meaningful and valuable support for our society, for which sufficient financial resources must be available. To what extent a church tax is absolutely necessary, which from a global perspective is more of an exception, can be controversial. Above all, because the decision not to pay church tax is necessarily linked to being expelled from the religious community.

The church tax arose historically and aims at autonomy and separation from the state. Through the comprehensive, economic activities of the church, which certainly follow worldly rules, the church generates adequate profits not only in this country. With a view to taking on social tasks, the privileges mentioned could be seen as sufficient concessions for our society. Especially since the churches due to a constitutionally guaranteed right to self-determination special freedom to manage their own affairs. This includes in particular the legal structure of their service and employment relationships.

Of course, precisely because of their extensive economic activities, the churches are also subject to general market developments, such as cost increases and structural changes in the hospital financing. However, it is permissible to question the extent to which the not infrequently displayed pomp of the church fits in a healthy relationship with the charitable roots. Here have themselves Official Church and Church of Faith apparently distant from each other.

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