Churches in European countries are tax-free

History of the Church Tax

When goods that belong to church owners or are intended for church purposes are confiscated or used by the state for secular purposes, this is called "secularization". The trigger for the great secularization of 1803 in Germany was the "First Coalition War" that Austria and Prussia waged against Napoleon. In the Peace Treaty of Lunéville of 1801, the French-occupied areas on the left-hand side of the Rhine, including the Archdiocese of Cologne, had to be ceded to France. The German princes were to be compensated for their losses on the left bank of the Rhine through spiritual areas and imperial cities on the right bank of the Rhine. Later princes who had not lost any territory to the left of the Rhine were also considered. This compensation plan was accepted by a delegation of the Reich on February 25, 1803 in Regensburg and confirmed by the Kaiser - the so-called "Reichsdeputationshauptschluss". With this resolution almost all ecclesiastical principalities and imperial cities disappeared from the map. All goods of the cathedral chapters and episcopal territories were passed on to secular lords. In addition, almost all monasteries were abolished. The important paragraph 35 of the resolution stipulated that the sovereigns could dispose of the property of the church "freely and fully". However, they had to equip the cathedral churches "permanently and permanently" and finance the "pensions for the abolished clergy". The confiscated property should be used for worship, teaching, and other charitable purposes. After 1803, church educational institutions such as grammar schools and universities were also subordinate to secular governments.

The loss of the Catholic Church amounted to 4 archbishoprics, 18 dioceses, about 80 abbeys and monasteries and over 200 monasteries. A good 1,800 square miles of land with over 3.1 million inhabitants changed hands, and the Catholic Church from now on lacked its annual income of more than 21 million guilders. The church had lost its organizational independence and economic livelihood.

After these significant upheavals, the German church had to reorganize. This was done initially through agreements between the Pope and the individual German states - a Germany in the current sense did not yet exist at that time! An important goal was to free the church from state control.

With the secularization of 1803, many Catholic areas came under Protestant rule. The Länder did not adequately fulfill their obligations to provide financial support to the Church. In addition, the population grew rapidly, and more and more people moved from the country to rapidly growing industrial areas such as Berlin or the Ruhr area. Uniform Catholic or Protestant areas became increasingly rare. The "denominational congregations" were no longer identical with the "political congregations" that had been responsible for "their" church in previous centuries. As a result of these changes, the Church's incomes became less and less and it became more difficult to finance its tasks. Therefore the collection of a church tax appeared to be a sensible and fair solution.

These were the first countries to regulate church taxation by law

  • Principality of Lippe (1827),
  • the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg (1831),
  • the Duchy of Saxony-Altenburg (1837) and
  • the Kingdom of Saxony (1838).

Other countries and states followed, and a large number of church tax laws emerged.

After the establishment of the German Empire in 1871, church tax law in the federal states was fairly uniform. It was based on state taxes such as income, wealth and trade taxes and was entirely under state control. It could only be used when the church's own income from donations and property income was insufficient.