Q&A on the News

Q: In a story about Pope Francis expelling a German bishop, it mentioned that the German church brings in billions in taxes. Can you explain that? How does a church get to tax?

—Gerald Wade, Stockbridge

A: Germany's church tax requires registered Catholics, Protestants and Jews to pay a tax between 8-10 percent a year to their respective organizations. There were 23 million Catholics in Germany that paid $7.1 billion in taxes in 2012, according to the Religion News Service. Germany pays the religious organizations annual allowances, and it's been reported that the country's 27 Catholic dioceses have extensive assets, including real estate and bonds. Pope Francis, who is trying to take "vanity, arrogance and pride" out of the Catholic church, recently suspended German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Els, who is known as "Bishop Bling-Bling" because of his lavish lifestyle. Tebartz-van Els lives in a $43 million complex, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch drives a BMW 740d and Cardinal Reinhard Marx spent $24 million on renovations to two houses. "The German Catholic Church is one of the country's wealthiest and largest organizations and its top officials expect a certain lifestyle," Carsten Frerk, an expert on church finances in Germany told the news service. "But they are wary of the extent of their wealth becoming broadly known because it might lead to fewer donations." The tax is considered too high by some church members, so they formally quit the church to avoid paying, The New York Times reported last year.

Andy Johnston wrote this column. Do you have a question about the news? We’ll try to get the answer. Call 404-222-2002 or email q&a@ajc.com (include name, phone and city).