Authors Greg Erlandson and Matthew Bunson continue the discussion they began in the book from Our Sunday Visitor, Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal. Send us feedback at email@example.com. Kindle Edition available for download at amazon.com.
The Catholic Church in secularized Europe wasn't healthy before this latest wave of abuse scandals swept the continent. In most countries, Mass attendance is thought to be in the single digits, and the Church's voice is marginalized in the public square.
Expect things to get a lot worse.
In a recent column titled "Decline and scandal," historian Philip Jenkins notes "this has been a dreadful year for the Roman Catholic Church in Europe." But he said increased secularism on the continent bears equal blame for the Church's woes as the abuse scandal.
While abuse scandals may well thin Church numbers and subvert the Vatican's political influence, they are symptoms of secularization as much as causes. If the Catholic consensus had not been so badly undermined already, stories of clerical abuse would not have appeared in the media and would have had nothing like the effect they did.
The Church in Pope Benedict XVI's home country, Germany, is facing particular struggles. Through anachronistic agreements dating back centuries in some cases, the Church there receives significant taxpayer support, even as a decreasing number of German Catholics darken churches' doorsteps. That's started to generate significant pushback, and a call for the Church to cut off from state coffers.
Der Spiegel, a popular German newsmagazine, has an article detailing what it says is financial mismanagement and lack of transparency and accountability on the part of German Church leadership.
Year after year, both the Catholic Church and the Protestant church in Germany receive generous payments from the federal, state and local governments. Not as well known as the church tax (about €10 billion [$12.3 billion]a year) are the annual subsidies to the church, both direct and indirect, which in 2000 amounted to an estimated €17 billion [$20.9 billion].
The government pays substantial sums of money for the maintenance and constant renovation of cathedrals and other church buildings. It pays the salaries of religion teachers and foots the bill for the altar wine used in church services for the military. Some benefits, such as the annual firewood deliveries a few southern German towns make to their bishop, are based on 200-year-old entitlements that politicians have never reviewed.
Despite the constitutional separation of church and state in Germany, substantial subsidies are paid for church conferences, church libraries, pastors who minister to police officers, inmates of prisons and psychiatric institutions, and the military. The government even helps to pay for the employment of conscientious objectors, and for the maintenance of offering boxes and wayside crosses.
The church likes to point out how much it does for the poor and the weak, and to promote social cohesion, and it has a valid argument. Nevertheless, the government foots the bill for many of these activities. The German government pays the bulk of the German Caritas Association's estimated annual budget of €45 billion [$55.4 billion], while the Catholic Church pays only a fraction.
Toward the end of the article, Der Spiegel asks a question that is likely to be repeated with greater insistence: "Why do the princes of the Church refuse to be held accountable to their congregations? And why are they so careful to keep the government, which supports them so generously, out of their financial affairs?"
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