It may come as a surprise to many US readers, who are lucky to live in a completely secular nation (for now at least), but many European nations pay a certain amount of tax to religious organisations. Germany is one such nation, members give 8-9% of income tax to their respective churches e.g. if you earn €100,000 and pay €30,000 in tax then €2,700 of the tax paid will go to your church. In 2010, the Catholic Church 'earned' €5bn and the various Protestant churches €4.3bn. You can of course opt out of this tax if you wish, and many in Germany have, with around 120,000 doing so annually. However, this means the church's
profits charitable donations have decreased. In order to stem the tide of apostasy the church has adopted a certain strategy: Catholic bishops decreed that if a person decides to opt out of the church tax then they are denied the sacraments and a religious burial. This also extents to expulsion from parish activities, church jobs, and even becoming a godparent. There was even a push to excommunicate any who opt out but the Vatican intervened and said that non-compliance was not enough to warrant excommunication. This strategy may be seen differently depending on your point of view: threats, bribery, or simple withdrawal of services for non-payment. There are many different conclusions you can draw from their strategy but I would like to focus one key issue i.e. the reason I keep referring to it as a strategy.
This is simply not universal church policy, I always say that the church is a business and always operates as such, and this is further proof of that. The church is, and always has been, only interested in power. This can be evidenced by the different strategies it deploys given distinct scenarios. In this case they are essentially bribing their congregation so that they will retain their income, as money is evidently more important than their parishioners. You will see a different strategy employed here in Ireland. Luckily we have no church tax so the church is entirely funded by donations, however, the vast majority of people are baptised and the church uses this number when lobbying. For instance, when it comes to debates such as abortion and same-sex marriage the church will quote how many Irish Catholics there are and claim to speak for them. So numbers is important here so excommunicating and expelling members would not be a good tactic, so much so that they have actually blocked people from leaving the church. A website was set up called Count Me Out which helped Irish people officially leave the church. There was a sizable amount of people who decided to formally 'defect', especially given the atrocities* the church has committed here. The number of defectors was enough to worry the church so they put an end to it by changing Canon Law which now makes it impossible for anyone to officially leave, so I am technically still a Catholic in their eyes and they will pretend to speak for me. The contrasting manner which the church conducted itself in these two examples reveal its true nature. In both cases the church's power base is threatened and it acts in contradictory fashion to protect its interests. They threaten excommunication and expulsion from religious affairs when their finances are at risk but deny people their right to self-excommunicate when their numerical power is threatened.
This sort of self-interest by the church is all to easy too highlight: the cover-up of endemic molestation and rape of children, bishops were being fired for simple mismanagement but not for covering up sex abuse cases, the church is still refusing to pay the compensation to victims, forcing the tax payer to foot the bill, and over 50% of the charitable funds raised by Mother Theresa went into new buildings and renovations of church property. Historically this has always been the case but the most glaring example is the fact that the church only excommunicated one Nazi leader: Goebbels, for the horrible crime of marrying a Protestant. Naively I keep expecting the church to sort itself out and stop putting its own interest ahead of ordinary citizens, not because it wants to but because it simply has to, however, at every turn it fails. The church has always thought itself the centre of the universe, and I guess this is still the case.
*I mulled over the use of such a powerful word for a while, thinking maybe my bias was getting the best of me. However, considering the amount of child abuse which occurred here, coupled with the conditions women were forced to endure in the Magdelene laundries, which can only be described as forced labour, I felt such a word was warranted.