Well, here is the sequel to my very interesting story about the German Church getting a hold of me.

Actually, I probably need to rectify something. It is not so much the Church that got me, but the German State. So let me explain the next steps.

When I saw that the Finanzamt (Tax office) was ready to take away this "Church tax" on top of my normal taxes, I appealed. And said that I ws never told, as I registered at the townhall when I arrived in Germany, that checking that little box would make me a catholic in the eyes of... the State. I called the Finanzamt, talked with the person in charge of my file for a while, she was pretty comprehensive and said Well, why don't you write this down and send it to me, we'll see what the next step is. Which I did. That was back in November sometime. I finally got an answer a few days ago, which went something like:

According to § 5 Alinea 1 sentence 1 of the Church tax law, the obligation to pay church taxes starts on the first day of month following the date at which you have registered your residence. ... Since you have registered on the 15th of JUly 2005 and did not register your lack of confession (keine Konfessionslosigkeit), Church taxes are due as of the 1st of August 2005.

As the Germans say: Pech gehabt! (Too bad...). There is one thing that totally strikes me here, it is that they don't say "since you have registered that you were a catholic", no no, they say "since you have not registered that you were without confession". I find the phrasing (a double negation) at best uncomprehensible, at least quite ambguous. But it goes back to what I said in my earlier post, which is that basically, I failed to prove my innocence, so I'm guilty.

Well, receiveing this letter, which basically discarded the explanation I had given (ie. "I am French, in France we don't do this, when I registered, I was not made aware of the consequences of my checking that box etc.), I tried to see what I could do. Answer from my accountant: Two options. Either you can make the Town's administration change the check box by convincing them that you weren't aware of the consequences, or you have to take the necessary steps to get out of the Church..

Well, I tried the first option. And heard in so many words from the woman who registered me at the time (2 and a half years ago) that she had explained to me everything at thetime about the consequences of checking that little box. Guess what, she already had told the Finanzamt about the fact that she *always* explains to foreigners very exactly what that little box means. Huh? If that were the case, I don't see how much differently I could have understood the thing two years ago and today, and if I had been aware of the implications, I am not sure I would make all this fuss about it today. But you see, it's her word (German, civil servant) , against mine (French, freelancer, broken German). Tell you what, I've lost to start with.

So my only option was to get out of the church. This famous Church I never got in in the first place. Epic story if there ever was one.

In Hessen, you need to go to the Amtsgericht (municipal court) to "leave the Church" (or opt out, escape, resign, contract out...). When you get to the office "Kirchen Austritt", you need to provide an up to date registration form (the famous one I had checked wrongly), which means that basically, the one that you have checked in the first place is not valid anymore (go figure!). Once you have that, you are carefully read what you are doing 'in case you're not sure of what you are doing). You then have to pay 25,00 €, get a few signatures on the paper and you are finally out of the church, effective on that day.

So, 2 years and 6 months after not having entered the German Roman Catholic Church, I am finally out of it. And I must say that I am also angry at the German culture like I have never been before. I feel betrayed, used, disregarded in my culture and beliefs. I think it is the first time in my life that I am so bitter at one of those ever present administrative glitches, because the German State has coerced me into supporting a Church that I not only do not support, but have clearly not supported in more than 10 years.

One lesson learned, I will never again go to a German administration without a German speaker, or at least a dictionary, and I will make sure that I understand everything, or simply refuse to sign.

Another lesson learned, no matter what your feelings about how close to your culture another culture can be, make sure you are not missing a vital piece of information like " The Germans, when it comes to matters of religion, are 100 years behind the French".

A few remarks out of the blue:

  • It seems I am not the only one who finds those practices (mixing Church and State) unbelievable: other foreigners, believers or not believers, catholic or not have had the same reaction as mine
  • There are Germans that don't like the fact that the German State is so tied to the German Church (See the Save Yourselves The Church website)
  • If I had wanted to get married religiously before I actually "got out of the Church", the Church would have asked for a certificate of baptism from me not older than 6 months. Can someone explain to me how come it's enough to check a box in a State office to become a full-fledged (paying) member of the Church, but not enough to benefit from the Church's services? What is valid in one place should be valid everywhere. But no, when money is involved, the Church is not so demanding as when faith is involved.
  • In my first tax receipt, in 2005, since I had not earned any money and did not have to pay any taxes, the fact that I was "Kirchensteuerpflichtig" (ie. that I had to pay Church taxes) was not even mentionned on my tax return form.
  • Several conversations with Germans of different affiliations (believers, non-believers, politicians, non-politicians) have shown me that this tie between Church and State is much more than just a legal bound, it is a very strong social pressure. But I'll talk about this in another post, another day, when I am less angry.