Daily Archives: July 15, 2011

“Keep The Customer Satisfied”: Cardinal Schönborn and the Kirchensteuer

In order to try to understand what is happening in Austria, it is perhaps useful to inform the readers about a peculiarity of Austria, Germany and Switzerland. In these countries, you can pay a kind of voluntary tax, or more simply said a tithe, through your normal income tax. This is called Kirchensteuer in Germany and Switzerland, and Kirchenbeitrag in Austria.

This means that:

1) the taxman will do everything for you, and give the money to the relevant church;

2) Once you have registered for the tax, you’ll pay automatically in proportion to your income tax (Germany) or to your taxable income (Austria);

3) In Germany, the procedure to get out of the tax was considered, last time I looked, bureaucratic and unpleasant, so that there is a kind of psychological/administrative disincentive to the dreaded Kirchenaustritt, the getting out of the system.

In the countries where it is in place, the Kirchensteuer ensures vast sums of money to the relevant church organisations. This is why the German priests are probably the best off of the planet (the Swiss ones might beat them, though), and I can easily imagine that the Austrian ones are not left very far behind.

Now, in order to try to understand the (shameless) workings of Cardinal Schönborn’s mind, you must understand that in Germany and Austria, a lot of people pay the Kirchensteuer, who don’t go to Mass or even believe in God. This has cultural and historical reasons: in the traditionally Protestant Germany the belonging to a church is more strictly linked to the paying of the tithe; but even among Catholics, the paying of the Kirchensteuer is often seen as a kind of “doing one’s duty”: I don’t go to Mass, the reasoning goes, but I do my part financially so it’s all right. Don’t think that the German clergy does anything to persuade them that this is not true!  Various other elements traditionally concurred, like the scandal of the parents if one started to talk about Kirchenaustritt, the shame of telling one’s parent that one doesn’t even believe in God anymore, the fact that the Germans live in small(ish) villages in greater percentages than Brits or Italians, the clear Christian roots, the diffused moral conservatism, etc. A colleague of mine was once told in no uncertain terms that in case of Kirchenaustritt she would be disinherited. You understand from this that the grip of the Kirchensteuer-system on the country was, in the past, rather strong.

After V II we therefore had a very strange situation: millions and millions of people who have forgotten – or haven’t been taught – the very basics of Catholicism, but who are the one who pay for it. This creates, in my eyes, several distortions:

1) Many Catholics have started to believe, in their culpable ignorance, that their paying gives them the right to meddle in the way the shop is run from the theological point of view. Austria is an extreme example.

2) The Catholic Church in these countries has become a fat, satiated, overinflated, bureaucratic, ministerial apparatus providing a service to their non-churchgoing clients: the Church has lost them as solid Catholics, and she now panders to their wishes in order not to lose them as good spenders. We see this in Germany but, most clearly, in Austria.

3) There is no incentive for the local priests to have a vibrant, orthodox Catholic community. The priest knows that the shop lives largely out of those whom he never sees. He knows that the thread which keeps them linked to the Kirchensteuer-system is rather feeble, and becomes more so as the older generation dies. Therefore he tries, like Simon & Garfunkel, to keep the customer satisfied.

4) The dissatisfaction has become more virulent with the scandals; scandals which have hit Austria particularly hard and by which the late Pope Blessed John Paul II distinguished himself with his well-known talent for trusting the wrong people, then denying reality, then denying reality again, then doing nothing, then protecting his friends, then finally doing too little, and too late. This has caused permanent damage in a country where church attendance was already dwindling and respect for and obedience to the Church as an institution not taught at all.

Mind that this situation is different from, say, Italy. In Italy you pay a part of your taxes to either the Church or some other organisation of your choice, but you can’t choose whether to give or not. In Germany and Austria it is different: once you get out, your net pay increases.

This is, then, the situation Cardinal Schoenborn is facing: great dissatisfaction with church scandals from people who haven’t been properly instructed, and therefore think they can make the rules. At the same time – again, these people not being properly instructed – the hierarchy is afraid of telling things as they are, lest a mass exodus from the voluntary tax occurs.

The edifice is now trembling, the Kirchenaustritte fastly accelerating, and the Church in Austria reacts….. trying to keep the customer satisfied.

Now: if Cardinal Schoenborn believed in God, he would simply do what is right and trust that Providence will always give the Church the money it needs; he would strongly call his sheep to obedience, punish the rebels, instruct the others, and be an example of orthodoxy himself. In short, he would do his job and serve God instead of Mammon.

Instead, Cardinal Schoenborn authorises the exhibition in the Cathedral museum of a work of (degenerate) art showing the Last Supper as homosexual orgy, a feat possibly beyond Peter Tatchell. He authorises the strikingly sacrilegious Western Masses, and this for three years in a row and not caring for opposition. He flies to Medjugorje without consultation with the local bishop, further encouraging the very questionable – and censored by the local bishop – “nuChristianity”, “Madonna at teatime”, “ecumaniacal” practices going on there. He expresses himself more or less in favour of married priests (not a heretical position in itself) with reference to the (homosexual, but don’t tell him) pedophile scandal to please the angry liberals. He expresses himself in conciliatory ways towards sodomites living together.

This is not the behaviour of one who believes in God. This is the behaviour of one who, in plain language, doesn’t care a straw for anything else than his own popularity among the public and the proceeds from the  Kirchensteuer.This is the simony of modern times.

This explains, I think, his behaviour and the constant pandering for the favour of the angry Austrians sitting (or more often, not sitting) in the pews. He silently encourages rebellious behaviour in his priests so that they can give the angry spenders the motivation to stay in and continue to pay; when an open uprising erupts, he does as little as he absolutely must, at the same time sending a clear message that he is not the enemy of the heretics, Rome is; he authorises the above mentioned blasphemous exhibition initiative to pander to the atheists and show them that he really doesn’t care for God, so they have nothing to fear from him (but they can continue to pay to please their mother, bitte sehr); he makes a mockery of the mass (see also here for another mass after his liking) in order to please the ignorant crowds.

In doing all this, Cardinal Schönborn always pays attention not to stretch things too much: he is always ready to backpedal (blasphemous exhibition; western masses; Sodano criticism) when he must, but he always does things in a way which lets him appear the “good, sensitive, modern guy” even when he must cave in. You see how it works here: I’ll show to my customers that I am such a capital chap; and then I’ll backpedal if I have to, deflecting the criticism in Rome’s direction.

This is how Cardinal Schoenborn is presiding over the slow destruction of Catholicism in Austria. His example might find imitators in Germany and Switzerland, particularly if the “Call to Disobedience” is not stopped very soon; he will do the latter when the pressure becomes strong enough, and not one moment before; as always, paying attention to appear like the good guy; the one whose bills atheists, militant homos and rebellious Catholics can continue to pay in good conscience. I so wish the Cardinal would hear from Rome some words from the same song:

you’re in trouble boy,

and now you’re heading into more.

Don’t hold your breath.


%d bloggers like this: