A far too long message in my comment box (alas, canned; If I let one pass, where will it end?) made me realise different cultural environments might lead the one or other reader to understand my message in the wrong way.
Let us be clear that I am very much in favour of Catholicism as State Religion; that I consider it very good that priests have a (modest) wage from the taxpayer; and that I consider, in general, a duty of the State to contribute to the material welfare of the Church as the Church works toward the spiritual welfare of the citizen.
The ideal model is in my eyes the one the Duce and Cardinal Gasparri (the then Secretary of State) put together with the Patti Lateranensi, the Concordato of 1929.
With the Concordato, the Church became State Religion, and the State took among its duties the one of caring for both the clergy and the infrastructure for a rapidly growing population. Priests had a salary which, if modest, was universally considered fitting to the position of a priest, who should be a witness of simple living even if he did not take a vow of poverty. There was no problem anymore of maintenance of churches, or of monasteries etc; the money problems which had afflicted the Church in Italy for decades were suddenly out of the door, but without generalised corruption and decadent lifestyle getting in from the window.
Of course, both sides tried to profit from the new situation: Mussolini “inaugurated” the agreement with a massive crackdown on the Azione Cattolica, a thorn in his side which he felt he could comfortably put in a dark corner due to the huge popularity – and the acquired reputation of, so to speak, “defender of the faith” – the agreement had given him; and in turn, observant Catholics began to be admitted within the ranks of the Partito Fascista and rapidly infiltrated it, to the point that already at the beginning of the Thirties the vecchia guardia, mostly recruited among angry anticlericals, did not understand the world anymore (immortal pages on this in that wonderful novel, Il giardino dei Finzi Contini). It worked the other way too, though, and it can be safely said in the Thirties the clergy was on average pretty much as Fascist as the rest of the country. All this to say that whilst there will always be influences (and a complete separation between Church and State is probably a dream and a legend), all in all things worked.
You have, though, heard me expressing myself in a very critical way concerning the Kirchensteuer. The reasons are as follows:
1) The Kirchensteuer is Protestant in structure and thinking. It is the idea that the churches finance themselves, and the State merely assists them in the administrative matters. This is un-Catholic. In Catholicism State and Church are separated as to their sphere of competence, but are supposed to work together nevertheless. In proper Catholicism, a State “neutral” towards the Church is so inconceivable as a State neutral toward Truth.
2) The Kirchensteuer is also Protestant because, at least in most people’s thinking, it links its payment with the membership to a religious community (as it is natural for… Protestants). Therefore, he who does not want to pay the “tax” is, automatically, considered not a member of the community, even if he is a Catholic simply and fully by virtue of his baptism and orthodox thinking. The idea that one would, in a way, un-baptise himself because he does not want to give money to a bunch of cowardly atheists is astonishing, but it is a concept many in, say, Germany would share.
3) The Kirchensteuer has given the Church an astonishing amount of money, which has not failed to corrupt her entirely: the growth of the wealth in Germany, Austria and Switzerland made of these countries great contributors to the Vatican coffers (last time I looked, Germany was the greatest worldwide), whilst Catholic priests (single, of course, most of them) have a standard of living which certainly puts in the shadow the one of their colleagues in every other country, UK obviously included (I know it; I live there).
4) The results of this are under everyone’s eyes: the priests, bishops and cardinals of the region (Austria, Switzerland, Germany) can be openly heretic and challenge Catholic teaching without any fear of retribution (see point 5 below); this they do in turn because they are godless cowards afraid of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Remember, this is not Fascist Italy and the Kirchensteuer is still a voluntary payment! The procedure to get out is red-taped but still doable; and even if the Germans call it Kirchenaustritt, “exit from the church” (again, a Protestant concept), which clearly poses a hurdle, this is nothing that couldn’t be done.
5) The corruption arrives clearly up to the Vatican: the Germans & Co. as big spenders can do what they please saying to Rome “if we lose our paying customers and go down in flames you lose your biggest contributors, too”; therefore, the Vatican does not attack the heresy and does not tackle the unpopular issues in Germany & Co. because they, too, are afraid of mass exodus and relevant loss of dough. Just look at the Pope addressing the Germans who divorce and remarry not as unrepentant fornicators living in sin and even having the effrontery of thinking they are in the right, but as good Christians pandered to in their “suffering”. Those of you able to read German sites know that the wannabe pious doublespeak is uninterrupted, and simply unbearable.
6) Another result of the Kirchensteuer is the complete assimilation of the priests to the general population. In Italy when I grew up you could at least know that your priests were poor, and an example of some social prestige coupled with decorous, but still clearly perceivable poverty (the Duce knew how to do things properly; he allowed the taxpayer to provide for the expenses without anyone feeling exploited by the excessive welfare of the clergy); but in Germany a Catholic priest is so comfortably middle-class it is not an utter surprise he wants – particularly if he has lost his faith – to stay there.
At the same time, the means not only to think of sin but of putting the thought in practice (a more or less unofficial mistress, say, and one or two well-raised children on the side) are certainly available. Can we be surprised that so many priests in the area are in favour of “married” priests? Where do you think their new theological convictions come from?
Fortunately for Catholicism, what our heroes are doing is … killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. The desire of assimilation (and mistresses, and children, or simply “integration” and “approval”) created a first generation of terribly ignorant faithful, who would still pay the Kirchensteuer without really understanding why, or not to anger their parents; but the following generation started to fornicate, divorce, remarry like there’s no tomorrow, and cannot even understand (as in: they do not really know, because they aren’t really told) why they should not be right and the Church wrong. It is, therefore, absolutely fitting that they now want to get out of a church which never instructed them and still tells them that she would really, really like to please them, but it is just so, so difficult with all those rules and stuff… (don’t joke: this is the climate).
The German church has planted wickedness and has reaped evil. Good riddance to the Kirchensteuer, a system which will most certainly not survive this generation in this form, and let us hope that a new generation may have a poorer, but better instructed and more faithful clergy desirous to save souls rather than their income, or popularity, or mistresses.