Europe: Financing Churches

May 05, 2022

The financing of Churches varies according to the different European countries. While in most parts of the world the functioning of Churches is ensured by donations and other contributions from the faithful, historical, political and social developments in Europe have led to great differences between countries, explains the German Catholic KNA agency.

In Germany, the church tax is compulsory for all persons who are attached to a Church. It is collected by the State, which transfers the proceeds to the Churches. It corresponds to approximately 3% of income taxes.

These amounts constitute the main income of the churches. They are mainly used to finance the staff active in pastoral care, and the many health, social, or educational institutions of the Churches which are among the largest employers in the country. The fact of a person declaring his “exit from the Church” makes it possible to no longer pay the compulsory ecclesiastical tax.

Switzerland is characterized by different situations depending on the cantons. Most cantons have the church tax system paid by individuals, but also companies. In French-speaking Switzerland, the cantons of Geneva and Neuchâtel are experiencing a “French-style” Church-State separation.

Vaud and Valais have their own systems of remuneration through public subsidies. By declaring that they are “leaving the Church,” the faithful can exempt themselves from payment of the church tax.

Since 1939, Austria has had a system of ecclesiastical contributions introduced by the German occupiers, against which the then bishops had protested en bloc. The church contribution is calculated on the basis of the annual taxable income of the members of the Church.

This contribution is collected by the dioceses and is used to finance the main tasks of the Church such as pastoral care, building maintenance, social affairs, education, culture, and development cooperation.

Contributions made to churches and religious communities recognized by the State are partly deductible from income tax as special expenses. In addition, the Church receives annual “reparation payments” from the state, compensation for property confiscated during the Nazi era and not subsequently returned to it. They represent about 8% of the diocesan budgets.

In Italy, the state levies an indirect church tax. This is subtracted from the total proceeds of personal income tax. Since 1984, each taxpayer can decide, in his tax return, to allocate the eight per thousand fixed either to the State, or to one of the twelve religious communities which have concluded an agreement with the State.

The taxpayer cannot avoid this so-called “mandate” tax by leaving the Church. However, only 40% of taxpayers indicate to whom they attribute their share. Depending on this distribution, the rest is allocated to the beneficiaries by the State. The Catholic Church thus receives a little over 70% of total revenue.

In Spain, taxpayers decide voluntarily, when completing their tax return, whether 0.7% of their tax contribution should be allocated either to the Catholic Church or to social or cultural objectives.

In France, since the law of separation of the Church and the State of 1905, the Church no longer receives any subsidy from the State. It depends solely on donations from the faithful. Priests and bishops receive around 950 euros per month, part of which is used to pay for accommodation and even food. Churches built before 1905 generally belong to the municipalities, which are responsible for their maintenance.

The dioceses have very unequal financial situations according to their own assets, the number and generosity of the faithful. In the departments of Alsace and Moselle, the Napoleonic concordat of 1801 remains in force. The dioceses are therefore not responsible for the upkeep of the places of worship built after 1905, nor for the salaries of the parish priests who are paid by the State.

In Belgium, since Napoleon, the State directly or indirectly finances the tasks of the Church through various legal arrangements. The remuneration of ministers of religion is provided by the State, as well as pensions. The funding of Church institutions and projects requires ongoing negotiations with public authorities. Disagreements at different levels of the State can therefore permanently block Church projects.

In the United Kingdom, the Anglican Church is the State Church. Twenty-six of its bishops are members of the House of Lords. Yet no church in the UK receives financial support from the state. Church taxes do not exist on the island.

Since 1979, only the maintenance of buildings classified as historical monuments can be subsidized. Donations to registered charities also benefit from tax advantages. British churches are mainly funded by donations from their members.

Hungary introduced in 1997/2004 a freely chosen, but compulsory earmarking of 1-2% of the tax share for ecclesiastical, social, cultural, or humanitarian purposes. The relatively generous state funding of the Church is also seen as compensation for the persecutions suffered during the communist era.

In Poland, more than 40 million euros per year are deducted from the state budget to supply an “ecclesiastical fund.” This fund was created in 1950 to compensate for the expropriation of religious communities during the communist era.

It is used to pay the pension and other social insurance contributions of a large part of the clergy of all denominations, as well as the maintenance costs of the churches. But there is no church tax. For the rest, the various denominations finance themselves mainly through collections and donations.

In Slovakia, the current government coalition has reorganized the financing of churches, and in 2020 repealed a law dating from the communist era. Subsidies to the 18 Churches and religious communities recognized by the State are now paid according to the number of members and no longer the number of clerics. The State continues to allocate the salaries of the priests, as well as the operating costs of the headquarters of the Churches.