The ecclesiastical tax is part of the cantonal taxes in Switzerland. It is up to the 26 cantons to define how they want to collect it. Different systems are currently in place, for natural and legal persons. The majority of the cantons have granted public law status to the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Church. Some cantons also confer this status on the Catholic Christian Church [the Old Catholic Anti-Infallibility Church] or to the Jewish community.
The daily 20 Minuten in German-speaking Switzerland reported on March 11, 2020, the reaction of the Catholic Church in Lucerne to the new attitudes of banks and financial institutions. Indeed, the corporation that manages the Lucerne Catholic church tax, denounces the financial, tax or bank advisers who encourage people to leave the Church - and therefore the payment of church tax - for the benefit of life insurance or other investments. However, specifies the Lucerne corporation, 93% of the resources coming from the ecclesiastical tax - compulsory in most of the Swiss cantons - are used mainly for local social work.
The Protestant Swiss news agency Protestinfo said on March 5 that at a time when increasing numbers of people are leaving the churches, the tax on legal persons appears to be a happy alternative for the churches in certain cantons. “Today, it is only partially the natural persons who finance [the church tax]. In the canton of Zug for example, 60% of ecclesiastical tax comes from legal persons,” observes René Pahud de Mortanges, professor of religious law at the University of Freiburg.
In 17 of the 26 Swiss cantons, companies or legal persons pay compulsory ecclesiastical taxes; apart from five cantons in which there is no church tax (Geneva, Neuchâtel, Vaud, Valais, Ticino), as well as four other cantons (Basel-City, Schaffhausen, Appenzell Outer Rhodes, Aargau) do not levy taxes on legal persons.
So far, various attempts to abolish church taxes have all failed. In 2011 the Federal Court issued a judgment concerning the canton of Schwyz to confirm the validity of the ecclesiastical tax for companies according to cantonal law. This judgment is a precedent. No popular initiative in favor of the withdrawal of the church tax on legal persons has succeeded, either it was finally withdrawn, or it was refused during a vote of the canton concerned. Church tax is also levied in Germany (natural persons only) and in Austria (collected by the churches themselves).
“Churches would be affected to varying degrees if this tax [for businesses] were to disappear. On the other hand, the abolition of the ecclesiastical tax for individuals would have a dramatic effect. This is evident when you look at the situation in the cantons of Geneva and Neuchâtel, where there is no church tax and where the churches - in comparison with the rest of Switzerland - have very little money. This has of course led to a dramatic reduction in the services they can provide,” as René Pahud de Mortanges told Swissinfo, during the popular initiative to exempt companies from church tax which had been launched in the canton of Nidwalden in 2013.
However, added Swissinfo on the occasion of this 2013 initiative, Msgr. Vitus Huonder, then bishop of Chur (the diocese to which the cantons of Nidwalden, Zurich, and Graubünden belong) declared that the Church can count on the solidarity of the faithful themselves, but not necessarily from companies that are soulless things. Likewise, the Vicar General of the Bishopric of Chur, Msgr. Martin Grichting, was a staunch defender of the abolition of the church tax. Expert in canon law, he advocated its replacement by donations or a voluntary tax. “The current relationship between church and state is incompatible with canon law and the nature of the Church which is hierarchical and undemocratic,” he said.
In fact, the church tax can help finance abortion. The Diocese of Chur, in 2012, opposed the Graubünden ecclesiastical corporation, responsible for administrative matters, finance, and the management of land and property in the diocese. As such, this secular organ linked to the diocese is called upon to subsidize associations within the framework of charitable works. And it is precisely in this context that it subsidizes the family planning association Adebar, in Chur. This association publicly supports contraception and abortion. Faced with the refusal of the leaders of the corporation to stop this funding, the diocese of Chur was forced to appeal to the justice system in 2012, deploring that an “ecclesiastical corporation could support an association which considers abortions as legitimate and delivers advice to that effect.”