Germany's top administrative court agreed with Roman Catholic bishops this week that German worshippers who did not pay a church tax could be denied sacraments, including baptism, weddings and funerals.
The verdict was based on German corporate law, said Reuters, upholding a system in which registered Catholics pay taxes to the state and the state then distributes them to the religious communities of Catholics, Protestants and Jews.
The Roman Catholic decree was issued last week, stating that those who did not pay the surcharge, up to 9 percent of their income tax, they would not be able to receive the sacraments. According to the Associated Press, that amounts to $72 a month for a single person with a monthly salary of $4,500.
"This decree makes clear that one cannot partly leave the Church," said the German bishops' conference last week, in a move endorsed by the Vatican. "It is not possible to separate the spiritual community of the Church from the institutional Church."
The Catholic church in Germany receives around $6.5 billion annually, but has been losing tax-paying members steadily since 2010. The AP said it lost 181,000 in 2010, and another 126,000 in 2011.
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A group called We are Church claims that many Germans stop paying the tax to save money or because they disapprove of the church's policies, not because they no longer believe.
The BBC reported that Catholics make up 30 percent of the German population, but many left over the sexual abuse scandals in recent years.
The BBC said the church tax was introduced in 1803, as compensation for the nationalization of religious property.
The decree and court ruling were prompted by a retired professor of church law filing a legal challenge saying that church membership was determined by belief, not taxes.
"Whoever wants to officially leave a religious community that is registered as a statutory corporation cannot limit this withdrawal to the statutory corporation and remain a member of the faith community," said the court ruling, according to Reuters.
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