Financing Faith

Subsidies in the Name of the Lord

Church cross dpa
Who'll foot the bill for Germany's religious festivals?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Despite the constitutional separation of state and church in Germany, the two institutions are still interwoven, including generous tax-financed subsidies for religious festivals across the country.

  • Facts


    • Catholic church congresses, held every two years, cost up to €10 million; similar gatherings by Protestant are even more.
    • Up to 50 percent of those expenses are shouldered by the public, with cities, states and the federal goverment paying subsidies from tax money.
    • The city of Münster, where the 2018 Catholic congress is supposed to be held, is €700 million in debt; the local diocese has assets worth more than €2.4 million.
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Moses is back. His eyes look furious, his face is distorted in anger, he raises his hand in admonition. In front of the cathedral in Münster, North Rhine-Westphalia, he demands passersby to follow the eleventh commandment: “Thou shalt pay for your church congress yourselves,” the board next to him reads.

The bizarre performance of the three-meters-tall cardboard Moses last week in Münster was staged by the activist group “11th commandment.” The protesters are an alliance between the International League of Non-Religious and Atheists and the humanist Giordano Bruno Foundation. Their goal is to make sure that the Katholikentag, a massive Catholic congress scheduled for 2018, will not be subsidized by the city of Münster.

The oversized Moses had already made appearances at the cathedrals in Regensburg, Bavaria, and Leipzig in Saxony, protesting the subsidized religious festivals there too. David Farago, initiator of the campaign, said, “We feel treated unfairly because our tax money is used to pay for a Christian festival.”

The organizer of the congress, the Central Committee of German Catholics, is asking for €1.5 million from state coffers. Conflict over this subsidy has been lingering for months. Many take issue with the deeply indebted Münster forking out millions, while the Catholic Church sits on a fortune worth billions of euros.

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