Church Tax in Austria?

I was talking to an Austrian friend today who is a lapsed Catholic. When I asked why he left the Church, he told me a story that went like this:

A few years ago, he got a letter in the mail saying he needed to pay 300 Euros to the Church because he was Catholic. His other options were to go to jail or, as he said, “stop being Catholic”. This sounded to me like simony, so I went onto Wikipedia and found out that, indeed, Austria has a “church tax” where the church imposes a 1.1% tax on all Austrian Catholics.

How is this justified? Of course it’s a precept of the Church to support her according to your ability, but to have this backed up by force of law sounds excessive. Like I said above, it sounds like you’re paying a “membership fee” for the Church.

Secondly, this seems to operate on the premise that it’s possible to “stop being Catholic”. This is deeply contrary to our faith. Once baptized, of course, you can never be non-Catholic again, and it seems unfair that the Church would demand money from a person who did not practice their faith, despite having been baptized as an infant.

Can someone explain this to me? It seems like a deeply Un-Catholic practice to me.

How does the Church impose a tax on anyone?

How does the Church have the authority to send someone to jail?


OK I hope I can explain this.

In Europe every country like the US has an Internal revenue service that collects taxes from every one and proceeds to allocate the money to pay the expenses the state incurs on behalf of the citizens.
It is important to note that differently from the US there is no State vs Federal taxes, excepted perhaps Germany of which I am not completely sure but the rest of Europe has a centralized system for each country.

Now then when you do your taxes each year you the taxpayer need to decide to which religious community you wish to have that portion of revenue to be allocated.

You have a choice, Catholic Church, various protestant sects etc. If you are agnostic you just leave it blank and the government decides to which charity or none it will destine said portion.

It is important to note that this contribution is by far the most important income apart from the daily collect, the various churches have in order to pay the expenses like priest allowance, music/choir teachers, etc.

Now if you ARE registered as belonging to one of the religious organization and you omit to declare your contribution in your tax declaration what recourse has the church you “belong” to in order to recover the money?

This is more and more a contentious issue in Europe. Unfortunately it was NOT set up by the Catholic Church or any other churches, BUT BY the governments.
In fact in Europe many protestant sects that thrive in the US using the “tithe” system languish over there because of this system.

There are a few nations in Europe with Church Taxes. Germany is another. This is a hold-over from when Europe was a real Christendom. These taxes are levied & collected by the government and given to the religion the person belongs to (whether Catholic, Lutheran, etc).

The governments of those nations have an interest in doing this because churches provide schools, services for the poor, etc. These nations are also often very proud of their historic Churches, which many are almost like museums or national monuments; so secular society wants to make sure they are funded for upkeep.

If you think about it for a moment, a 1.1% tithe is very low, and when everyone was attending church, it wasn’t a big deal. It was kind of akin to a school district or special district tax in the USA today. For the Church, it was like electronic parish giving services are today, a way to receive tithes more efficiently.

But now that you have “so called Catholics” who don’t go to Church and don’t believe in the teachings of the Church not wanting to pay the tithe. The law of the land says that if you identify with a religion, then you have to pay the tax. The only way to get out of paying the tax is to formally and publicly denounce your faith.

Therefore, you have some cultural Catholics who to to mass twice a year complaining because they want to be able to donate to the Church twice a year like their counterparts in other parts of the world.

Plus, it doesn’t help that there are some Bishops in those nations who were spending crazy dollars on seemly material, unnecessary items/projects.

So basically, these people don’t want their money going to their religion, but they don’t want to formally denounce their religion. If they denounce their religion, they still have to pay the tax… But it just goes to the charity of the government’s choosing.

So really… It makes no sense, other than they don’t want to give money to a religion that they don’t want to formally quit. :confused:

I have heard of this before. My knowledge is limited to what I’ve read or heard so it would be interested if someone with more knowledge shines in buy from what I’ve heard is not only Austria but other Scandinavian countries. It also seems that the tax is mandated by the government. I’ve heard too that many people have left the catholic church over this. It would be interesting to read other responses.

Germany has this as well.

EVERYBODY pays the tax (which is levied by the government). You don’t get out of paying the tax by leaving your church. Declaring your religious affiliation only affects where your tax goes. If you declare no affiliation then your tax goes to a charity of the government’s choosing (even if you attend Mass each week).

The government of Austria collects a tax and gives support to churches from that tax. This is also done in other European countries. It’s not how we do things, but it is how they do things. The citizens of Austria have decided that supporting churches is a good thing, and taxation is how they will accomplish it.

Austria is not the US. Their government, their laws.

Obviously it doesn’t. The OPs friend may be prevaricating.

The OP specifically said that the tax was levied by the Church. Thanks for clarification.


The situation varies by country:

According to Wikipaedia, only the Catholic Church (in Austria) avails itself of the Church Tax mechanism (I assume it is collected by the tax authorities).

The practice in Germany goes back quite some time in history and was a matter of custom. I suspect Hitler extended the practice to Austria after the Anschluss. I note that in Germany, if you don’t declare a religious affiliation, or if you leave a Church, you don’t need to pay. The process applies to multiple denominations.

In Germany, the tax is fairly modest: “For example, a single person earning 50,000 euros may pay an average income-tax of 20%, thus 10,000 euros. The church tax is then an additional 8% (or 9%) of that 10,000 euros (800 or 900 euros) for a total of 10,800 or 10,900 euros in taxes”. I guess individuals will take this into account when they are considering their contributions to other Church collections. Interesting to note that the Catholic Church in Germany gets 70% of its revenues by this means.

That’s quite interesting. As a US citizen having the government impose a tax for religion is a very alien concept to me.

According to the Wikipedia article, the Catholic Church is the only religious organization in Austria that “makes use of that opportunity”. I’m not sure it’s a very good idea, though. For example, it really alienated my Austrian friend from a faith that he was wavering over. Secondly, it will confuse people about the nature of baptism. As we all know, it’s impossible to stop being Catholic once you’re baptized. If that’s the case, the government has the right to collect taxes even if you don’t practice. If the government solves this problem by saying “well, just say you’re not Catholic anymore” that will make people confused as to what baptism really means.


Thanks everyone for your answers, by the way. I appreciate it.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit