Bishop of Bling: So why is Germany's Roman Catholic Church so wealthy?

Pope Francis II's decision to suspend Germany's Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst has brought worldwide attention to the bishop's lavish spending. But it's also drawn attention to the special relationship that the Roman Catholic Church has with the German state. Some observers say the fact the church is partially subsidized by Germany's taxpayers, giving it an estimate net wealth of $100 billion, is the underlying reason for Bishop Tebartz-van Elst's opulent lifestyle.

Here's a closer look at why Germany's Catholic Church is one of the wealthiest branches in the world:

1. Two-hundred-year-old religious levies

Ralph Orlowski/Reuters
Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst's residence (r.) stands next to Limburg Cathedral in Limburg, Germany, October 23, 2013.

Germany is the world's fourth-richest country, and citizens registered as Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish pay a tax to their religious institutions: between 8 and 9 percent of their income, depending on the region. With Catholics accounting for 31 percent of the country's population, the church claims about 25 million tax-paying adherents, who contributed $6.5 billion in 2011. A priest from Mannheim, a city in southwestern Germany, told the BBC why the tax, instituted in 1803 to compensate the church after some of its properties were nationalized, remained important: "With kindergarten, with homes for elderly or unemployed, we've got really good things so I know we need the tax to help the German country to do good things."

On Monday, Germany's Humanist Union proposed legislation that would end state payments to religious institutions, the website reported

1 of 4
of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.