For many people migrating for work to Germany it's quite surprising, or even shocking, that they are asked about their religion by the employer. They are usually not informed about the consequences, and most people answer according to the formal (and not subjective) fact that they are baptised, even if they are atheists or agnostics.

However, being aware about the church tax in Germany, many people prefer to state they are confession-free (Konfessionslos), because they feel they are not the members of the Church (no religious activities).

On the example of Poland, formally, anyone baptised in Catholic Church is the member of the Catholic Church, and formally leaving the Church is practically impossible (according to people who have tried). So, formally any worker from Poland, that was baptised and arrives to Germany, is Catholic.

What are, then, the consequences of declaring yourself atheist based on your conscience, not on the formal state? You will not be registered for Church Tax, but if the tax office would want to check the religious membership, they would get the answer that the given person "belongs" to the Catholic Church. Will any actions be taken against such person, or the actual state would count as more important than the formal one?

3 Answers 3


The question is actually also relevant for German catholics who for some reasons want to leave the church. My understanding is that in canon law and catholic theology, this is simply not possible. In German law, it definitely is, the German states do not endorse the Roman Catholic Church's view of who is a catholic or not and do not ask for any proof beyond your declaration (it's called – approximate translation - the “negative freedom of religion”).

You can therefore at any time decide to declare yourself Konfessionslos and stop paying the “church tax” by formally exiting the Church (Kirchenaustritt). As far as the Church is concerned, you would still be a catholic and you would also automatically be excommunicated. In practice, it means among other things that you could not marry in a catholic church and should not take part in the celebration of the Eucharist. None of this should be a concern if you are a non-believer.

There is one last type of action the Church can take against you if you work for a religious institution like a Catholic hospital or retirement home: Nurses have been fired for having left the Church and those terminations have been upheld by the courts. Wikipedia (in German) has details on all that.

Whether you already formally belong to the Church in Germany or are registering yourself in the country for the first time, it's really up to the Church to convince you to remain a member. In principle, local authorities have to accept your declaration without further proof or investigation.

However, there are some reports that telling the town official that you were baptized was enough for them to register you as a catholic (this is from a site critical of the whole system) or that people who registered themselves as catholic at some stage (without being aware of the consequences) got in trouble later on. Apparently, the people in question still wanted to actively contribute to the Church (in their country of origin) and didn't really consider themselves atheists. It's not clear whether you can really do that or if it's all or nothing (Wikipedia discusses a recent court case about this – note that in this case, it's the Church, or at least some part of it, that brought a complaint, not the tax office or the person in question).

So you do need to be careful to be absolutely clear when registering and if in doubt follow the procedure to formally “leave the church” (which typically involves submitting a declaration and paying a small fee). But the Church can't force you to remain registered as a catholic forever merely because you have been baptized. Beyond that, church finances is actually a provincial/state matter so the exact law will differ from Land to Land.

  • Yes, I'm aware of Kirchenaustritt (you could put that in bold in your answer) but as an Imigrant, to do that you must first declare you belong to Church. My question is more about the situation of the people, who, upon arriving, feel and declare themselves Konfessionslos, although they can't proof that with any formal 'Beweis'.
    – user41
    Jul 3, 2014 at 8:39
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    @Łukasz웃Lツ I don't think it makes any difference, my main point is that you have a very strong right to have no religion and German law does not give precedence to the church's own view. Declaration is enough in any case, no proof is needed. I will add a note about that.
    – Gala
    Jul 3, 2014 at 8:41
  • It would be important if you could find any links, I've heard the version that people declaring themselves as church-free, while being baptised catholics, can meet the prosecution from tax office and have to pay the whole missing tax with penalty interests. It's quite hard to find anything authorative on that subject.
    – user41
    Jul 3, 2014 at 8:46
  • @Łukasz웃Lツ I will try to see if I can find more but I wouldn't expect to find that spelled out in this way. Why would they since they don't even do it for baptized German citizens? The tax office has no interest in the matter, it is just collecting the money on behalf of the church and is bound by your rights to religious freedom.
    – Gala
    Jul 3, 2014 at 8:51
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    @Łukasz웃Lツ I found a few more details, hope this helps.
    – Gala
    Jul 3, 2014 at 9:05

When I moved to Germany I had to fill in the tax forms and so on, and I said, Church of England, which I was at the time, and they wrote Englische Staatskirche and I paid no church tax. At some point I got it changed to Religion = none. If I fill in a form I just put a dash. No-one ever questioned or challenged this.

My husband left the Catholic Chuch officially a few years ago, so now he doesn't pay church tax either. He just had to fill in a form and pay 20 Euros. It does mean we couldn't get married in a church or have children christened, but we are not likely to do that. Theoretically he can't go to mass, but he hasn't been for decades so that's not a problem. But I don't suppose there's anyone at the door checking...?

Our children went to a Catholic school, but their not being christened wasn't a problem (I said they could choose when they were 18). The local Kindergarten is Catholic but anyone can go there.

However, the people who work in church institutions have to submit to church rules - the kindergarten boss married the boyfriend she'd been living with for years and got sacked. It was alright to live "in sin" but not alright to re-marry. That kind of stuff.

  • Well, your situation was quite a different because you were belonging to the confession that isn't payed by German state, and therefore such declaration was financially meaningless. Catholic Church is international, even if it's 'filiae' are 'national' (and Polish Church doesn't get money from German taxes).
    – user41
    Jul 14, 2014 at 13:48
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    The kindergarten bosses problem is that the catholic church doesn't recognise a divorce, so to them she was married all the time and could only legally get married again if the ex-husband died.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 6, 2015 at 16:07

Since this is expat forum, declaring yourself as non-catholic for German tax purposes doesn't say anything about your beliefs. You can still be a member of Polish catholic church, and contribute to it financially, it's just that you don't have any legal or moral obligation to do the same for the German catholic church.

The question in tax declaration is not about your beliefs, but about your duties, and you are certainly not obliged to pay anything through Finanzamt, while you can contribute even more directly.

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