COME ALL YE FAITHFUL TAXPAYERS
People attending midnight mass at German churches may have to bring their tax returns with them in the future, if two politicians have their way: They've called for Christmas services to be confined to regular visitors who pay church tithes.
German politicians have said midnight mass on Christmas Eve should be reserved for people who have paid their church tax.
Thomas Volk, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, said many regular churchgoers were angry that they can't get a seat because of the onslaught on churches at Christmas.
He told Bild newspaper: "I'm in favor of having church services on December 24 open only for people who pay church tax."
Germany's Catholic and Protestant churches are still largely funded by tithes, which are collected by the federal tax office. Germans have the right to opt out of paying tithes -- by leaving their church.
So it upsets some tithe-paying religious folk to find their normally underpopulated churches crowded with people at the holidays. The head of the business-friendly Free Democrats in the Berlin city assembly gave support to Volk's proposal, telling Bild that members should be handed tickets to guarantee them a seat during a crowded service.
It remains unclear how such rules should be enforced -- or whether people attending midnight mass should bring their tax returns with them.
Berlin's daily Tagesspiegel reported on Sunday that last year 246 000 people attended Protestant church services on Christmas Eve in the capital, versus an average of just 17 000 on a normal Sunday.
Scuffles broke out among churchgoers two Christmases ago at the Berlin Cathedral, the city's biggest church, over available seats.
Last year the church distributed free tickets to members guaranteeing them a seat at the Christmas Eve service, and is doing the same this year.
But some church leaders say reserved spots in the pews send the wrong message.
"We should not be giving the impression that there is a two-class society in the church," said Stefan Foerner, spokesperson for Berlin's Roman Catholic Archbishop.
"Jesus would not ask whether someone paid their church tax or is baptised." - AFP