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Render unto Kanzler

Many thousands of German Christians are said to be renouncing their faith and leaving the church in order to avoid new taxes.

According to the Daily Telegraph, 200,000 Germans filed official declarations last year renouncing their membership of the Protestant church, with a similar number thought to have left the Roman Catholic Church.

Church members in Germany must pay taxes to the government to fund church activities. Under the law there, anyone who was baptised as a child is automatically a member of the church and obliged to pay a percentage of their income, regardless of current beliefs or church attendance.

Historically, Germans have been prepared to pay the extra tax for the benefits it brings them, usually access to church schools and day care facilities. But a decision to extend the 8-9 per cent charge to capital gains income, or the profit earned from selling an asset, appears to have sparked a sharp decline in church membership. The changes include German banks now having to withhold the tax on the capital gains of account-holders who are church members.

The extension was 'the straw that broke the camel's back for people who were already thinking of leaving', says Ruth Levin, spokesman for the Protestant church in Disnlaken. Until recently those leaving the church have been young adults renouncing their parents' beliefs, but now many pensioners fear for their savings income.

Those who decide to leave cannot be excommunicated or prevented from taking part in church services, but they can be denied certain rites, such as religious burial. Catholics who renounce church membership are barred from confession and communion, and from the anointing of the sick.

In Bavaria, the rate of Protestant desertion rose by 62 per cent. Figures for the Catholic Church in 2014 are not yet available, but 178,000 Catholics renounced their membership in 2013. Around 30.8 per cent of Germans, or 24.7 million people, are Catholics, according to the 2011 census, while 30.3 per cent, or 24.3 million people, are Protestants.