Church privileges in Austria

The situation of church privileges in Germany is complex, as it is different in each state. In Austria, that might be easier. I have come across a website from a protest movement listing the various privileges the Roman Catholic Church enjoys in Austria. While this is certainly not a disinterested source, the website does list all the laws and treaties invoked for said privileges. This list can give the interested reader an overview of what kind of privileges your average state church in Europe still has.

Tax privileges

  • The Catholic church, one of the biggest landowners in Austria, is exempt from property taxes on its holdings.
  • Church tax paid by the members of the church can be deducted from the state income tax, causing enormous financial losses. Donation are deductible as well, which primarily benefists church institutions (no reason given for this).
  • The collection of the church tax is supported by the state (not explained how), and citizens’ registry data are provided. (NB: unlike in Anglo-Saxon tradition, Continental European nations have a tradition of registering its citizens in every municipality they reside in. You move, you need to de-register in your old town and re-register in your new one.)
  • Although not a privilege per se, since the church is one of the biggest landowners, it also receives a huge amount of EU subsidies related to its economical activities. The 15 biggest church-owned institutions alone amounted for 4m €.

Privileges in education

  • Catholic kindergartens and schools are subsidised by the state, while this is not the case for other private schools. Catholic schools have much easier certification requirements.
  • Theology departments at public universities are financed by the state, but supervised by the Vatican.
  • Even though the theology curricula are controlled by the Vatican, academic titles resulting from those studies are recognised as public titles. (NB: Austrians are known as even more title-crazy than the Germans, i.e. politicians with a M.A. would insist on being addressed as “Herr/Frau Magister”. A recognition of titles is thus of utmost importance to the degree holder).
  • Salaries for teachers of religious education on public schools is paid by the state. According to the protesters, conscientious objection to religious education classes is made difficult by arranging for the classes to be in the middle of the day. An alternative ethics class has not yet been implemented.
  • School diplomas have to show the student’s denomination.

Administrative privileges

  • Concordat of 1933: this is the source of many of the church’s privileges. It guarantees that the church can administer its own matter completely independent of the state, according to canonical law, which has made it much easier for the church to avoid scrutiny by democratic institutions. It also restricts the autonomy of Austria in religious matters and grants the church a quasi-public position.
  • The clergy privilege absolves priests of their civic duty to help combat violent crime.
  • The church has access to the registry information of its members (see above).

Media privileges

  • The ORF, the Austrian Public TV, is obliged to air religious shows, even though demand for this kind of show has been decreasing steadily.
  • The church is also granted representation on the various supervisory bodies of the ORF, giving them a say in making decisions about the lineup and programming in general.
  • The church also has a seat on the advisory board of the KommAustria, the media regulatory authority.

Military service

  • The church makes use of the cheap labour of a great number of conscientious objectors to military service, who have to serve instead with civil institutions, like those of the church.
  • Employees of the church are exempt from military service.
  • The salaries of military chaplains and the military bishop are paid for by the state.
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