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There have been reports of an increase in Polish Catholics applying for apostasy certificates to leave the church.

I believe that some Islamic countries' laws are different for Muslims and non-Muslims (e.g. alcohol consumption), and that apostasy can be taken very seriously and may even regarded as a crime. However I assumed that, in the USA and most western European countries, people just walk away from a particular Christian church when they lose or change their faith. The idea that paperwork may be required for Christian denominations is new to me.

I haven't been able to discover if the possession of an apostasy certificate confers any advantages to someone in Poland. Is it merely a formal statement notifying the church that you are not to be counted as a member, or are there wider political/legal/civil rights implications?

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    I don't know the situation in Poland, but in my country often funding of church buildings or other policies take into account a highly inflated number of the actual members of a congregation. People are often classified as Catholics or belonging to other religious groups at birth and they cannot change that classification. So politics and money might have to do with it. – FluidCode Jul 19 at 13:35
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    A friend of mine who went to live at Germany took care of getting his apostasy certificate because it seems that otherwise he would have been registered as a Catholic and he would have had to pay a tax to support the Church. I do not know much of the details (if it is a federal of lander tax, which religions it covers, how do they register...) – SJuan76 Jul 19 at 19:53
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    @SJuan76 It is a tax imposed by federal law for all members of the two big christian churches (and I think also for the Jewish community, not sure about this). It's automatically added on top of your normal income tax, collected by the state for the churches. – Paŭlo Ebermann Jul 19 at 22:25
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    "in the USA and most western European countries" -- but Poland isn't exactly in the west, given it was part of the Eastern bloc (and counts as Central Europe now). Note how the article states it was even harder to leave the church there until 2015, with e.g. "a period of soul-searching" included. (There was something similar in Finland until 1969, but I don't know the details). What with the current politics in Poland (e.g. the abortion ban mentioned in your link), it's not really surprising if this isn't exactly modern out there either. – ilkkachu Jul 20 at 12:40
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    @GeorgPatscheider, there is no official, separate church tax in Poland. The government (especially the current government) actually subsidizes the church with substantial sums of public money. Which is often embezzled by the subsidiary, such as Lux Veritatis Foundation. – Trang Oul Jul 20 at 12:48
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It's a political act, not something that people do to obtain some kind of material or social advantage. If someone in Poland has been baptized, then they are automatically counted on the rolls of their local parish, regardless of whether they actually believe in Catholicism.

The background here is that post-communist Poland has veered into right-wing authoritarian populism under the rule of the Law and Justice Party (PiS): PiS has eliminated checks and balances and pursued an agenda of nationalism and bigotry against muslims and LGBT people. Local governments are declaring themselves to be "LGBT-free zones." Abortion has been essentially outlawed. Blasphemy laws have been used repressively against people like Elżbieta Podleśna, who made a poster showing the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo. Many women are angry at the church and PiS, and there have been large protests, with formal apostasy being connected to the protests.

Many Poles are against these policies, and they don't like the way the Church has allied itself with PiS and/or the political influence of the Church. They don't want to be listed on the rolls of a church that they don't support. There have also been sexual abuse scandals.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – CDJB Jul 21 at 13:30
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The possession of an apostasy certificate does not confer any advantages in Poland. None whatsoever. One may say it actually puts the apostate in a disadvantage, as the process of obtaining the certificate can be quite unpleasant (it depends on the priest taking the apostasy statement - some take it matter-of-factly, some are downright abusive and pile up various obstacles). It may happen that the certificate would become a more severe handicap, preventing its holder from taking certain jobs, such as teaching - such ideas can be now heard from the Ministry of Education, although they are only ramblings of one of its officials (so far...)

Thus, a formal apostasy in Poland is best seen as a personal statement of not condoning the dealings of the Catholic Church and a way of saying that not all baptised people are Church members.

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In Germany (and a few other countries), if you belong to any of a certain number of recognised religious denominations, and you declare this when you register your residence (as legally required), then you are eligible to pay church tax (Kirchensteuer).

Apocryphally, I've heard accounts of non-religious people who have registered themselves, in good faith (no pun intended), as having no religion, and later being told that they owe tax (and back-tax) because they were baptised by the Catholic church and are officially regarded as members.

This is one area where formally asking to be removed from the church register isn't just a symbolic gesture, but one with relatively large financial consequences.

Note that the church tax isn't especially small either, at approximately 9% of income tax, for a medium income earner of €50,000, this might amount to ~€1,000 per year (9% of ~€10,000 income tax).

If I was Polish, and I ever had an inclination to move across the border to work for any amount of time, I would pre-emptively leave the church as soon as possible to avoid this sort of situation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_tax#Germany

Random example: https://www.reddit.com/r/berlin/comments/lcn489/finanzamt_asking_for_kirchensteuer_payment_even/

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  • According to this semi-official source, Poland does not collect a church tax. – henning Jul 21 at 8:20
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    @Henning But Germany does and a pretty large number of Polish people work and live in Germany. I don't think this is the main reason but it could be a reason. – Roland Jul 21 at 9:23
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    @henning There is no direct church tax, like in Germany, but there is indirect one via "Church Fund", and other expenditures on lower government levels, so religion in Poland is partially tax funded. official source (no english version) says "W projekcie ustawy budżetowej na rok 2021 zaplanowano 11.000.000,00 zł.". That's 11 million PLN split among churches, with majority going to Catholic because its majority. Getting out of "believer list" will prevent religious organization from adding you to the counter, thus hitting its funding. – PTwr Jul 21 at 14:52
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    @Mark Allen The fact that subsidies are allocated proportionately to the number of registered church members is interesting and a crucial part of the explanation. I would add that to the answer, because it nicely complements the now most-upvoted answer, which is mostly speculative, whereas this one presents important facts. – henning Jul 21 at 15:37
  • The problem is real and relatively common but I believe that getting an apostasy certificate in Poland is neither necessary nor sufficient to get deregistered from the church tax in Germany. Instead, you need to go to your municipality, provide a birth certificate, sign a form and pay a fee. – Relaxed Jul 22 at 7:12
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The question is particularly about Poland, but also in general about Western Christian denominations. Many denominations, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and the LDS church (Mormons), have outreach programs that periodically target "lapsed" members with efforts to get them to rejoin their local congregation. Officially withdrawing membership is the only way to get them to stop these efforts. In this sense, withdrawing membership is essentially putting yourself on a do-not-call list. Of course, recent events in Poland are likely driven by different motivations.

Having personally experienced the Mormon church's efforts to "reactivate" me, I can tell you that they have access to third-party datasets and can figure out where you've moved. Invasive practices like this have motivated myself and a number of my acquaintances to officially withdraw membership rather than passively drift away from the church.

The Catholic church doesn't have large, global outreach programs that I'm aware of, but local parishes do sometimes have efforts to draw parishioners back into attendance. I have to imagine some are motivated to avoid being targeted in this way.

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