The Italian footballer who owes the German Catholic Church €1.7m in unpaid tax

By Conor Gaffey
July 16, 2015

Hellas Verona's Luca Toni celebrates after scoring a second goal against AC Milan during their Italian Serie A soccer match at the Bentegodi stadium in Verona August 24, 2013.

The curious case of an Italian footballer who owes the German Catholic Church €1.7m in unpaid church taxes has hit a snag as a second appeal hearing produced no conclusive result.

Luca Toni, who played for German giants Bayern Munich between 2007 and 2009, is facing the bill for failing to pay the kirchensteuer, a tax of between 8-9% of their income tax levied on all Catholics, Protestants and Jews living in Germany.

The striker, who is a Catholic, is now suing the city of Munich and his former tax advisors for compensation after claiming that he was misled following his transfer to Munich from Italian side Fiorentina in 2007, according to German publication DW.

The case highlights the religious levies operating in Germany, which generate billions for religious institutions and have led to waves of Christians renouncing their church membership in protest.

Toni, a World Cup winner in 2006, returned to Munich yesterday for a second appeal hearing following a first appearance in the regional High Court in March. However, yesterday's hearing produced no conclusive result and the case appears to have been kicked further down the road.

Bayern have supported their former player, now with Serie A side Verona, who earned a monthly salary of €500,000 while with the German champions. The striker reportedly earned a total of €43m during the period when he was playing for Bayern.

The tax is a percentage of the income tax paid, so an tax bill of €100 would result in a church tax of €8, bringing the total to €108.

Toni has said he was not given a description of the documents he was signing by government authorities when he arrived in Munich in 2007.

"I did not know that you have to pay so much money to be Catholic here," said Toni, according to local newspaper Tageszeitung.

He added that he told his advisors to rush through the process of signing the documents so he would be able to start playing. "I had many documents laid in front of me, so I simply signed. We players talk about everything, but not about taxes," said Toni.

The religious levy was first introduced in the 19th century to compensate for the nationalisation of religious property. According to German law, anyone baptised as a child is automatically a member of the church and is liable to pay the tax unless they make a formal renunciation of their faith.

The tax has caused controversy in recent years, with a decree by the German Catholic bishops' conference in 2012 which announced that Catholics would not be able to receive sacraments or work in the church and its institutions - including schools and hospitals - unless they paid the tax.

In 2014, the Catholic Church in Germany collected €5.68bn from the church tax. There are around 24.7 million Catholics in Germany, making up 30.8% of the population.

The Telegraph reported that some 200,000 German Protestants renounced their church membership in 2014, up from 138,100 in 2012. In 2013, 178,000 Catholics left the church, up from 118,000 in 2012.

Church taxes are payable elsewhere in Europe. For example, in Italy, citizens choose which religious institution they wish to pay a compulsory income tax of 0.8%. The tax can be paid to various institutions, including Christian churches, Buddhist and Hindu unions or the Italian state.



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