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Faith may move mountains, but it rarely settles outstanding bills. Even the church cannot avoid devoting itself to the profane. For example, some time ago the diocese of Mainz printed a brochure with the slightly bulky title Plan while saving . The central message: By 2014, 25 million euros should be saved in the diocese of Mainz. "Demographic change, economic and social developments force the church to put its spending to the test," it says in the paper.

Whether they like it or not, the churches are also economic actors. Pray, pastoral care and care for your employees in the field. In the back office, economic experts balance and invest. Bishops have long sought advice from McKinsey management consultants. Monks produce liqueurs, soaps and sweets for the product line "Good things from monasteries". Deacons start businesses. Communities learn about fundraising. The Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, for example, co-organized an entire congress in 2009; it was about "win-win partnerships", company donations and sponsoring. Motto: "Win a company as a partner". But the balancing act between economy and theology, between economic constraints and Christian teaching is difficult - and sometimes it does not succeed.

The churches turn over billions - almost as much as Volkswagen

If the churches were corporations, they would be among the largest companies in the country. In 2010, Volkswagen was the group with the highest sales in the German share index with 126.9 billion euros. The churches play in a similar league. Friedrich Schwarz named in his book in 2005 Economic empire church - the most powerful group in Germany for both German churches together a total turnover of more than 125 billion euros, his assets he put at 500 billion euros. The social scientist and church critic Carsten Frerk also came up with sales of around 125 billion euros in a study in 2002; he assumes that this figure has not changed much. There are no more recent and, above all, reliable figures.

Many experts avoid this topic. The Institute of German Economy in Cologne has been dealing with questions about the church and the economy for over 25 years, but they do not want to participate in speculation about assets and turnover, as they say.

The two large churches in the country do not publish figures. You are not interested in being perceived as an economic operator. "The Protestant church domains do not know how rich or poor they really are. Church tax receipts can be shown, but all total numbers that are in circulation are not empirically reliable because most of them, especially all property numbers, are speculatively extrapolated. Everything has nothing to do with confidentiality policy, but is a consequence of church federalism, "explains Peter Mörbel, head of studies at the Evangelical Academy in the Rhineland.

And with the Catholics? The Catholic Church in Germany does not have an official overall balance sheet either. When asked about economic data, the German Bishops' Conference said, for example, that one had to "consult the dioceses (27 of them) and the German Caritas Association themselves".

Frerk, who is also the author of the Violet Book of Church Finances is, found in his research, "that finances are in principle not spoken in public". He alone comes to 19 billion euros in government grants a year, be it in the form of tax breaks or grants for schools and care facilities. In the past, Frerk estimated the fortune of the Catholic Church in this country at 270 billion euros.