Court says Catholic church tax can fund family planning centre

Catholics in eastern Switzerland have been helping to fund a family planning centre. Keystone

A Swiss Catholic diocese has lost a legal battle to withdraw funding from a counselling centre that offers family planning advice. The Swiss Federal Court ruled that the funding did not violate church law or religious freedom.

This content was published on January 31, 2019 minutes

The action was brought by the Catholic Diocese of ChurExternal link in eastern Switzerland. It objected to church taxes being used to support the adebar counselling centreExternal link, which gives advice on sex, relationships and pregnancy.

The dispute dates back to a 2012 budget decision by the regional Catholic church to give the centre CHF15,000 ($15,100) – on the condition that the money would not be used in connection with abortions, advice on abortions, or the ‘morning after’ pill.

But the diocese – which oversees parishes in Graubünden as well as in cantons Zurich, Glarus, Nidwalden, Obwalden Schwyz and Uri – took exception. Arguing that the Roman Catholic Church disapproved of the funding, it approached both the Graubünden regional church and later the Graubünden Administrative Court. Both rejected the diocese’s request to withdraw the support, so the diocese took the case to the federal level.

+ Homophobic comments by the bishop of Chur have also been the subject of a court case

On Wednesday, federal judges ruledExternal link that helping a family planning centre did not violate state church law or religious freedom. As the court pointed out, the funds came from the local community of Catholics – and not from the Roman Catholic Church. It added that the condition excluding abortion-related services tackled the concerns of the religious leaders.

In Switzerland, the authorities automatically collect taxes on behalf of nationally-recognised religions. Then the regional church branches can decide what to do with the money.

“As a consequence, Catholic church taxpayers can expect that their funds can be used for activities that are distant from or hostile to the church,” complained the diocese in a statementExternal link released on Wednesday.

Switzerland has six Catholic dioceses, and about 36% of the Swiss population is Catholic.

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