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German court backs Catholic 'pay to pray' rule

Germany's top administrative court has ruled that Catholics who opt out of paying religious taxes must automatically leave the church as well.

The court's verdict Wednesday is a victory for the Catholic Church in Germany, which receives more than euro4 billion ($5.14 billion) annually from a surcharge of up to nine percent on income tax bills of registered Catholics.

The judges at the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig ruled against retired German theologian Hartmut Zapp, who wanted to leave the church as an institution but remain a member of the Catholic community.

Germany's bishops announced last week that believers who refuse to pay the tax are committing a "grave lapse" and as a result won't be able to receive the sacrament, become godparents or have a religious funeral.