State Oversight of Church Finances
On March 11, 1935, the Prussian Ministry of State enacted the “Act on the Management of Assets in the Evangelical Regional Churches”. By virtue of this law, so-called “finance departments” were established in the Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union, which accounted for nearly half of German Protestantism. Other finance departments followed for seven church governments and the German Evangelical Church Office.
These departments set the church budget, oversaw the use of funds from the budget and managed the church’s financial oversight of parishes. Until 1937, it consisted of civil servants from the general church administration. Its members were appointed by the state.
Irregularities in the church’s financial management, which had arisen since 1933 as a result of the struggle between German Christians and the Confessing Church, were a welcome excuse for the state to intervene anew. The German Christians, for instance, had misused large sums for representational purposes and propaganda, whereas the Confessing Church diverted offerings and allocated funds to special accounts in order to free them from the clutches of the German Christian ecclesiastical authorities.
Not only German Christians but also quite religiously minded staff from ecclesiastical authorities and even members of the Confessing Church joined the finance departments at first. Director Hermann Müller in Stuttgart and Vice President Hans Meinzolt in Munich had themselves appointed to the finance department at the German Evangelical Church Office. They thusly intended to ensure they had influence on the finance departments’ decisions and to protect the church from even worse interference.
The initially still pro-church attitude of many staff members of the finance departments was expressed in the Announcement Concerning the Commencement of Operations by the Finance Department at the German Evangelical Church Office from November 14, 1935, which solicited the trusting cooperation of the regional churches and all of their members. They were not however able to conceal that the Nazi state had created an effective instrument of ecclesio-political power with the finance departments.
At the latest, this became clear in 1937 when the Reich Ministry of Church Affairs began to expand state oversight of the Protestant church extensively. On June 25, 1937, the ministry issued a directive intended to extend the system of finance departments to all of the regional churches and expand their authority. The former provision permitting only ecclesiastical civil servants to become staff members was deliberately absent.
This cleared the path for the Reich Ministry of Church Affairs to fill the finance departments with German Christians and unchurched Nazis. The affected church governments suddenly saw themselves confronted with counter-governments within their own organizations, which were controlled by the Reich Ministry of Church Affairs. The finance departments intervened in all matters including pastoral calls.
The regional churches of Hannover, Baden and Braunschweig were especially affected by this. The finance department in Braunschweig even started selling off church lands. Only then did a wider protest begin in the church but it could no longer achieve anything against the finance departments’ actions.
Source / title
- Gesetzesblatt der DEK Nr. 34 vom 19.11.1935, p. 118. ©EvAKiZ, München.