In countries where church and state are tied together, religious groups can receive taxpayer money based on membership. It’s to their benefit, then, when people say they’re Catholic, even if they don’t really practice. (Atheists groups in some countries have urged people to say they’re not religious, if that’s accurate, in order to stop excess money from going to churches.)
And wouldn’t you know it? There’s a lot of shady bookkeeping going on…
In Norway right now, the Catholic Church is in the midst of a scandal over this very problem:
The Catholic Church is appealing a claim from government officials in Oslo, Norway that the church pay $5.1 million in compensation for participating in fraudulent practices.
The Oslo diocese, its bishop and its financial officer are accused of fraudulently registering thousands of people on its membership lists as to receive greater subsidies from the government.
The [Oslo] diocese registered about 65,500 new members between 2010 and 2014 and more than 56,500 people of that total were registered under disputed methods, according to Olso government officials. The diocese received more than $6 million in national subsidies during that time.
This is just one of the many problems with linking church and state. When there’s this much money involved, corruption is sure to follow, even in places of faith. It’s not like they’ve ever taken the Commandment about bearing false witness seriously.
The Diocese is contesting the fraud claim, though I’m not sure how they’ll defend themselves. In any case, it’s all the more reason churches shouldn’t be getting favors from the government. Church/state separation may not be a legal requirement in those countries, but it’s a hell of a good idea.