- Published on Wednesday, 21 August 2013 07:24
- Written by John Draper
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In Italy, 20% of properties are owned by the Catholic Church; Italy is in a financial crisis - they are short of revenue; the Church is not short of money; add these together and guess what, Italy is asking the Church to cough up some money. A report in the Daily Mail says that the new Italian P.M. is making the request. It's probably not for churches - just auxiliary things like hostels but it adds up to £700M per year (about $1B). In most countries, Churches and their related activities are exempt from taxes, including property taxes. That's either because they are thought to be doing charitable works or because the governments want to subsidize them. Numbers are not freely available but 15 years ago a web site in Vancouver looked into the situation in the Greater Vancouver area. That area then had a population of 1.3 million and the Churches there had a combined assessed value of over $800M. Anyone else in Vancouver with these properties would be paying about $6m per year. They estimated the total for Canada would be $160M. Other countries have a similar problem. If a country is about to collapse financially, wouldn't it be a good thing to stop that? Shouldn't Churches pay their fair share? If they can't afford to, doesn't that mean they are not really supported by their faithful so should shut down?
In Toronto, there has been recent talk that Catholic Schools should cease getting subsidies because they prohibit initiatives like gay support clubs (Globe and Mail). And believe it, they do get subsidized - especially in smaller areas (like Cobourg and surrounding Northumberland) where it's expensive to run two school systems. It's not called a subsidy - but a combined system would mean lower taxes; doesn't that mean it's now subsidized?
In the U.S., activists have caused the Catholic Church to stop getting public money for some social support organizations because they refused to help with abortions - contrary to their legal obligation. But it seems it will be a long time before U.S. Governments willingly agree to stop subsiding Churches.
It might not be so bad if there was a prorated exemption for their social work. I don't see why an organization that gets revenue from donations and helps (e.g.) poor unmarried mothers should be taxed. But I don't see why their recreational worshipping or Sunday Schools should get exemptions. I'd like to claim the time I go to a movie or a play - they inspire me too! Even if they deny that their worshipping is recreational, it's certainly not for the public good - it's strictly for their own benefit. Why should there be any Government help via tax exemptions?
I think an exemption for Churches is a relic from the time that the "ruling class" or "those who know best" declared that "everyone should go to Church" just like they later said that all children should go to school. Some countries (notably Germany) go one step further and impose head taxes. If you call yourself Catholic, you pay a tax to the Government who passes it on to the Church. That's one reason the Church in Germany is unhappy with all the abuse scandals - too many are de-registering as Catholic! (More here). This tax is also in effect in Austria where it was introduced by Hitler and never repealed. There are also other countries with similar taxes (Wikipedia).
Maybe Churches (e.g. St. Michael's in Cobourg - at right) should think about a user fee - $5 to hear a Mass; $10 for a confession; $20 for Baptism. Non Catholic Churches with Sunday and other services could even charge $20 a time! Churches already charge for weddings so why not? Right now they rely on a collection plate - why not have a "suggested donation" at the door? They could easily do that if they lost their subsidy from taxpayers.
Let's ask the question whenever we get the chance - why are Churches tax exempt for worshipping? It simply does not meet any criterion of justice. Let them submit a tax return and claim pro-rata for their social work.
First published Dec 2011