Desperate European Nations Are Considering Taxing Church Properties

Photo: flickr/dexxus

For centuries, the church has enjoyed tax breaks and special privileges that have helped them become the ridiculously wealthy organisation they are today. But as Europe’s nations, cities, towns, and the general public struggle through the economic downturn, more and more people have called for an end to the special treatment. To be clear, the taxes would not be levied on actual Churches, but rather, on their vast property holdings and commercial businesses.

In effect, anything the church owns or operates that constitutes a “non-religious” purpose, reports the Washington Post. The revenue generated would be substantial, one estimate putting the taxation figure at roughly 3 billion euros ($4 billion) just in Spain.

Aside from Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Britain have also begun efforts to tap into the Church’s piggy bank, or simply stop putting money into it. New laws have mostly been on the municipal, city, and town wide level like in Spain’s coastal city of Buenavista del Norte, where the mayor is trying to collect 6,000 euros ($7,850) from the church for a banana farm and rental villa they own.

In Britain, instead of taking money from the church, city councils have stopped providing money to the church by eliminating state subsidies for the transportation of students to and from religiously affiliated schools. Ireland has followed that action as well, cutting in half the grants it gives to poor families for their first Communion

But Italy may represent the largest, and most striking example. In February, Italian PM Mario Monti announced that the Vatican was going to have to pay taxes on non-religious properties, reports BBC News. With over 100,000 properties valued at approximately 9 billion euros ($11 billion), the tax itself could be as much as 720 million euros ($946 million).

Not everyone is for the new taxes, the Church obviously being the biggest opponent. Some politicians are also on their side though, arguing that the social value of the church gives it a special standing, and that in tough times like these, the church is needed most. Then there is the question of what exactly will and won’t be considered a commercial property, or a non-religious purpose. Would a sweet shop run by nuns count as a commercial undertaking, or is it religious?

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