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Feb 21 2012

Religious no-longer-free-dom

If they weren’t such a bunch of self-righteous, predatory, literally holier-than-thou, shockingly dangerous and immoral scumbags, I’d have some sympathy for the Catholic Church. After all, after centuries of iron-fisted rule over the minds of powerful nations around the world, the level of power afforded the Holy See has diminished substantially. As people have learned to pull back the curtain and find out who’s working the levers and dials of the Great And Powerful Pope, the church has had to start chasing believers and whining like a bully whose victims are finally fighting back.

One of the things that truly baffles me about public policy and religion is the fact that churches are tax exempt. I suppose it is defensible insofar as some churches provide charitable services; however, that is not even close to all they do. Their main activity is doctrinal instruction, not charitable organization. That kind of ‘service’ does not, in my mind, warrant getting the special privilege of having all income declared tax-exempt.

The Vatican has a weird relationship with Italy. It’s like when a spoiled child announces that ze is now going by a new name, and then the parents just kind of go with it until ze grows up and stops demanding to be called “Tangerine”. Except in this case, the parents are all the countries in the world, and the bizarre name is “Vatican”. True to its form, because the Vatican is technically a church, it demands tax exemptions for all of its properties, even those which are obviously not places of worship (as though that made a relevant difference).

I think the parents are getting fed up:

Italy’s Catholic Church faces an annual multi-million euro bill over government plans to strip it of its tax-exempt status. Prime Minister Mario Monti has announced the Vatican must pay taxes on non-religious property, from which it previously enjoyed an exemption. The annual cost could be up to 720m euros ($945m; £598m) according to municipal government bodies. Italy’s Catholic Church has 110,000 properties, worth about 9bn euros.

Perhaps a better analogy would be a teenager who refuses to get a job, and instead demands to be paid a salary for doing chores around the house. Italy has been letting the Vatican laze around on the couch and work on its ‘zine in lieu of getting a real job. When it is pointed out to the Vatican that times are tough and everyone needs to help out, the Vatican whines that it totally takes out the trash and cleans its room and that Italy isn’t its real dad anyway and it hates this family!

Okay… my teen years weren’t fun*.

Insofar as churches actually do engage in charitable activities, they should get the same tax breaks that other charities get. They should also be subject to the same scrutiny. Whatever proportion of collected monies go to charity activities should be tax exempt. Salaries, property taxes, utilities, and other overhead should be taxed like everyone else is, and for the same reasons. There is nothing unfair about holding religious organizations to the same standards as non-religious ones. What is unfair is running a hotel with a chapel and then claiming it as a religious institution. That is, quite frankly, simply abuse of Italy’s largesse.

And apparently Italy’s finally had enough of it. This isn’t small potatoes, either. An extra billion dollars in tax revenue per year pays for a lot of social programs, pays down a lot of deficit, and caters a lot of “bunga bunga” parties. It also means a billion less per year available to fund obstruction of sex education programs, demonize gay people, and oppose contraception. While I’m not exactly a fan of the Italian government, they are at least accountable to the people of Italy, whereas the Church is accountable to absolutely nobody. Oh wait, no, they’re accountable to God. Same difference.

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*Note: the above passage does not resemble my teen years in any way.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    Mclean

    Seems like the UAAR (Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics, Italy) information campaign might have actually had an effect!

    http://www.icostidellachiesa.it/

  2. 2
    jolo5309

    Is it wrong to giggle at the concept of the Pope going to jail for failing to pay his taxes?

  3. 3
    Crommunist

    “Wrong” only in the sense that it would be more appropriate for you to point and laugh hysterically.

  4. 4
    Esmerelda Margaret Note Spelling of Lancre

    Oh, come on! The bunga-bunga dig is a cheap shot*… and the Monti government is quite a bit more rational, and the fact that a conservative, right-wing government is proposing these tax measures makes me hope that Italy may finally become a secular state.

    *have mercy, we already (and still) have the Vatican.

  5. 5
    Crommunist

    I am encouraged by what I’ve seen Monti doing so far, but I think everyone in Europe is listening to bad advice (austerity measures pay back financiers quickly, but do decades worth of damage to the economy). Bunga Bunga was indeed a cheap shot, but it was intended as more of a tongue-in-cheek and good-natured ribbing of our Italian friends.

  6. 6
    Nick

    No resemblance? Sure, sure.

    When will we get to see some scanned copies of that ‘zine, anyway?

  7. 7
  8. 8
    mas528

    Actually, I was more put in mind of Al Capone.

    Guilty of many crimes, but finally gotten on tax evasion.

  9. 9
    ambassadorfromverdammt

    Doth the blogger protest too much?

    (Is it OK to say that Italy is giving the Catholics the full Monti?)

  10. 10
    Pierce R. Butler

    According to the proverbial usually reliable source, the Catholic church costs Italy 6 billion euros a year.

    And that’s with much lower travel expenses for their ambassador than incurred by, say, the recently closed Irish mission.

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