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Woe unto the Church, for It Will Be Taxed

Cash-strapped European governments in the Catholic south are going the Henry VIII route and turning to one of the few sources of revenue left: the properties and activities of the Roman Catholic Church.

In Spain, government officials are looking to tax the church’s non-religious property holdings, as The Washington Post reports:

In the coastal city of Buenavista del Norte in the Canary Islands, Mayor Antonio Gonzales Fuertes, 30, says he is trying to collect 6000 euros— about $7,750 — from the church for a rental villa and a banana farm it operates. . . .

But efforts to collect the money have been blocked, and the debate has divided small Spanish towns.

In Alcala and Aspe, the city councils were told by attorneys that three national laws, including one signed in 1979, allow the Catholic Church to operate in the country without paying property taxes and that they would have to appeal to the national government to change those laws before handing the local diocese a bill. In Buenavista del Norte, the tax collector refused to send the bill despite an order by the city council.

Fuertes said that he is unfazed and that he is preparing to take the issue as far as the Supreme Court until the taxes are paid. “We need to force the church to answer why it should continue to have these benefits while the rest of us suffer,” he said.

Even in ancient times, broke governments frequently looked to the church for money. In Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome, desperate governments melted down the silver and the gold on sacred buildings to pay for war or tribute.

Our modern governments, however, might not find as much lucre as they hope. In many countries the Catholic Church already has a hard time maintaining its buildings and protecting and conserving the art in its custody, not to mention paying its priests salaries and keeping its schools open.

This is a sign both of the declining financial fortunes of governments and the declining political power of the church.

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