We’ve heard a lot recently from the Vatican on the “social justice” front, most of it the usual leftish sanctimony garnished with the distaste for the free market that has long been an important strand of Roman Catholic thought.

Well, now comes an excellent opportunity for the church to back up its words. The Daily Telegraph has the details:

The Roman Catholic Church in Italy is under growing pressure to start paying taxes on its massive property portfolio, in a move that could raise up to 800 million euros (£680 million) a year and help bail the country out of its economic crisis.

Campaigners, most prominently parties on the centre left, say it is deeply unfair that Church-owned properties with a commercial function — for instance convents and monasteries that charge paying guests similar rates to four-star hotels — are exempt from property tax. As the new technocrat government of Mario Monti seeks to slash the nation’s 1.9 trillion euro debt, attention is turning to the estimated 65,000 buildings owned by the Church.

They include around 50,000 cathedrals, churches and chapels — which would retain their tax-free status — but 11,000 schools, universities and libraries as well as nearly 5,000 hospitals, clinics and other commercial properties would face the tax.
The Monti administration has announced that Italians are to be taxed on their primary residences, reinstating a levy that had been abolished by Silvio Berlusconi, who resigned from his third term in office last month.

It is one of a package of tax increases, labour reforms and pension reductions which will hit Italians hard in the pocket over the next few years. With millions of people facing a bleak era of austerity, politicians are now calling for the enormously rich Church to play its part in shouldering the burden. The potential windfall is enormous. According to an estate agency, Gruppo RE, a fifth of publicly owned properties in Italy are directly or indirectly controlled by the Church.

But calls for Church taxes may encounter resistance from the Monti government, which is heavily stacked with academics, bankers and lawyers with strong Catholic credentials. Under a law adopted in 1982 and backed up by an amendment in 2006, Church-owned properties are immune from taxation, even those that have a commercial element.

This will be a good test of both Monti and the Catholic Church. Serious or not?

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