The new Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, has responded to a petition by 130,000 citizens to end unfair tax-free perks for the Catholic Church’s commercial enterprises. Promising to reverse the trend which in the past saw anti-competitive and possibly illegal special privileges for the Catholic Church quietly passed by corrupt politicians, the new measures, to be introduced to Italy’s parliament, will stop the Catholic Church taking advantage of its tax-exempt status to profit by as much as 2.2 billion euro per year in Italy alone.
The EC is already investigating the fact that tax exemption for Catholic Church commercial enterprises which are competing with enterprises without the benefit of the Church’s unique privileges is very likely to be proved both a form of illegal state aid and a mechanism to stifle competition.
The measures will be a relief to Italians suffering under a raft of severe new austerity measures, who cannot help but notice the princes of the Church flaunt their obscene wealth and luxurious lifestyle, just like medieval robber lords who laughed and gorged themselves while the peasants starved.
And the measures are sure to be closely observed by other long suffering, predominantly Catholic EC countries such as Spain and Greece.
There has been no official Church response so far, but past experience makes it likely the Church will deny reality, deny responsibility, cry poor and try to paint themselves as a victim.
The crying poor excuse is unlikely to fool many. In Italy the Church’s wealth is all too obvious. 20% of all property in Italy is reputed to be owned by the Catholic Church, at least 110,000 properties worth an estimated 9 billion euro. Most Church owned properties are the most valuable buildings on the most valuable land. And a large proportion of them are rented out at top commercial rents, not made available to charities rent free or at token rent, as those arguing for ever broader tax exemption would have everyone believe.
The current Italian measures relate only to Church properties which are operated commercially. Around the world there is a need to slow the accumulation of vast wealth in the hands of greedy Church leaders by removing unjustified tax exemptions, not just from commercial properties, but also commercial enterprises which unfairly compete with equivalent businesses without the benefit of the Church’s generous tax breaks.
In Australia, for example, the Catholic Church is a leading supplier of aged care, health, mental health, education and other social services. Businesses forced to compete with the aggressively entrepreneurial Catholic Church do so on anything but a level playing field. And consumers forced to use Catholic schools, hospitals or aged care facilities, for example, have no choice but to be subject to the Catholic Church’s intrusive and authoritarian policies on sexual, reproductive, medical and palliative decisions. Policies that not even the majority of committed Catholics willingly submit to. Policies which can lead to horrendous unnecessary mental and physical suffering and even death.
Who can forget the evidence of the Irish experience with the Catholic Church’s ruthless exploitation of children’s ‘educational’ institutions or the theft of Spanish babies to be sold for illegal adoptions as an example of allowing the Catholic Church too much market dominance, too much power without proper supervision, and, crucially, too much undeserved respect and reverence.
But apart from the inherent unfairness of allowing the Catholic Church to convince its political cronies to let it get away with these unjustified public subsidies of an extremely wealthy organisation, the Catholic Church is shirking its moral responsibility to millions of victims of its direct abuse or abusive policies.
While Church organisations run profit making enterprises and funnel ever more wealth to Rome, millions of victims of institutional abuse, child rape by priests, AIDS infection through lack of condoms, and poverty brought about by support of robber regimes and warlords, are suffering and dying for lack of help.
Surely any functioning human being, even those so deluded as to claim to speak for god, must realise that helping to repair the immense harm inflicted on innocent children is actually more important than tax breaks for one of the wealthiest organisations on earth.
Surely Cardinals could downgrade to business class flights so that homeless and drug addicted child rape victims could access hostel accommodation and rehabilitation programs? Surely wealthy orders do not have to buy another luxurious villa in Rome, and could instead allow all victims of their institutional abuse to access much needed counselling? Surely a multi-million dollar canonisation ceremony could be pared back to the simplicity of the early saints so that a medical clinic could help AIDS orphans to reach adulthood? Or the number of regular jaunts to Rome for conferences and Papal meetings be cut back so stolen babies could be helped to find their birth parents? Or a Papal tour be less opulent so that safe housing and clean water can be built for refugees of war and famine?
Think how much of the harm the Catholic Church inflicts on the powerless could be relieved by intelligent use of the billions of dollars of tax breaks the Catholic Church receives around the world? Even just the tax breaks they should never, ever have been given, those for commercial enterprises?
It is time for every country to follow Italy’s lead. Remove unfair public subsidies. And put the money to use in helping those who currently suffer in silence and receive no help from the organisation which abused them, helped or covered up for those who abused them, and bullied them into silence.
If all these millions of damaged children are helped to recover and lead useful lives, not only will the money spent on helping them find its way back into the economy to stimulate growth, but all the newly contributing members of society who are no longer a drain on social services will bolster economic growth long term.
Surely even politicians can see the logic in that.
Read the news coverage of Italy’s brave, moral and logical decision.