In Cash-Strapped Italy, Vatican Pushed to Pay More Taxes

Time has just published my piece about the Italian government’s effort to clarify the Catholic Church’s tax status.

Much of the coverage of a controversial new law winding its way through the Italian Parliament has portrayed the measure as a Nixon-to-China moment. It takes somebody like Prime Minister Mario Monti, the thinking goes, who is not only a practicing Catholic but also a graduate of a Jesuit school, to take on the Catholic Church in Italy and make it pay taxes on its commercial property.

In truth, however, the proposed law would do very little to change the existing legal situation. While the current legislation is muddled in many ways, one thing is clear: religious organizations have been required to pay taxes on property used for commercial purposes since at least 2005, when the country’s high court issued a ruling to that effect. The problem is that with the law currently on the books, it’s not always clear what is and what isn’t a commercial property. Monti’s proposal doesn’t upend the status quo — it merely reinforces it, cleaning up the legislative language and eliminating gray areas. “It’s not a new law,” says Marco Tarquinio, the editor of Avvenire, a daily newspaper owned by the Catholics Bishop’s Conference. “It’s a clarification of law that already existed.”

Read the rest.