One of the more foreseeable effects of the current
world-wide economic crisis is that it is feeding into the ravine of anti-Catholic
bias, stirring up indignant demands and renewing myths about tax-exemption and
non-existent privileges for the Church. These demands and myths are often accompanied
by mischaracterizations, half-truths, distortions, or outright slander, which usually
portray the hierarchy, from the pope on down, as greedy and self-serving.
This is happening with respect to Italy, where the
latest concordatsigned in 1984 to regulate the relationship between Church and
statestipulates that the Catholic Church be accorded a share of a total eight
parts per thousand of the nation’s yearly intake from income taxes, based on the
choices filed by individual taxpayers. This eight per thousand is also shared
by the five other religious denominations that Italy currently recognizes:
Evangelicals, Hebrew Communities, Lutherans, Waldensiens, and the Assemblies of
God. But talks are also well under way, and in some cases preliminary
agreements for recognition have already been signed, with Buddhists, Hindus, Orthodox
Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, the Church of the
Latter Rain, and Pentecostals.
In Italy, howevercradle of Catholicism that it isthe
lion’s share of the funds goes to the Catholic Church, a fact that a small
minority of militant anti-Catholics find infuriating.
These fundstogether, of course, with donations from
the rest of the worldare what enable the Church to send missionaries out to
the Third World and, increasingly, from the Third World back to the secularized
old countries of Europe, sorely in need of re-evangelization. In recent years they
have also enabled the Catholic Church to make the voice of Christian principles
and humanity heard in the UN, on contentious issues such as abortion,
overpopulation, and gender; not as just one among many religious denominations,
but as a powerful entity to be reckoned with, backed by the weight of well over
a billion Catholics worldwide. What could be more infuriating?
There are instigators today, as there were 150 years
ago, who hope to at last get the Italian people to rebel, and hopefully even
evict the Church from the land, by harping on the issue of exploitation, trying
to instill a victim mentality. It isn’t working, but organizers are making
inroads, especially among young people, by speaking out from positions within
the Church, so as to create the best smoke-screen of allconfusionand thus
obscure any and all truth.
Despite the fact that the money allotted to the
Catholic Church represents the enduring indemnity given to it as recompense for
the tremendous confiscations of the Italian Risorgimentowhich the other
beneficiaries had nothing to do withthere are still aggressive anti-Catholic
campaigns that attack the Church’s claim to the eight per thousand and praise,
say, the Waldensians for not using the money for religious purposes.
As to taxation, the Catholic Church is on the same footing as all other
non-profit entities and does pay
taxes on whatever for-profit activity
it may run. This is the same concept as in the United States, where no ambiguity can be attached to the tax-exempt status of parishes and
religious communities, coming under the 501(c)(3) provisions of the tax code like
any other non-profit organizationincluding non-religious organizations like American Atheists. Nonetheless,
propaganda and press campaigns routinely surface calling for the Church to pay
what it already pays, or even demanding an end to the extra-territorial nature
of the Vatican state.
Together with militant propaganda, there are also forms of harassment,
which do not make headlines. The township of Bologna, for example, has been
showing its “red” anti-clerical colors by targeting the cloistered nuns who
inhabit vast monasteries in dwindling numbers, with huge garbage taxes,
calculated not per-capita but on the basis of how big a house one lives in. City
bureaucrats have made free to barge into the cloistered areas and measure every
inch, and have demanded that the sisters pay according to the same standard as
army barracks, which is five times the fee imposed on religious institutes.
As a result, the Augustinian nuns have been slapped with a bill for €220,000
[almost $300,000], in fines and back payments, the Carmelites with a “mere” €50,000
[$67,000], and the Poor Clares, who had always regularly paid more than €1000 [$1,300]
a year, but who inhabit the largest monastery, with €270,000 [$360,000].
How are these women to pay, seeing as they have dedicated their lives to prayer
and taken vows of poverty? Well, the administration is being benevolent; the
sisters have been accorded discounts and are allowed to pay in simple yearly
installments of 10,000€ [$13,000] each.
Italians, and anyone abroad who will listen, are told
that the fact that the concordat between the Church and the state was signed in
1929 by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini casts a shadow over the Church. What
critics don’t mention is that this agreement was confirmed by the constitutional
convention that drew up the republican constitution in 1948, in a vote that had
the approval of the Communists, and that it has since been superseded by a new
agreement, signed in 1984 by Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and the
Church under Pope John Paul II.
Italians are also told they are the only ones who have
a concordat between Church and statethe only ones to pass on a part of the
taxpayer’s money to the Church, and the only ones to provide religion classes
in school, on demand. On the contrary: the truth of the matter is that many
countries have stipulated concordats with the Catholic Church. The number is so
high that the concordats signed since 1950 alone fill two volumes of Msgr.
Martin Agar’s Collection of Concordats
(L.E.V.), totalling more than 1,300 pages.
Concordats are bilateral treaties freely entered into
by at least two subjects. In many countries, however, laws on religious freedom
serve to curb freedom, limiting and
regulating it. In Vietnam, for example, in 2005, under the pretence of “helping”
communities to organize themselves well, a law on religious freedom was passed
that required the Catholic Church to ask state permission for even the
slightest of moves. From the admission of seminarians, to the establishment of
new dioceses and the appointment of bishops, everything is subject to reviewand,
hopefully, gracious “concession”by the state. So much for freedom.
After Vatican Council II, it was thought that concordats
had had their day. But then, to everyone’s surprise, Pope Paul VI settled a
record number of 30 such agreements (more than both his predecessors put together),
including new concordats with three Asian countries, four African ones, and six
South American ones. After him, John Paul II renewed the existing agreements
with Italy, Spain, and Germany, revived relations that had been cut off by the
Communist regimes in Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, and also signed new
treaties with Albania and Estonia.
The concordats show that
there are many countries that contribute to the support of the Church, including countries whose predominant culture
is not Catholic. The systems most similar to the Italian one are the ones in
Spain and Hungary, which give seven per thousand and one per thousand,
respectively, to recognized religions. Other countries give sums to the
national bishops’ conferences; this happens, for example, in Croatia. Still others
cover certain expenses such as the restoration of Church buildings and articles;
this applies in Slovakia and Poland, where the Church was given back property
that had been seized by the Communist regimes.
In France only the dioceses of Metz and Strasburg have
concordats. These date back to Napoleon, who, surprisingly, placed the support
of the clergy totally on the shoulders of the state. In the rest of the country
there is no concordat and no financial support for religions. However, the
French government does supporteither entirely or partiallyprivate schools,
the vast majority of which are Catholic.
Northern European countries are often praised by those
who consider the Protestant Reformation a sort of watershed moment for progress.
Yet the UK, Sweden, and Denmark, all of which have no concordat with the
Catholic Church, actually have Christian state religions (Anglicanism in the UK
and Lutheranism in Sweden and Denmark), as does Greece, whose state religion is
Greek Orthodoxy. No concordat exists in secularist Netherlands, a
constitutional monarchy where Catholics are 5 million out of a population of 16.4
million. Here too, as in France, Catholic schools are financed, receiving from
the government the same financial treatment as public schools and allowed to
refuse admission to a student in the event that his parents (or he himself, if
of age) do not show respect for the moral values promoted by the school.
According to the concordats stipulated in Germany and
parts of Switzerland, these governments agree to act as a collector for the
recognized churches, imposing a tax on those who profess the Catholic faith or
any other faith, and distributing the amounts to the different destinations. The
same goes for Catholic Austria.
A case all by itself is Belgium, the headquarters of
the European Union. Belgium has no concordat, but this has nothing to do with its
highly secularized society. On the contrary, it goes to show how observant the
country used to be, so much so that a concordat was considered superfluous. The
Belgian Constitution, the oldest constitution on the continent, dating back to
1833, stipulates that the state must provide for the support of the ministers
of the six “admitted” religions. A few years ago, however, the Belgian
Constitution was reformed and an equivalence drawn between churches and
“philosophical and non-confessional organizations.” This language was inserted (with
the same stubborn determination with which any and all other references to the
historical roots of Europe were avoided) into the documents of European
officialdom: the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997), the European Constitution (which
was actually rejected by referenda in France and in the Netherlands), and the
Treaty of Lisbon (2007). The unsettling upshot is that today Belgium,
besides supporting parish priests and pastors, officially gives a sum to
minsters of Freemasonry as well.
Concordats have long been an integral part of
Church/state relations, particularly in Europe. The increasing animosity toward
such agreements demonstrated by politicians and the mediaand accompanying
misinformation campaignsare just another sign of the creeping secularism that
is coming to characterize European nations.