Is Everyone Sharing the Pain in Spain?
With the pressure on, some of the city halls, including some governed by the conservative Popular Party, have started to charge the Catholic Church property taxes, which has caused outrage in the Church. The Church, which is probably the wealthiest property owner in Spain, is exempt from taxes, as are other religions, foundations and NGOs. However, the other religions are super minorities, and most of their places of worship — with the exception of palatial mosques built by the Saudis — are not owned but rented.
There’s one synagogue in Madrid, a historical building and, I heard, mostly Orthodox, while the various reformed or more modern congregations have rented places. (We went to the Bar Mitzvah of the son of a friend of ours — an American — and it was in a rented hotel conference room. The congregation regularly meets in a rented apartment.) The Brits have actual church property in Madrid — the Anglican Church. Evangelists have rented store fronts and NGOs operate out of rented offices. Probably none of them own their headquarters.
So the Church argues that the unions and political parties also don’t pay property taxes (headquarters for most of the political parties are rented offices, while unions were given back property they owned during the Republic). Of course, the argument goes that the comparison isn’t fair. The Church is a huge property owner — from national monuments (the government pays for maintenance, restoration, and security, etc.) to parish churches to thousands of private schools, retirement homes for elderly priests and clergy, etc.
So the argument is: “OK, national monuments, we get that. OK, schools, because the government could never fill in the gap if there were no Catholic schools. OK, all the local fiestas and patron saints days. OK, all the charities. OK, works of art.”
But once you open the door, a flood of questions rush in, especially in times of austerity and belt tightening: What about Spanish taxes subsidizing the salaries, stipends, living allowances, etc., of the clergy? What about all the income earned by the church from weddings, communions, funerals? Not to mention all revenue from private Catholic schools and private Catholic hospitals. How come they don’t pay taxes?