Pope Francis has a message for all the churches in the world who shirk their responsibility to do good works for those in society who need assistance: If you’re not willing to do anything to help the needy, you should be paying taxes like any other business. In an interview with Aura Miguel of Portugal’s Radio Renascença, Pope Francis urged Christians not to fall victim to the “God of money” as so many religious organizations do, but instead to do something to actually benefit society.
Many churches in Europe have developed the practice of renting out rooms to make money while exploiting tax loopholes to avoid actually contributing to society. The hunger for money among these religious institutions is so strong, the Pope points out, that they ignore the needs of refugees in favor of the almighty [insert currency here]. If churches choose to ignore his recent call to provide assistance to refugees, Pope Francis, says, that’s fine — as long as they are prepared to pay taxes just like any other business.
“Some religious orders say ‘No, now that the convent is empty we are going to make a hotel and we can have guests, and support ourselves that way, or make money,’” Francis said on the eve of a trip to the United States, adding a strong condemnation of religious institutions that choose money over their mission:
Well, if that is what you want to do, then pay taxes! A religious school is tax-exempt because it is religious, but if it is functioning as a hotel, then it should pay taxes just like its neighbor. Otherwise it is not fair business.
The Pope’s message seems to serve a dual purpose in also acting as a condemnation of American preachers who ignore poverty and purchase $70 million dollar jets, mansions, and other luxuries instead. In the United States, taxpayers subsidize churches to the tune of more than $82 billion dollars a year — an amount higher than the budget for the Department of Education.
“If somebody has a room in his house which is closed for long periods, it develops humidity, and a bad smell. If a church, a parish, a diocese, or an institute lives closed in on itself, it grows ill and we are left with a scrawny Church, with strict rules, no creativity,” the pontiff said in the interview.
On the contrary – if it goes forth – if a church and a parish go out into the world, then once outside they might suffer the same fate as anybody else who goes out: have an accident,” he said. “Well in that case, between a sick and a bruised Church, I prefer the bruised, because at least it went into the street.
The Pope himself has taken in two refugee families at the Vatican, and he says they will stay “as long as the Lord wants.”
While taxing churches may seem like a radical idea, one could easily make the case for most United States churches to lose tax exempt status. In a 1983 court case involving Bob Jones University’s racist policies, the court ruled that a school could lose tax-exempt status if its policies violated “fundamental national public policy” — in this case, racial equality.
In other words, every single church that continues to preach against same-sex marriage can and should lose its tax-exempt status. No one, of course, can control the message of a religious institution — especially not the government — but it is time that religious institutions in the United States and abroad learn to play by the rules.
Perhaps the simpler solution would be to simply tax all religious institutions. After all, providing special benefits to religious sects is an intrusion on separation of church and state that we should probably not allow to happen in any case.
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