Catholic churches in Italy have developed profitable businesses out of their establishments, and the government is looking to capitalize on it. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that churches like Santuario della Verna, a monestary in eastern Tuscany established in the 13th century, are bringing in copious amounts of cash from their operating activities.
Almost as miraculous are the rates that the monastery charges for a night in one of its 72 guest rooms: €52 (about $68), including meals in the downstairs refectory. One reason for the low prices is that the monastery pays no property taxes. Under Italian law, most buildings owned by the Catholic Church are tax-exempt, even if used for commercial purposes.
But Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is moving towards legislation that would require the churches to pay taxes on all of their commercial holdings. It is estimated that roughly a third of the 100,000 properties in Italy that are church-owned embark in commercial ventures, so we aren’t talking about small bread sticks here.
Taxing all church properties would yield an additional $130 million in revenue, Paolo Berdini, an urban planner and consultant for local administrations, told Bloomberg News in January.
The laws already state that churches engaging in commercial activities will be taxed, but they become exempt if the properties are also used for religious purposes. This is of course silly, as all churches, including those no longer hosting services, could claim religious activity occurs. All churches within Vatican City are and would be exempt to any new tax laws.