Skip to comments.Church's taxation enrages Italians [bishop reinstates medieval church property tax]
Posted on 01/13/2003 12:26:46 PM PST by Polycarp
Church's taxation enrages Italians
By Bruce Johnston
LONDON SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
ROME - The people and politicians of a Tuscan village are in revolt against their bishop after he reinstated a medieval church property tax at heavy new levels.
In protest, many devout Roman Catholics are boycotting Mass and withholding collection payments.
The bills began arriving over Christmas at the homes of hundreds of property owners in Terricciola, a picturesque village of 4,000 people that sits in rolling, vine-covered hills near Pisa. Many are for large sums, some as high as $2,000.
The diocese of Volterra insists that the money is needed to pay for repairs to the parish church of San Donato and has made it clear that it expects it to be paid.
The white-stuccoed, neoclassical church, built in the 18th century, dwarfs the tiny, brick winemaking village of Etruscan origins with its turreted walls.
The tax, which is levied on the produce of the land, is a perpetual duty passed down from owner to owner. Italian case law has established that it can be enforced by the courts, even if it falls into disuse.
It previously amounted to an insignificant, fixed share of a farmer's produce - for example, a sack of wheat, a demijohn of wine or a nominal sum of money. The taxes have, however, been converted into monetary levies and revalued by the church at amounts it says better reflect modern property values.
Terricciola Mayor Giacomo Sanavio, a fierce opponent of the tax, presided over a heated village meeting last week. He promised to hold talks with the diocese to urge it to allow villagers to buy themselves free of their duty. He is particularly angry that the council has been sent a bill for school land.
"We in the administration are a little annoyed," he said. "We disagree with the church's new yardstick of revaluation being used, which is confusing and arbitrary, and which penalizes land with buildings." He said owners of some properties who gave a sack of wheat as tax are now expected to pay about $2,000.
Village resident Luciano Londi, 60, said he was billed $330 for his orchard, which he inherited from his grandmother.
"When I was little, every year she would set aside some firewood. 'It's the tithe, boy,' she would say. I didn't know what she meant. I have understood now."
During the main service in Terricciola on New Year's Day, the Rev. Ugo Cecchini railed from his pulpit at those complaining about the tithe. But his admonishments fell on deaf ears, as most parishioners had boycotted his service. Many have since refused to set foot in the church, and some are threatening to abandon the diocese for that of Pisa. Others say they are suspending their voluntary donations.
"Let the priest go and ring his bells," said one defiant parishioner, Piernello Tognetti. "I haven't gone to Mass and I won't pay the tax," he added. "What are they going to do, excommunicate me? Let them."
Bishop Mansueto Bianchi has tried to defuse the row by explaining that the tax was originally and freely contracted by property owners as an annual contribution to the church.
Terricciola's parish priest, the Rev. Carino Guidi, did not mince his words, however. "Those enjoying the fruits of the land must pay without further ado," he said. "Where's the scandal? The church is only asking its lawful due according to the laws of man, not God."
Now those who have been living on someone else's property for generations are mad that they are being asked to give something back and to repair the church that gave their ancestors a cheap and comfortable place to live.
Even more hilarious is that the council, which has been extracting property taxes from the Church all along, is now enraged that one of the private entities it has been taxing is now charging rent.
Now I see why my Dad decided not to pay our local parish more when he received a letter saying that they had checked and knew he had gotten a raise, so his new obligation was $xxx.xx. A couple months at the old rate and we got another letter saying we were being excommunicated from the parish. The Bible and spirituality are fine for me today - the Church is all about money and power (not to mention diddling little boys). That's what happens when Man decides to find organized religions - they turn into quasi-political parties and the original intent (worshipping as a group) becomes entangled in human errors...
Um, right. Sure. Whatever you say.
You can't be "excommunicated" from a parish, and canon law makes it very clear that a Catholic cannot be denied the Sacraments unless they are a notorious public sinner. Any parish that refused you the sacraments because they thought you hadn't "given" enough automatically made you the winning plaintiff in a canon law suit. Congratulations.
I also enjoyed the funny little speculation you offered which is most probably righr on the money.
In terms of real estate holdings, sure. But you can't spend cathedrals - in fact you have to spend to maintain cathedrals.
In terms of liquid assets, the Church is the most grindingly poor institution of its size on earth.
A couple months at the old rate and we got another letter saying we were being excommunicated from the parish.
Boy, are you a bold-faced liar. Any priest who was stupid enough to break canon law AND THEN SIGN HIS NAME TO HIS OWN CRIME would be too stupid to be ordained.
I know you're trolling, but I'll respond anyway.
According to canon law - the law by which priests are supposed to live - no priest is allowed to excommunicate anyone.
A person can either be automatically excommunicated by their own actions (for example, by having or paying for an abortion) or they can be excommunicated formally by a bishop, which is an involved process that requires a formal procedure, usually including a canon law trial.
No priest is permitted to excommunicate anyone for failing to kick extra money into the till. Not only is this not an excommunicating offense - it isn't an offense at all. On top of that, no priest is allowed to excommunicate anyone for any reason. He doesn't have the authority.
If you noticed, the tiny handful of priests who were abusers hid their actions and moved around a lot. Why - because they knew they were breaking both Church and secular law and they were trying to keep it hushed up.
There is a difference between concealing a crime and boldly proclaiming that you have committed a crime. If a priest or his parish office sent out a letter saying that someone was excommunicated for not increasing their Sunday offering they are telling their bishop two things: (1) I am just as powerful as you are within the Church (which is something no bishop, corrupt or not, will tolerate for instant since it is a personal attack on his jurisdiction) and (2) I can break canon law whenever I want, in fact I'll put my crime in writing, and there's nothing you can do (this is like a public slap in the bishop's face).
Let's use an analogy - it's like a Congressional aide in France on official business, and a cabdriver overcharges him, and he sends a letter to the French consul saying that the US has formally declared war on France and that he was personally authorizing military force.
The Congressman who employed him would be beside himself.
Did they? At the last time I checked, seven out 1,389 North American bishops are accused of covering up these crimes. Not a very high percentage.
Who is to say some of those same high ranking priests didn't do other things wrong?
I'm sure they did other evil deeds. But I doubt they put them in writing and mailed out a signed confession of their malfeasance to their victims.
There's a *reason* why 19th century Americans watched the Italian revolutionary movements between the 1840s and 1880s with such interest. Every time the Catholic Church launched another broadside at the Italian "Republicans" (the name for those who wanted to free the Italian Papal States from direct Church control), Americans took it as a direct assault on their own system of government.
In retrospect, it's really obvious why we have the separation of Church and State - thank goodness.
What a lovely ending to the story! Cheers, Campion.
Is that really the case? Nothing here intimates that. And the bishop mentions that this was "originally and freely contracted". I assume by past generations.