Facade of a church in Spain

Humanists deplore “legal and tax haven” benefits of Spanish Church

A major Spanish humanist and secularist organisation has accused the country’s Catholic Church of operating in a “legal and tax haven, with the consent of a State that pretends to be democratic, non-denominational and based on the rule of law”.

Driving the news

The organisation Europa Laica presented Tuesday a report on the “economic privileges” the Catholic Church enjoys in Spain.

The principal conclusion of that report is that the Church receives from national, regional and local administrations more than 11.6 billion euros annually, about 1% of Spain’s Gross Domestic Product.

Europa Laica arrived at that figure by taking into account the “tax, heritage and economic privileges” the Church is afforded while other religious and charity groups are not.

Those privileges include an exemption from the revision of its books by the Court of Auditors, responsible for the financial control of Spain’s public institutions.

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Go deeper

Europa Laica accused the Spanish Church of not reporting all the money it receives from the state, nor the use it gives to these funds, in violation of a 2006 agreement between the Bishops’ Conference and the-then Socialist Government.

That agreement required the Church to present an explanatory report of the amounts it receives from the state through the optional income tax contributions of Catholics, who can elect to give 0.7% of their tax return to the Church.

The secularist organisation also accused the Church of opacity around its Reserve Fund.

That Fund contains at least 165 million euros in taxpayer money, which the Spanish Church uses for unspecified and unaudited “fiscal investments”, Europa Laica denounced.

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Why it matters

Another sore spot for Europa Laica is that the Catholic Church “is the largest private real estate owner in Spain”, with at least 100,000 properties to its name, according to “the most conservative estimates”.

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The Church has been able to increase its holdings even further in recent decades thanks to “illegal” property registrations done by bishops acting as public notaries, the humanist organisation continued.

Europa Laica also denounced that priests’ salaries have increased 54% in ten years, despite the economic crisis that devastated the Spanish economy and despite a sharp drop in the number of priests and vocations.

Of the 278 million euros the Church received in tax return contributions in 2017, 80% went to pay priests’ wages, the humanist organisation denounced.

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.
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