Pope Francis underlined that a convent that becomes a hotel after taking in refugees must lose its tax-exempt status.
The pope told Portuguese radio station Renascenza on Monday that “some congregations are saying: ‘No, now that the convent is empty we’ll turn it into hotel: we can receive (refugees) and that way we’ll get by and earn money’.” The Argentine clarified that if congregations want to turn into hotels the need to pay the taxes, “like everyone else.” The pope stressed in general that all congregations which run commercial activities must not hold the tax-exempt status. The popular pope underlined the need for the church institutions to “fight the temptation of the ‘God of money’, into which religious congregations often fall.”
In Italy, as in some other EU countries too, the issue of Church tax remains unresolved. The debt crisis in the third biggest Eurozone economy cause a heated debate regarding the tax-exempt status of the Italian church.
In 2013, the Italian church began paying taxes on profit-making buildings but according to AFP, many critics say congregations are still avoiding paying taxes claiming the building are not purely for commercial use — for example, because they include a chapel. Overall, the portfolio of the Italian church is huge and AFP reported that the church owns at least 100,000 buildings, including thousands of schools, universities, private clinics, retirement homes, hotels, restaurants and sports centres.
The Italian government is trying to regulate the issue and on 1st April 2015, Italy and the Vatican signed an agreement to exchange financial information as part of efforts to fight tax evasion and money laundering.
The Vatican said the deal meant Italy was “the first country with which the Holy See has signed an agreement that regulates information exchange.” The agreement also intended to ensure that the so-called “Vatican bank,” which reportedly controls almost $10 billion in assets, no longer functions as an offshore tax haven for wealthy Italian VIPs.