Churches have to pay property tax

And the church does pay taxes

How can the diverse tasks of the modern state be adequately safeguarded in the future? This question is becoming more and more urgent, and the Church, too, keeps making suggestions. The basic tenor is to relieve the work factor and to force other economically viable taxes based on social and ecological criteria. Not only the Bishops' Conference, but also numerous other ecclesiastical institutions are, for example, in favor of the introduction of a financial transaction tax and measures against tax evasion.

Obviously that doesn't go down well everywhere, as the guest commentary by Gottfried Schellmann on July 11th under the title "The Church preaches water and drinks wine" shows. Without going into the proposals for a fairer tax model in more detail, the tax advisor does not give the church a good hair and even assumes it is getting richer and richer at the expense of the state. For this purpose, the usual half-truths with regard to church tax privileges are used.

The church does pay taxes, however, and not a little: This is proven by an IHS-Joanneum-Research study from the previous year. According to this, the state earns 3.35 billion euros in taxes and social security contributions annually from economic activities of the church.

Schellmann's statements about property tax exemption, for example, are not entirely correct: it only applies - as is the case with other churches, religions and public corporations - if properties are used for worship, pastoral care, administration or schools. The church pays property tax for all other land in the field of agriculture, forestry, housing, etc. Contrary to what Schellmann suggests, the following generally applies: If church institutions are economically active, they are subject to full tax liability.

What the church, together with its many volunteers and donors, is doing in the areas of pastoral care, education, health, social affairs, development aid, culture, etc. is impressive. This is proven by the IHS study, which comes to the conclusion that the general public gains a verifiable benefit worth 2.58 billion euros annually.

Superfluous requirement

From this it follows: Schellmann's demand "to confiscate half of the church's assets for the fight against poverty" is not only reminiscent of totalitarian regimes, it is superfluous because the church does a lot for the general public. And secondly: The church and its institutions will not allow themselves to be silenced when it comes to a livable and just future for people in Austria and worldwide. What is needed are ideas, commitment and alliances for a sustainable social and economic order, and that is what the church stands for. (Paul Wuthe, July 14, 2016)

Paul Wuthe is press and media officer for the Austrian Bishops' Conference.