The Government plans to modify the agreements with the Holy See of 1979 and the necessary laws to end the exemption from the Real Estate Tax (IBI) that the Spanish Catholic Church enjoys, in such a way that the Town Councils can collect this tribute for the buildings not dedicated to the cult, a historical claim of collectives lay people and left groups. This was confirmed yesterday Executive sources to EL PAÍS, two days after the vice president, Carmen Calvo, met with the secretary of state of the Vatican, Pietro Parolin, and told him that they will end that fiscal privilege. The political decision is taken but it is still weeks before it is put into action because it is not exempt from technical complexity. The agreements have the status of an international treaty.
Calvo explained to Parolin that the Government's intention is to apply in Spain the model that rules in Italy, which requires pay for real estate not intended for worship. The vice president insisted before the cardinal that Spanish citizens do not understand this privilege. "The Secretary of State understood that tax exemptions for places that are not of worship are unsustainable. It does not fit in our fiscal policy that the Catholic Church does not pay taxes. They fully understood this proposal from the Government, "said Calvo. The details and procedure are now under study.
The Government has legal resources to collect the IBI from the Church. "But that tax regime is the same as other religions, sports federations, foundations, and so on. There is the Law of Patronage, if they want to change it and annoy, in quotation marks, to all non-profit entities that do so ", says the head of the finances of the Episcopal Conference, Fernando Giménez Barriocanal. "What always strikes me is that you only talk about the Catholic Church," he laments. "If they do it only with the Church and not with the rest of the nonprofit sector it would be deeply unfair." And warns. "If the exemptions 8,000 centers of Caritas are eliminated [la organización caritativa de la Iglesia] they would have to pay IBI. "
Economic agreements with the Vatican, 1979. They will be exempt from the urban territorial contribution: temples and chapels dedicated to worship ... dependencies or buildings and annexed premises for pastoral activity. Residences of bishops, canons and priests with healing of souls. Premises destined to the diocesan curia and parochial offices. Seminars to train diocesan and religious clergy, ecclesiastical universities as long as they teach ecclesiastical teachings. Houses, convents of orders or religious congregations or institutes of consecrated life.
Law on the fiscal regime of non-profit entities from tax incentives to patronage. Article 15. The assets of which they are owners, in the terms provided in the regulations governing the Local Treasury, non-profit entities, except those affected by economic operations not exempt from Corporation Tax, will be exempt from the Property Tax.
The International Treaty between the State exempts from the payment of this urban contribution to the temples of worship and "its dependencies or buildings and annexed premises destined to the pastoral activity"; the residence of the bishops, canons and of "priests with the care of souls" as well as the premises destined to the diocesan curia and to parochial offices, seminaries, convents, et cetera.
Is the house where a priest lives in pastoral use? Barriocanal understands that it is necessary to "understand the legal status of priests, who also receive people in their homes and continue their work there." Then he adds: "You can argue, but not in the press, better in the Directorate General of Taxes." He has been negotiating these extremes with several governments for more than 20 years and "always in a cordial way".
If the Government wants to exempt from the IBI only the temples of worship will have to modify the 1979 Agreements. To charge for properties that do not have any pastoral use would be enough to modify the Patronage Law where article 15 exempts from paying IBI for any premises with such that its ownership belongs to the Church. This also affects other religions, as that law clarifies in its ninth additional provision, although these others do not have large buildings. Therefore, if the Church has a place rented to a shopping center "now that place is exempt", explains the professor of Tax Law of the Autonomous University of Madrid César Martínez. Now, if it is the Church that obtains profit from its premises, it would no longer be exempt, according to the same article. "But the mere lease would not be enough to pay IBI", to the understanding of this expert in taxes. Thus, ownership and use are the keys to the matter. Because everything can be under the ownership of the Catholic Church, but we must see the use made of those goods.
"To collect the IBI for buildings that have some lucrative use would be enough to prohibit that tax exemption when there is a lease of some premises. For everything else, an inspection might be enough. If you have an old seminary in which you have built a hostel and left a classroom for pastoral use to avoid the IBI, for example, it would be considered a forced interpretation of the rule and would be forced to pay, "says Professor Martínez.
Nor do other denominations pay IBI for the homes of pastors or ministers, says the Episcopal Conference. "True, but that's the chocolate of the parrot, because those confessions are very minority in Spain, as is a sports federation. However, the Church has an unbounded emporium. We estimate that about 700 million IBI and other municipal taxes could be collected, "says Juan José Picó, from Laica Europe.
The executive secretary of the Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities of Spain, Mariano Blázquez, also an evangelical minister, pays the IBI of his house because it is in his name, not in the name of his Church. "But I could do it with another house and be exempt. I am in favor of a consensus and that entities, religious or not, that fulfill a social function have exemptions for it, "he says.
In 2012 there was a local mini-revolution in Spain. Several mayors of all signs (started by some of the PP) requested, in full crisis, to collect the IBI and other fees to the Church. But that local tax needed a national modification and the PP Government did not see the need to do it. Others have not either. Abel Caballero, president of the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces, believes "that what the Government proposes is reasonable. That exemptions are withdrawn and then the City Councils have room to maintain some fiscal prebend if they want, in exchange for other things, "he explains.
Any international agreement can be denounced with the precise conditions and the appropriate circumstances, experts say. The Economic Agreement between the Spanish and Vatican States of 1979 entails an added complexity because the text did not reflect the procedure to repeal or modify it, so it is necessary to resort to the processes of international law. "To begin with, the party that no longer feels concerned or linked must communicate it publicly, officially," begins Juan Ferreiro, professor of Ecclesiastical Law of the State, who was deputy general director of Relations with the Confessions in the Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
"It's about negotiating a lot, that's why it takes time and then we have to ratify the new agreement or disagreement in Parliament."
When the 1979 Agreement was renegotiated it was done on a past Concordat and specified that the company had changed, something that could be argued today, almost 40 years later. There are experts who think that to denounce it could resort to certain breaches of what is written there and there are legal mechanisms to do so. "The best thing would be to invite the other party to an agreed revision or break," says Dionisio Llamazares, doctor of Canon Law. To motivate the decision, it could be demonstrated, for example, that the agreement questions constitutional principles or difficult to harmonize with the Constitution, "he says.
But no government dares. If Spain ignored the treaty, "any citizen could denounce it," says Ferreiro. They do not do it although some promise it in the elections. Because complexity is not only technical. "They [la Iglesia] mobilize consciences and rationalize that is not easy ", adds Llamazares.