ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Atheists are cheering now that tax donations to the Catholic Church in Italy have dropped below 30% for the first time, with most taxpayers opting to contribute their tax tithes to State charities.
The percentage of taxpayers choosing to pay to the Church the stipulated 0.8% on their annual income tax return dropped from 31.80% to an all-time low of 29.03% in 2020, a recent report from Italy's Ministry of Economy and Finance revealed.
In a press statement, Italy's Union of Atheists and Rationalist Agnostics (UAAR) said taxpayers who allocated their tithe to the Church decreased from 13,156,156 to 12,056,389 in 2020, while donors contributing to the State increased by one million.
The "8 per thousand" tax can be allocated to the Catholic Church or to the government for social and humanitarian purposes. Taxpayers can also allocate their contributions to a range of Protestant denominations or Jewish or Buddhist unions for social, welfare, humanitarian or cultural purposes.
Only the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and the Hindu Union are permitted to use the tax revenues for religious purposes, salaries of ministers and the construction and maintenance of buildings of worship and monasteries.
The Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), which oversees the disbursement of the funds, receives roughly 1.2 billion euros annually from the "8 per thousand" (otto per mille) tax.
Of the 1.1 billion euros received in 2019, nearly 40% was used for the pastoral care of Italian dioceses as well as the conservation of religious and cultural heritage sites. Other initiatives included catechism and Catholic education, Church tribunals and lay ministries.
According to the CEI, 384 million euros went to "clergy support," paying salaries of over 30,000 priests in dioceses across Italy, 400 diocesan missionary priests in poor countries and pensions for 2,800 elderly priests, with nearly 90% of a priest's salary coming from the "8 per thousand" tax.
Speaking to Church Militant, highly reputed tax consultant Nicolò Bolla said that "based on the tax returns, less than 10% of the taxpayers I work with opt to donate the 8 per thousand to the Catholic Church."
"More than 80% of my clients opt to donate to charities, primarily to health charities as well as international nonprofit organizations like Save the Children and Emergency among others," Bolla explained, acknowledging that his experience "is more biased because I operate mainly with expats coming from all over the world."
"In my experience, the shrinking donations occurred starting from the late 90s and the trend is evident," Bolla noted, citing "multiple reasons that might explain this phenomenon."
The tax expert elaborated:
There are now multiple confessions to which the taxpayer can opt to donate the 8 per thousand. This is compounded by the increasing change in the demographic and ethnic composition of Italy. The Catholic Church is now facing competition from other denominations like Lutherans, Adventists, Mormons, Buddhists, etc.
Further, the press has covered numerous stories putting the Catholic Church under scrutiny for its anti-Catholic behavior, thus tarnishing the reputation of the Church itself, resulting in fewer donations.
A number of faithful Catholics told Church Militant they had stopped ticking the box on "Catholic Church" and preferred to contribute to the State. Others, including at least five families who attend the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) said they ticked the box on the tax return form making their 8 per thousand contribution to the Orthodox Church.
"At least the secular State is using our money in ways you would expect it to be used by secular people. But the Church and Her liberal bishops are not using our money for God's work," a traditionalist Catholic teacher from northern Italy lamented.
Other Catholics said they recognized a portion of their money was being poured into a "spiritual black hole" but continued to reluctantly donate to the Catholic Church for "cultural reasons" including "the maintenance of ancient church buildings."
"As of today, if you don't give your tax donation to the Church, the State sucks it up. That's why we give our money to the Church, which is still the lesser evil," Lorenzo Tardini told Church Militant.
"Jesus was angry with the sellers in the temple, not with the old woman who gave her few possessions to God, which was then stolen by the Pharisees," Tardini remarked, lamenting the potential misuse of contributions by parishioners.
"Obviously, if I can, I give the money directly to friends or associations I can trust to use my money well, rather than to associations, even if they are Catholic, that I don't know," he added.
Of the approximately 75% of Italians who identify as Catholic, about 70% still choose the Catholic Church as the recipient of their tax donations.
In 2015, eight out of 10 Italians chose the Catholic Church as the recipient of their tax donations.
UAAR spokesman Roberto Grendene said that a likely factor in taxpayers transferring funds to the State is the recent inclusion of five State causes towards which taxpayers can contribute — relief for natural disasters, world hunger, refugees and unaccompanied foreign minors, conserving cultural heritage, and maintaining school buildings.
"The increase in giving to the State," Grendene noted, "occurred even though the government did not carry out any serious advertising campaign in favor of contributing to its charities."
"We would have expected at least a press conference to announce the good news that taxpayers have trusted the State in their 2020 tax returns with an invitation to do even better in 2021," he added.
In 2017, the traditionalist Italian blog Messa in Latino noted that "the abandonment of religious and sacramental practice" was a major factor for the drop in tax donations.
"The phenomenon cannot be superficially blamed on the scandals, even though they are undoubtedly a cancer to the ecclesiastical community," the blog stressed.
"It's time for the bishops to promote a true spiritual renewal with an appropriate self-reflection on the status of the Italian Catholic Church, currently identified by the public opinion as a spineless subsection of Caritas," the author urged.