Pope to Orders: Help Refugees or Pay Taxes

A photo of Pope Francis waving to a crowd.

Image: Philip Chidell / Shutterstock

Pope Francis has made a name for himself by establishing some “controversial” points of view. Recently, he said that churches and convents with a spare room, that seek to profit off that space by renting it out as a hotel, need to either take in refugees or start paying their taxes.

In Europe, it is common for many religious orders, which tend to have smaller populations than they were originally designed for, to rent out space in order to make some money to help maintain the order. Of course, religious institutions in many states do not pay taxes on property, something that has caused conflict between church and state and between religious and secular authorities in the past.

Although it is unclear how such a move would be enforced, the Pope made it clear that he expects the Catholic Church to help in Europe’s refugee crisis by giving refugees somewhere to stay. He has offered to house two refugee families in the Vatican in order to set an example. If the Pope does decide to take more concrete steps against churches that decide not to house refugees, it could have a significant impact on the issue of religious institutions and taxes.

While the Pope cannot make laws in other countries, he does hold a great deal of influence around the world, even in places that do not have a Catholic majority. He could, for example, rescind the status of an order that doesn’t follow his directions, removing their status as a religious organization, and thus causing them to lose their tax-exempt status.

The logic behind such a status, as with nonprofit organizations, is that these groups work for the common good of the community, and as such don’t need to pay taxes (which are designed to support the community as well). Pope Francis seems to have developed the opinion that churches that are not helping refugees aren’t doing enough to support their communities.

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