FaithWorld

Athens debt crisis taxes cosy ties between state and Greek Orthodox Church

(Greek orthodox priests hold a Greek flag in a protest in front of the parliament house during a rally in Athens, February 6, 2011/John Kolesidis )

The Greek Orthodox Church owns more land than anyone except the state, employs thousands on the public payroll, has a stake in the nation’s biggest bank, but campaigners say its tax payments are derisory. The Church vehemently denies accusations it is one of Greece’s biggest tax dodgers and says it is playing a vital social, economic and spiritual role in this time of hardship.

With the third year of recession tormenting Greece’s 11 million people, the Church has provided solace, comfort and nourishment but activists say it’s now time to dig deep into its coffers to help with the bailout.

The Greek Orthodox Church has long enjoyed a privileged, some would say cosy, status when it comes to taxes in a country where it is responsible for the sole official religion, with one critic calling its complex finances at best opaque. But the sovereign debt crisis that has rocked the Greek state, thrown hundreds of thousands of people out of work, and forced painful cuts in salaries, pensions and benefits, has raised fresh questions about the Church’s tax position.

More than 100,000 people have joined a Greek Facebook page “Tax The Church”, and 29,000 have so far signed an online petition urging the state to harness “the huge fortune of churches” to reduce Greece’s crushing budget deficit. “The Church must pay its share of the tax burden,” said former finance minister Yannos Papantoniou. “It is totally unreasonable in this situation that they contribute so little.”

US charities hit by recession’s impact on spending

soup kitchen

Mealtime at the Capucin Soup Kitchen in Detroit, Detroit, 9 Dec 2008/Carlos Barria

Thousands of small U.S. charities are likely to close this year as cautious donors and governments tighten spending and some states consider removing nonprofit tax breaks, experts said during a panel discussion on “The New Nonprofit Reality” on Wednesday.

“States are looking for any opportunity for tax revenue this year and nonprofits are increasingly a very big target,” said Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Tax dispute flairs between Cyprus gov’t and Orthodox Church

cyprus church

An Orthodox church in Limassol, Cyprus, 20 Nov 2007/Ewa Dryjanska

A furious dispute has erupted in Cyprus after the ruling communists set their sights on the island’s wealthy Orthodox Church of Cyprus to help plug a runaway deficit. The island’s government says it wants to start a dialogue with the Church regarding the millions it says the church owes in unpaid taxes.

The church says it does not owe a penny.

“We are not tax dodgers,” said Archbishop Chrysostomos, the prelate of the ancient church which traces its roots to some of the earliest followers of Jesus. The church has broad business interests ranging from a bank to a brewery.

Read the whole story here.

This echoes recent moves in Greece, where the government has decided to tax bequests and revenues from the Greek Orthodox Church’s property to help tackle a 300 billion euro ($409.9 billion) debt pile. The Church, in Greece as in Cyprus one of the country’s biggest owners of prime real estate, has until now been largely exempt from taxes even though the state pays priests’ salaries.

Greek Orthodox bishop denounces new taxes on church as hostile

greek priests

Greek Orthodox priests in Athens 31 Jan 2008/Yiorgos Karahalis

By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS – A senior cleric has accused Greece’s socialist government of being hostile to the Orthodox Church  for imposing taxes on it as part of a drive to tame a budget crisis that has shaken global markets.

Greece, where about 90 percent of the 11 million-strong population are Christian Orthodox, will tax bequests and revenues from church property as it seeks to tackle a 300 billion euro ($409.9 billion) debt pile.

In a country where a bishop sits on the board of the biggest bank and the top cleric swears in the government, many on the streets of Athens felt the church should do its bit given the sacrifices they are making.

from Global News Journal:

Modern form of bank robbery?

Germany has signalled it is ready to pay a thief who stole secret bank data in Switzerland in order to collect a small fortune in taxes and fines for tax evasion. According to media reports, the data may relate to money held by 1,500 Germans dodging taxes by hiding their money in Swiss bank accounts.
GERMANY/
But is it right for a state based on the rule of law to pay for stolen data? Is it a question of the ends justifying the means (exitus acta probat)? Or is it simply a modern form of bank robbery, like a Swiss lawmaker called it so colorfully on Tuesday?

It's a question that has caused a stir on both sides of the German-Swiss border. Do two wrongs make a right? Can stolen data be used as evidence in court? Or is acceptable for a state to reward a thief in the pursuit of the greater good of fighting tax evasion -- seen as a more serious crime?

Germans understandably have a deep suspicion about invasion of privacy after their ominous past experience with the Nazi's Gestapo and the East German Stasi security police.  And Switzerland has historical hang ups about about Germany. There have been spirited debates on the moral pros and cons of the latest immoral offer for days.