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Italy rallies behind Church amid probe worries

Italy rallies behind Church amid probe worries

Italian politicians rallied behind the Catholic Church on Wednesday following news that EU regulators could open a formal probe into tax breaks the Italian Church enjoys.
Minister in charge of infrastructure, Antonio Di Pietro, denounced such a possible probe, speaking of "a political tool to put a wrinkle in the plans of those who do good works," adding that the EU "would do better by addressing tax havens."
A European Commission spokesman said Tuesday that EU competition regulators were looking into whether tax breaks for the Catholic Church in Italy transgress EU state aid rules.
The spokesman declined to say where the complaints that triggered the action had come from, but the tax breaks in question concerned the Church's commercial real estate activities.
The Church has often played a significant role in politics in Italy, an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation.
Rocco Buttiglione, a former minister from the centrist UDC party, said the European Commission should not feed "the suspicions of an anti-Christian European Union."
Three years ago, Buttiglione stepped down as candidate to become European commissioner for justice after his views that homosexuality is a sin and that women should stay home looking after children caused an uproar.
One observer spoke of Italian politicians' tendency to back the Church.
"Politicians know it and if they are able to present themselves as allies of the Church, they can win votes," said Sergio Romano, an editorial writer at newspaper Corriere della Sera.
The far left, however, including the Green party, supported the EU's moves.
Leftist politicians in Italy have denounced the Church's tax breaks, especially certain real estate tax exemptions. Such taxes are used to build social housing.
Under rules first approaved under Berlusconi and slightly modified under Prodi, buildings without an exclusively commercial use can be exempted from those taxes.
Italian media reports have estimated the lost revenue from the policy at between US$955 million to US$3 billion.
The Italian Church has sizeable real estate holdings, including schools, universities, hospitals and nursing homes. La Repubblica newspaper has estimated it at 100,000 buildings with a total value of US$12 billion.


Updated : 2021-03-05 10:03 GMT+08:00