The city of Alcalá de Henares is set to become the first area of Spain to charge the Catholic Church municipal taxes on the properties it owns within its jurisdiction. On May 15, the City Council approved the measure on the tax — which is known in Spanish as IBI — with votes in favor from the Socialists, United Left-Greens coalition, UPyD and the Popular Party (PP).
It now falls to PP Mayor Bartolomé González to amend the local tax code so that the annual IBI can be collected on Church properties in the Madrid-region muncipality of 204,000 residents. Following the move in Alcalá, the Madrid Socialist Party (PSM) in Móstoles — south of the capital — announced it will propose a similar measure in the coming days.
The new regulation, however, is expected to be challenged in court. Under agreements signed between the Vatican and Spain during the transition to democracy after the death of Franco, the Spanish government agreed not to collect IBI or other taxes on Church property. But the Socialists say that those treaties have their limits.
For example, they argue that under current regulations, IBI can be collected on Church-owned properties that are not used as places of worship, especially if they are rented out to third parties, as this would constitute economic activity.
"The Church's contribution would be considerable, and it is fair for it to pay, because it owns more than 100,000 properties across our country," said Socialist councilor Fernando Fernández, who presented the motion. "This could generate more than four billion euros for the central government's coffers."
On Monday, Archbishop of Madrid Antonio María Rouco Varela said that the Church would only pay IBI if the current law is amended. But he warned that certain Catholic organizations, such as the Cáritas charity, could be affected.
Last week's vote came as tensions between Church officials and many sectors across Spain were running high, following comments made during the Holy Friday Mass given by Alcalá Bishop Juan Antonio Reig Plà concerning homosexuality and abortion. The bishop's anti-gay comments were broadcast live on TV by state broadcaster RTVE.
In his sermon, the bishop said that people today "end up lacking guidance about what human sexuality is; already from childhood they think they are attracted to partners of the same sex. Sometimes to check on this they corrupt and prostitute themselves — or go to men's clubs. I assure you they will find hell."
In Madrid last Thursday, Deputy Mayor Miguel Ángel Villanueva censured Reig Plà's remarks. "This type of homophobic behavior has no place in Madrid. We are proud of our tolerance, and this is what we expect for Madrid," he said. It was the first time that the PP council of Mayor Ana Botella had taken a public stance over the bishop's remarks.
Nevertheless, Villanueva said that Madrid would not consider charging IBI tax on the Church.
The UPyD party in Alcalá presented a motion last week calling on Cardinal Rouco Varela to transfer Reig Plà to another diocese and not to invite him to any official ceremonies.
Just hours after the UPyD's motion was presented, the Alcalá Diocese released a statement on its website accusing UPyD, the Socialists and the United Left of trying to "censor" certain aspects of Church doctrine "taught by Monsignor Juan Antonio Reig Plà in his capacity as bishop."