More tax bills for the Church

More tax bills for the Church

It’s a spreading trend. Local towns are trying to foist tax bills on the Archdiocese of Boston for their closed churches. Apparently tax boards have given themselves the authority to determine when a house of worship is no longer covered under the First Amendment. My guess is if they push this and it ends up in the courts, the cities and towns will lose. The question is whether the archdiocese will cave quickly to get them off their backs or will stand and fight.

If they cave, you can bet the rest of the cities and towns where the 65 or so closed parishes are sitting will follow suit (less those properties that have already changed hands). If they stand and fight, it will drag out longer, but it may push the archdiocese to unload the properties even quicker. It would be interesting to see what would happen if the local government of a parish that’s still protesting sends a big tax bill to the archdiocese, like St. Frances parish in Scituate. My guess is that the patience of the archdiocese will run out quickly, the constables will show up to evict the trespassers, and the property will be sold off immediately.

Then we can tell the outraged protesters to go ask their local politicians about the sudden change.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
3 comments
  • You write: ‘Apparently tax boards have given themselves the authority to determine when a house of worship is no longer covered under the First Amendment.’

    Well, yes.  That’s what tax boards do (though it’s not ‘giv[ing] themselves the authority’): decide what properties are subject to tax and in what category (residences, industry, farms, etc.) they fall.  Subject to judicial review, of course.  Maybe a comment on what criteria the boards use is more in order.  If the property is no longer used for any purpose, much less used for a religious purpose, why should the Archdiocese have a religious tax exemption?

    To tie in the sit in protestors is silly. You’re really reaching: Scituate sends a big bill, the Archdiocese’s ‘patience runs out’, the authorities evict the people, the Archdiocese lists and sells the property, and it’s the folks doing the sit in who are responsible? (‘Then we can tell the outraged protesters to go ask their local politicians about the sudden change.’)

    While you link to the boston.com article, you didn’t mention that that article discusses a town sending a tax bill for not just a closed church, but a closed church which the Archdiocese **already has up for sale** and that the Archdiocese is considering an legal appeal of the tax board’s decision.

  • The reason Scituate is sending a tax bill is because the town’s politicians have made it clear that they want to put pressure on the archdiocese not to close the church. If the church remains open, no tax bill, but if it closes they get one.

  • I don’t know the disposition of the politicos in Scituate regarding the closing of St. Frances parish, but can well imagne that you’re right.  The leaders of the resistance to the suppression of the parish have contended that they were targeted for closure by the Archdiocese because the parish includes considerable real estate on which no structures sit, making the tract especially appealing to developers.  Several of the groups resisting suppression of their parishes have formed 501-c-3 corporations, and it would be interesting if they were to assert, in the face of similar claims by their local tax assessors that they were the effective owners of the property of their parishes and were continuing to use them for constitutionally protected religious purposes even as the Archdiocese is attempting to market them to the highest bidder.  My guess is that it would take the courts years to sort out the conflicting claims and appeals. 

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