If there is one positive thing that has emerged from the economic and debt crisis in Italy is a wide-ranging public debate about who should pay for it.
Nothwithstanding the efforts to repress an intelligent exchange of ideas by the private and state TV – controlled by billionaire media magnate premier Silvio Berlusconi – anyone reading the newspapers or surfing the web will have seen powerful vested business interests being fingered as needing to bear a greater burden. So has the Church.
The state subsidizes the Catholic Church by as much as Euros 3 billion (£2.6 billion) a year . Bishops claim it uses this money to do good charitable works. Only some of it.
Millions are handed over to corporations like Saatchi and Saatchi for slick advertising campaigns.
And one major pillar of state subsidy – exemptions from tax on about 100,000 properties, classed as non-commercial, including over 8,000 schools, 26,000 ecclesiastical structures and more than 4,000 hospitals and clinics – is widely abused. For example, a commercial enterprise will be built around a chapel just to qualify for the tax break.
The anti-clerical Radical party has said it is time the Church shared in the sacrifices being made by its catholic congregations, and called time on this state largesse to the clergy. Tens of thousands have indicated support via a Facebook campaign, and now the main opposition party, the Democrats, appears supportive too.
But the catholic lobby is extremely powerful with well placed advocates within the state, political and business elite. So don’t hold your breath on this one.