Property Taxes and Charitable Enterprise at Cross Roads

In the well earned fury surrounding suspended St. Sabina’s Pastor Fr. Michael Pfleger, a more mundane but higher financial value Church issue has been sidelined in Chicago Religious news. Chicago has a new Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, coming in to office, who is looking for ways to plug holes in the City budget after years of financial mismanagement by his politcal crony, Mayor Richard M. Daley. One revenue enhancement under consideration is a forcing non-profits, including Churches and Synagogues to pay property taxes to Cook County which can then flow the revenues toward the whim of various local politicians, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The Archdiocese of Chicago is one of the largest property owners in Cook and Lake Counties, most of which is comprised of Churches and schools, which are exempt from property tax. The Archdiocese also holds a large amount of for-profit property, such as apartment buildings deeded to the Church, which it pays taxes at market rates. A property similar to St. Clement’s Parish in Lincoln Park would be subject to tens of thousands, if not hundred of thousands in property taxes a year.

The political implications aside (this sure sounds like a great way to lose an election), there is a ethical and constitutional question as to the control of religious institutions by politicians. Emanuel reasons that Churches must sacrifice

There’s a lot of good nonprofits and charitables. But they get a benefit on the tax side. And given the changes I’ve got to make and given the sacrifices I’m gonna ask from everybody, nobody is in a sacrifice-free zone. I love you all. You’re really important. But you’re not more important than anybody else

But Emanuel forgets that Churches and most non-profits are a matter of sacrifice to begin with. These are institutions supported by free-will donations, and not by commercial and consumer activity. The Catholic Church officially bans payment for sacraments (Simony), rather asking people to donate money out of their own choice to support the sacramental nature of the Church.
There is nearly no State or City financial support for religious institutions in Illinois, including the complete failure to fund public schools run by the Catholic Church, despite Federal legislation requiring that capital expenditures for all (not just government run) schools be provided by the taxpayers.

Also under examination are tax waivers provided to health care providers by the State of Illinois. Many, if not most, health care providers in Illinois have a religious origin, Resurection Health Care for example is owned by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth and the Sisters of the Resurrection; North Shore University Healthcare System has a family tree leading to the Methodist Church and the Baptists.

However, the connection to charitable care, on any spiritual (the original Chapel at North Shore/Northwestern Hospital is now a broom closet) or non-commercial activity at many hospitals seems tenuous at best, with charity cases coming in at 2.5% of all activity at hospitals nationwide, not much different from charitable giving at many corporations, and significantly less than individual giving.

It is a pleasant thought that a broad range of medical care could be provided by fully charitable institutions, free from government manipulation, and the inherent unstable market interactions for healthcare. However we are nowhere near that point. We have created this complex monster where sick people are not treated as human customers, while the health system itself is completely commercial market. It is very worthwhile to consider taxing the non-charitable opertaions of healthcare providers for their commercial transactions, at the same time exempting the charitable side of Religion (and other non-profits) from further taxation.

(Oh year, Fr. Pfleger was named as some type of advisor to Rahm Emanuel before his most recent suspension…go figure)

image The Silver Chalice featured Jack Palance as Simon Magus (hence Simony) and was the debut film of Paul Newman



  • enness

    Could this man possibly be serious? Of course they are more important! They’re charities, for crying out loud! They are on the front lines.



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