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



  • John Powers

    Fran, would it be possible to support society directly rather than supporting society by sending money to politicians who then decide where to send it? How can we separate politics from religion when the Tax Assessor will be deciding rates to hit non-profits, based on Political Clout, the same sort of thing that all taxes are based?


    • Curious

      And to add to that…. The church would be sending money to people that are NOT charitable in their own lives. And on top of that, these same people do NOT pay their fair share of taxes as they insist less fortunate people pay. Look at Biden, Kerri, and Rangel. Quite a shameful group, and these are the people Fran and others wants the Church to send charitable money that is USED for GOOD through the Chuch to instead of using it for GOOD. SHAMEFUL!!

  • Fran

    Of course churches should pay our fair share of taxes. It is only right to support our society.

    • Bruce

      Spoken like one who is completely ignorant of how the Church supports society.

    • Bruce

      Oops, sorry Fran. I didn’t see that John Powers below has already addressed my point in greater detail.

  • John

    Sounds like the end result will be the norm: Those who wish to receive GOOD health care or for their children to receive a GOOD education will pay through the nose for it.
    Whether Mr. Emanual likes it or no, the Haves will have more, the Have-Nots will have less.

    I had once thought about moving to Chicago. I think I’ll look elsewhere.

  • Bruce

    That will be the end of Catholic schools and hospitals in Chicago.

  • Mark

    Churches, and other religious institutions do a lot of community work in providing food, clothes shelter etc for the poor. These are often volunteer based with funding coming from the Church itself. Instead of putting money into such programs, schools, rec leagues, after school programs etc etc the money will be used for taxes. I can guarantee the Church can do a great good with that money then the government.

  • Bill

    If Churches are taxed, their usage would have to figure in the equation. Example: an office building is used every business day, while a church is only used for a few hours per week. The office building earns substantial monies in rents while the church charges no rent at all. The subject is more complicated than first appears.



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