Colombia to review the Concordat

A priest drops ashes on the head of a woman in the church of the Lord of Miracles, in Bogotá (Colombia).Raul Grove (AFP)

Once again the proposal to charge taxes to the Churches is heated in Colombia. A debate that seems Byzantine, but that contains an interesting point about the position that the State maintains against the Churches in general and against the Catholic Church in particular.

The Congress men who today wave the flag of taxes on the Churches do so as if it were a matter of presenting a bill to Congress and processing it, when in reality the matter is much more complex, because here it is not a question of adding a numeral or a paragraph to the tax statute and that’s it: the Concordat signed by the Colombian state and the Holy See in 1974, which is the one that establishes that the buildings related to the spiritual mission of the Church should not pay taxes.

Simply put, if Congress wants to tax churches, it must be done in concert with the government of President Petro and this should sit to Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva to talk with whoever is appointed by the Holy See to negotiate (if possible) a change or modification to the norm that regulates relations between Colombia and the Catholic Church.

Why only with the Catholic Church? Because by legal provision, the agreements reached with the Vatican apply in a general way to all the other Churches that exist and Colombia and, therefore, the governing document of the relationship between the Colombian state and the Churches ends up being that treaty that was signed in times of Pope Paul VI and President Misael Pastrana.

The matter is not insignificant, if one takes into account the protagonism that the Catholic Church had in previous peace processes and the high probability that in search of the so-called “total peace” President Petro also seeks the support and good offices of the Holy See, which we remember was key in the peace negotiations with the extinct FARC.

For now, taking the step towards that tax collection seems like an impossible mission. Although if the government took on the task of revising the concordat, interesting doors could be opened, such as eliminating religious education, which is now compulsory in schools due to that same concordat of 1974. Likewise, criteria could be established for monitor the money received by the Churches, in order to avoid the opacity that exists regarding the management of resources that reach the hands of pastors, bishops and other leaders of all kinds of cults.

Perhaps it is time, in honor of the 1991 Constitution, to take a look at that old agreement to bring it into line with the idea of ​​a secular state. Understand that the churches are in charge of our spiritual health, but they also have obligations with the State in material terms and apply the phrase of the Gospel of Matthew: “to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”.

Church and State are not opposed, but without a doubt a judicious collection of taxes in the case of multimillion-dollar churches could help feed the starving coffers of our Colombia, although it is not the congress that has to do the task, it is up to the President.

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