Small church in Rome goes to the big court in Strasbourg to find justice


Southern Europe

Evert van Vlastuin, CNE.news

A meeting of the Breccia di Roma church in Rome. Photo Breccia di Roma

The evangelical church in Rome will move to Strasbourg to seek justice from the European Court on Human Rights (ECtHR) to eliminate the huge tax burden. In the meantime, Protestants all over the world are amazed by what is happening in Italy.

Since 2016, the small church plant Breccia di Roma has used a former shop in the centre of the Italian capital. Initially, the congregation was successful in changing the official designation of the building.

But later, the Tax Authority imposed a commercial. The reason for that was that the building had not been changed and still was the same. Moreover, the building missed the “essential characteristics” of a religious space.

The case went to court, and the church was twice vindicated. But two weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Tax Authorities. The result is that the church has to pay back taxes of about 6,000 euros a year and legal costs of about 50,000 euros.

Protestants all over Europe and the Americas look at the case with amazement. The clue is that the Roman Catholic culture of Italy is still rooted so deeply that the authorities do not understand that a simple classroom can be enough for Protestants to worship.

In a video on the church’s website, the two pastors, Leonardo De Chirico and Clay Kannard, claim that the former shop really is a church. “God’s people come together for the proclamation of God’s Word and the administration of the ordinances.” For them, that is enough to make a space a church in the Biblical sense. “There is no need for altars, pictures, statues, or other items that characterise Catholic buildings.”

The decision by the judges is a form of “injustice”, they say. They speak about a “grossly unfair and discriminatory ruling.” A religious organisation has no commercial goal and does not aim to make a profit. For this reason, a church has the right to be exempted from paying taxes. But the ruling denies the church this right. And therefore, the church is preparing an appeal in Strasbourg.

An appeal at the European Court, however, has no suspensive effect. That means that the back taxes and other costs must be covered first. Several organisations in Europe are actively raising money, as is the church itself on its website. The goal is to collect 75,000 dollars (70,000 euros).

In the European Parliament, the Dutch MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen thinks it wise to go to the European Court since, in his view, there is “discrimination between churches”, he said in a statement. That is a restriction of the freedom of religion. “That is, of course, prohibited, among others, based on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.”

It is still quite unpredictable what the effect of bringing the case to Strasbourg will be; a few things are certain. First, it can take years before the final decision is made. Second, it is very difficult to predict the outcome. The court is very reluctant regarding cases about religion. Since the relationship between church and state is different in all 47 member states, the court tends to uphold decisions by national courts.



Subscribe for an update, and receive a documentary and e-book for free.

Choose your subscriptions*

You may subscribe to multiple lists.