Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Three - The Church of the Servant-Girls

Tax Exemption

Today the Catholic Church is firmly established and everywhere recognized as one of the main pillars of American capitalism. It has some 15,000 churches, 14,000,000 communicants, and property valued at half a billion dollars. Upon this property it pays no taxes, municipal, state or national; which means, quite obviously, that you and I, who do not go to church, but who do pay taxes, furnish the public costs of Catholicism. We pay to have streets paved and lighted and cleaned in front of Catholic churches; we pay to have thieves kept away from them, fires put out in them, records preserved for them - all the services of civilization given to them gratis, and this in a land whose constitution provides that Congress (which includes all state and municipal legislative bodies) "Shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." When war is declared, and our sons are drafted to defend the country, all Catholic monks and friars, priests and dignitaries are exempted. They are "ministers of religion"; whereas we Socialists may not even have the status of "conscientious objectors." We do not teach "religion"; we only teach justice and humanity, decency and truth.

In defence of this tax-exemption graft, the stock answer is that the property is being used for purposes of "education" or "charity." It is a school, in which children are being taught that "liberty of conscience is a most pestiferous error, from which arises revolution, corruption, contempt of sacred things, holy institutions, and laws." (Plus IX). It is a "Homes of Refuge, to which wayward girls are committed by Catholic magistrates, and in which they are worked 12 hours a day in a laundry or a clothing sweat-shop. Or it is a "parish-house," in which a celibate priest lives under the care of an attractive young "house-keeper." Or it is a nunnery, in which young girls are held against their will and fed upon the scraps from their sisters' plates to teach them humility, and taught to lie before the altar, prostrate in the form of a cross, while their "Superiors" walk upon their bodies to impress the religious virtues. "I was a teacher in the Catholic schools up to a very recent period," writes the woman friend who tells me of these customs, "and I know about the whole awful system which endeavors to throttle every genuine impulse of the human will."

Concerning a large part of this church property, the claim of "religious" use has not even the shadow of justification. In every large city of America you will find acres of land owned by the Catholic machine, and supposed to be the future site of some institution: but as time goes on and property values increase, the church decides to build on a cheaper site, and proceeds to cash in the profits of its investment, precisely as does any other real estate speculator. Everywhere you turn in the history of Romanism you find it at this same game, doing business under the cloak of philanthropy and in the holy name of Christ. Read the letter which the Catholic Bishop of Mexico sent to the Pope in 1647, complaining of the Jesuit fathers and their boundless graft. In Joseph McCabe's "Candid History of the Jesuits" appears a summary:

A remarkable account is given of the worldly property of the fathers. They hold, it seems, the greater part of the wealth of Mexico. Two of their colleges own 300,000 sheep, besides cattle and other property. They own six large sugar refineries, worth from 500,000 to 1,000,000 crowns each, and making an annual profit of 100,000 crowns each, while all the other monks and clergy of Mexico together own only three small refineries. They have immense farms, rich silver mines, large shops and butcheries, and do a vast trade. Yet they continually intrigue for legacies - a woman has recently left them 70,000 crowns - and they refuse to pay the appointed tithe on them. It is piquant to add to this authoritative description that the Jesuit congregation at Rome were still periodically forbidding the fathers to engage in commerce and Jesuit writers still gravely maintain that the society never engaged in commerce. It should be added that the missionaries were still heavily subsidized by the King of Spain, that there were (the Bishop says) only five or six Jesuits to each of their establishments, and that they conducted only ten colleges.

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