Catholic religious congregations in Kerala are to challenge a state court’s order which withdrew tax exemption that religious priests and nuns enjoyed as employees of government-aided educational institutions for decades. The court in the southern Indian state refused to accept their argument that they do not take their salaries for their personal use but instead they go to their respective religious societies.
“We have now decided to appeal against the order before the Supreme Court of India,” said Father Jacobi Sebastian, president of the Kerala Conference of Major Superiors.
Father Sebastian, a member of the Oblates of St. Joseph, told on Aug. 9 that they are also planning a larger meeting of church officials, major superiors and financial consultors on August 16 to chart the next steps.
The court quoted the Bible to say “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
“We are reminded of the above teachings of Jesus Christ … while we consider an engrossing question on the liability of tax deduction at source from the salary paid to teachers who are nuns or priests of the religious congregations,” the court said.
The legal clash began in 2014 after the federal Income Tax Department ordered an end to tax exemption given to the Catholic religious priests and nuns since 1944. It asked the government treasury to deduct tax before paying salaries.
Three priests and a nun challenged the order soon after it was issued. A single bench of Kerala High Court dismissed their demand for exemption and upheld the Income Tax Department’s order.
The petitioners appealed before a higher bench of the court along with 49 others, but the court dismissed their demand on July 13.
The lawyers of the petitioners also quoted from the Church’s canon law to say that people who take “a perpetual vow of poverty” undergo a civil death and thereafter they are not considered persons under the Church’s laws.