The Theological Case for Progressive Taxation as Applied to Diocesan Taxes or Assessments Under Canon Law in the United States

54 Pages Posted: 27 May 2005


Canon 1263 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law allows the diocesan bishop to impose taxes on the parishes in his diocese for diocesan needs. Canon 1263 requires that such taxes "be proportionate to [the parishes'] income." To a tax lawyer, the adjective "proportionate" describes a so-called "flat tax," or a system that imposes the same tax rate on every taxpayer's taxable income. Canon law commentators, however, have consistently agreed that canon 1263 also authorizes a progressive tax, which in this context would impose a higher tax rate on parishes with larger incomes. This article argues that Catholic social teachings, including the U.S. Bishops' 1986 pastoral letter on the U.S. economy, should persuade the diocesan bishops in the United States to use progressive rates whenever they impose diocesan taxes and assessments under canon 1263.

An early 2003 survey underlying this article gathered data from eighty-five of the 176 geographic dioceses in the United States. The survey results reveal that those bishops who impose diocesan taxes or assessments used flat tax rates almost four times more frequently than progressive rates. Given the survey's findings and Catholic social teaching on distributive justice, this article recommends a review of diocesan tax and assessment policies and practices across the United States. Where necessary or appropriate, the article respectfully urges certain changes in those policies and practices, especially the conversion to progressive tax rates. In essence, the bishops should practice what the gospel, the universal Church, and they themselves teach. While under canon law only the diocesan bishop can implement any such changes, the faithful, especially those individuals who serve on the diocesan finance council or the presbyteral council, can help to persuade the bishop to reexamine the taxing policies in their diocese.

Keywords: Canon law, taxation, Roman Catholic church, Catholic social teaching, diocesan taxes and assessments, progressive taxes, distributive justice

JEL Classification: K19, K34

Suggested Citation

Barrett, Matthew J., The Theological Case for Progressive Taxation as Applied to Diocesan Taxes or Assessments Under Canon Law in the United States. Available at SSRN:

Matthew J. Barrett (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States
574-631-8121 (Phone)
574-631-4197 (Fax)

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