Pope Francis encouraged the people everyone loves to hate – tax collectors – on Monday, telling them that while they will never win popularity contests, they are vital to the functioning of a just society. “Your job seems thankless…” he told a delegation from the Agenzia delle Entrate, Italy’s revenue agency, acknowledging that taxation was often seen as “picking into other people’s pockets “.
But Francis said everyone should pay their fair share of taxes, especially the wealthy, so the weaker members of society are not “crushed by the more powerful”. “In reality, taxation is a sign of legality and justice,” he said.
Stepping off the script, Francis praised Italy’s national healthcare system, which is mostly free, as an example of how taxes can be put to good use, calling it “one of the most beautiful things”. from the country. “Defend it, because we must not fall into a health system where you have to pay, where the poor are not entitled to anything,” he said.
He praised the honesty of those who pay their taxes, denouncing tax evasion and the underground economy, or off-the-books. In Italy, where a comedian once joked that tax evasion is the country’s most popular sport after football, it’s estimated that more than €100 billion a year is lost to tax evasion. , according to recent statistics.
Officials also estimate that Italy’s underground economy – without contracts, social security contributions or taxes deducted – is worth around 200 billion euros a year, or about 11% of gross domestic product (GDP). Francis also told tax collectors that while they may not be showered with affection on earth, they have a patron saint in heaven. He reminded them that Saint Matthew the Apostle was a publican, or tax collector in Roman times, before deciding to follow Jesus.
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