- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

ROME The people and politicians of a Tuscan village are in revolt against their bishop after he reinstated a medieval church property tax at heavy new levels.
In protest, many devout Roman Catholics are boycotting Mass and withholding collection payments.
The bills began arriving over Christmas at the homes of hundreds of property owners in Terricciola, a picturesque village of 4,000 people that sits in rolling, vine-covered hills near Pisa. Many are for large sums, some as high as $2,000.
The diocese of Volterra insists that the money is needed to pay for repairs to the parish church of San Donato and has made it clear that it expects it to be paid.
The white-stuccoed, neoclassical church, built in the 18th century, dwarfs the tiny, brick winemaking village of Etruscan origins with its turreted walls.
The tax, which is levied on the produce of the land, is a perpetual duty passed down from owner to owner. Italian case law has established that it can be enforced by the courts, even if it falls into disuse.
It previously amounted to an insignificant, fixed share of a farmer's produce for example, a sack of wheat, a demijohn of wine or a nominal sum of money. The taxes have, however, been converted into monetary levies and revalued by the church at amounts it says better reflect modern property values.
Terricciola Mayor Giacomo Sanavio, a fierce opponent of the tax, presided over a heated village meeting last week. He promised to hold talks with the diocese to urge it to allow villagers to buy themselves free of their duty. He is particularly angry that the council has been sent a bill for school land.
"We in the administration are a little annoyed," he said. "We disagree with the church's new yardstick of revaluation being used, which is confusing and arbitrary, and which penalizes land with buildings." He said owners of some properties who gave a sack of wheat as tax are now expected to pay about $2,000.
Village resident Luciano Londi, 60, said he was billed $330 for his orchard, which he inherited from his grandmother.
"When I was little, every year she would set aside some firewood. 'It's the tithe, boy,' she would say. I didn't know what she meant. I have understood now."
During the main service in Terricciola on New Year's Day, the Rev. Ugo Cecchini railed from his pulpit at those complaining about the tithe. But his admonishments fell on deaf ears, as most parishioners had boycotted his service. Many have since refused to set foot in the church, and some are threatening to abandon the diocese for that of Pisa. Others say they are suspending their voluntary donations.
"Let the priest go and ring his bells," said one defiant parishioner, Piernello Tognetti. "I haven't gone to Mass and I won't pay the tax," he added. "What are they going to do, excommunicate me? Let them."
Bishop Mansueto Bianchi has tried to defuse the row by explaining that the tax was originally and freely contracted by property owners as an annual contribution to the church.
Terricciola's parish priest, the Rev. Carino Guidi, did not mince his words, however. "Those enjoying the fruits of the land must pay without further ado," he said. "Where's the scandal? The church is only asking its lawful due according to the laws of man, not God."

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