In an interview last week with the Italian daily “La Repubblica”, Pope Francis held tax dodgers partially responsible for the struggle Italian health services are now going through in trying to deal with covid.1 The coronavirus has hit Italy the hardest, with close to 7,000 deaths at the time of writing, more than double that of any other country.
As health services are being overwhelmed around the world, and members of the Vatican staff test positive for the virus, Pope Francis backed a prominent journalist’s complaint that tax avoiders are partly at fault for the current healthcare crisis.
Speaking over the phone while isolating in the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was “very impressed” by an article by journalist Fabio Fazio.2 The Pope went on to quote from the article in saying:
“He is right, for example, when he says: “It has become evident that those who do not pay their taxes are not only committing a crime, but murder: if there are not enough hospital beds or respirators, they too are partly to blame”. I was very impressed by this”.*
Italian Treasury estimates believe tax evasion costs the state some 107.5 billion euros a year3. An annual report by the European Commission has Italy’s VAT gap, sometimes referred to as a compliance gap, at 24% in 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Italy’s gap is one of the highest in Europe – the UK’s for example sits at 11%.4
Pope Francis has been vocal on tax issues in the past, referring to “tax havens for private and corporate profits” as recently as February of this year.2
In response to the Pope’s interview, Fazio tweeted that he was overcome with emotion, and that Pope Francis invited all of us not to waste this difficult time but to use it to look at ourselves and renew ourselves
These testing times may well leave behind a different world politically and economically. Whether or not it will be a better one, only time will tell.
*Translators note: Fabio Fazio’s words on tax avoiders and evaders appeared as one of 15 points in an article entitled “The things I am learning”. The full text in Italian of point 7 is as follows:
7. È diventato evidente che chi non paga le tasse non commette solo un reato ma un delitto: se mancano posti letto e respiratori è anche colpa sua.
We have translated “delitto” as “murder”. “Delitto” in Italian can refer to a number of serious crimes, including murder, it is sometimes translated as “felony”. The word “reato” is also translated as a crime, but in the more general sense. Reuters, when reporting on the Pope’s citation of the article used this distinction in their translation. “It has become evident that those who do not pay taxes do not only commit a felony but also a crime”.
We do not feel this translation works in British English. The world felony denotes a subset of crime, so a felony can not be “also” a crime. The word felony is also not in common usage in Britain. The Cambridge Italian-English Dictionary defines “commettere un delitto” as “to commit a murder”. Given the context, of this article and the use of the verb “commette” in the original article, we felt that the translation – “not only committing a crime, but murder” was the correct translation in English. Translation by George Turner.
1 Pope Francis on Coronavirus crisis, La Repubblica, 18 March 2020, available here: https://www.repubblica.it/vaticano/2020/03/18/news/coronavirus_pope_francis-251572693/?ref=search
2 Things I’m Learning, La Repubblica, 16 March 2020, available here: https://www.repubblica.it/cronaca/2020/03/16/news/le_cose_che_ho_imparato-251384470/?ref=RHPPTP-BH-I251364842-C12-P22-S2.4-T1
3 Report on the Economy Not Observed, 2018, Italian Treasury Report, available here: http://www.mef.gov.it/documenti-allegati/2018/aggiornamento_relazione_2018_x27_novembre_2018x-finale.pdf
4 Study and Reports on the VAT Gap in the EU-28 Member States, European Commission, 2019, available here: https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/sites/taxation/files/vat-gap-full-report-2019_en.pdf
5 Pope Francis: Tax cuts for the rich and tax havens are structures of sin, Rome Reports, 05 February 2020, available here: https://www.romereports.com/en/2020/02/05/pope-francis-tax-cuts-for-the-rich-and-tax-havens-are-structures-of-sin/
6 @Fabfazio tweet, 18 March 2020, Twitter, available here: https://twitter.com/fabfazio/status/1240196888701415424?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1240196888701415424&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.repubblica.it%2Fspettacoli%2Fpeople%2F2020%2F03%2F18%2Fnews%2Fcoronavirus_fabio_fazio_intervista_papa_francesco-251595266%2F