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Aspects juridiques généraux

There is no constitutional provision for any subsidies to religions. In fact, the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic (1976) clearly defined the separation of churches and religious communities from the State (article 41/3).

However, at national and international level, notably in the RFA - Religious Freedom Act (2001) - and in the Concordat (2004), the Portuguese State allows for the possibility of supporting registered churches and religious communities through tax exemptions and benefits. This separation regime - also referred to in the RFA under the principles of equality, neutrality and the non-denominational position of the State (Articles 2, 3 and 4) - is reconciled with the principle of state-religion cooperation in matters of common interest (e.g. education, peace and human rights), as provided for in Article 5 of the RFA and Article 1 of the Concordat. It is within the logic of separation with cooperation that we must interpret the fiscal advantages that the State offers to churches and religious communities registered in Portugal.

Regardless of the legal status of the religious community, there are three types of religious activity that are considered non-taxable : i) donations from followers for the exercise of worship and rites ; ii) public collections for religious purposes ; and iii) the free distribution and display of religious publications (RFA, Article 31/1).

In addition to the tax-free contributions in Article 31 of the RFA, religious legal entities that are registered as such in the national register of legal entities also enjoy the tax benefits granted in Article 32 of the RFA, such as tax exemptions on places of worship and buildings intended for activities for religious purposes ; establishments intended for the training of ministers of religion or for religious education ; the acquisition of real estate for religious purposes, and on donations made to those entities, up to a maximum of 15% of an individual’s taxable income.

In addition to all the above-mentioned advantages, the country’s established churches and religious communities (the Church, the Evangelical Alliance and the Muslim and Jewish communities) enjoy all the tax benefits granted in Article 32 (No. 4 et seq.) of the RFA and in Article 26 of the Concordat, such as the 0.5% rate of personal income tax and tax exemption for any free acquisition of property for religious purposes.

The Catholic Church : Church institutions receive a VAT refund for activities and acquisitions for religious or charitable purposes (Article 1 of Decree-law 20/90). The Concordat (Article 27) gives the Portuguese Episcopal Conference the option to include the Church in the 0.5% income tax collection system provided for in the RFA. However, taking up this option requires the renunciation of VAT exemption (RFA, Article 65).

The Ismaili Imamat : The Ismaili Imamat signed a supranational agreement (a second Concordat, even although the other contracting party is not a state) with the Portuguese State in 2015. This legal agreement gives a certain pre-eminence over other non-Catholic churches and religious communities, especially in terms of taxation, with greater tax benefits than those provided for in the RFA (see Article 11 of this agreement). In particular, it includes exemptions on donation income, on the remuneration of the Aga Khan and on foreign income, and the reimbursement of VAT on goods and services for official functions.

See also :
- BRITO, José de Sousa e, “Le financement des communautés religieuses au Portugal”, in Brigitte Basdevant-Gaudemet et Salvatore Berlingò (eds.), The Financing of Religious Communities in the European Union, 1ère ed., Trier : Institute for European Constitutional Law, 2009, p. 287-294.
- MONIZ, Jorge Botelho, “O financiamento público da religião na Europa católica pós-crise”, Ius Ecclesiae, Rivista internazionale di Diritto Canonico, 28, 1, 2016, p. 79-112.
- PIRES, Manuel, “Aspectos fiscais”, in Manuel Saturnino Gomes (coord.), Estudos sobre a Nova Concordata. Santa Sé – República Portuguesa, 18 de Maio de 2004, col. Lusitânia Canónica, 11, 1ª ed., Lisboa : Universidade Católica Editora, 2006, p.120-147.

D 19 décembre 2017    AHelena Vilaça AJorge Botelho Moniz

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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