From The Boston Globe:
In 1953, the Catholic Missionaries of Our Lady of LaSalette established a shrine and spiritual retreat on a 199-acre lot in Attleboro. The shrine’s motto — “Come nearer, my children” — is reflected in the array of opportunities it offers worshipers and pilgrims to draw close to God. Among them: daily Masses, religious conferences, a soup kitchen for the hungry, and a Festival of Lights at Christmastime that attracts 400,000 visitors.As a place of worship, charity, and religious guidance, the LaSalette Shrine had always been exempt from property taxes — the standard practice everywhere in the United States. But in 2012, Attleboro’s tax assessors broke with past practice, and declared that much of the LaSalette property was taxable: the Welcome Center, the cafeteria, the gift shop and conference rooms, and 110 acres of wooded conservation land. The missionaries paid more than $92,000 in real estate taxes, then applied for an abatement, which the city denied in 2013. The missionaries appealed to the state’s Appellate Tax Board, without success. On Tuesday, their case will be heard by the Supreme Judicial Court. More is at stake in this dispute than a local Catholic shrine or Attleboro’s budget. The much deeper issue is this: Do religious organizations decide for themselves what they require for their devotional and educational missions, or do municipal tax authorities decide for them? Under Massachusetts law, religious institutions may not be taxed on property used for “religious worship or instruction.” Attleboro’s assessors argue that only “structures traditionally associated with religious organizations” — such as LaSalette’s chapels and monastery, but not its gift shop or nature preserve — should be spared from taxes. The missionaries argue that such a definition not only flies in the face of American tradition, but woefully misunderstands the way their shrine functions.
Photo: LaSalette Retreat Center