Will Bishops Lose Their Tax Exempt Status for Pushing for Romney?

From the Religion News Service:

A public watchdog group is charging the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with openly politicking on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and it wants the Internal Revenue Service to explore revoking the hierarchy’s tax-exempt status.

“In completely unqualified terms, the IRS should immediately tell the Conference of Catholic Bishops that the conduct of its members is beyond the pale,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

“If the Catholic bishops would like to continue receiving the tremendous tax benefits on which they rely, they should follow U.S. law and stay out of American politics,” Sloan added in a statement last Friday (Nov. 2) announcing the complaint.

Sloan argued that last-minute appeals by numerous bishops had crossed the line into electioneering. She named several prelates, including Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., a fierce critic of President Barack Obama, who ordered his priests to read a letter at all Masses on Sunday that sharply criticized Democratic policies and warned that Catholics who voted for those policies would endanger their eternal salvation.

A few thoughts here:

The first is that the USCCB doesn’t endorse a particular candidate as a body. Individual bishops who represent a particular diocese are another matter. One stated that Catholics voting for the President would put their soul in jeopardy. Others put pressure on Catholics to vote against the President for his stances on abortion, gay marriage and the HHS mandate (or the issue of religious freedom). Meanwhile on the other side, many black protestant churches openly touted the President and are far more apt to make such statements. Billy Graham openly plugged his preference for Governor Romney and one small non denominational church posted “Vote for the Mormon, not for the Muslim.” Interesting that this last one is both partisan and incorrect.

The question, as regards this particular situation, places individual Bishops and/or clerics in the crosshairs and it looks like someone will be holding them to greater accountability.

It seems to me that Bishops and other clerics need a media expert who can be a bit more covert about their intentions. For example, one should name an issue, not a candidate. One should call on the fallacies of BOTH candidates if they name one over the other. The USCCB often touts that they don’t endorse any candidate and perhaps that mandates all bishops to use the same language.

Lastly, I have two final points. One is that the hatred for the President from the right wing holds no bounds both within and outside of the church. That needs to change within the church or we will face having to work with the government from the cheap seats. Governing is choosing, governing is compromise–by design. We are not going to win every time in our efforts with the executive branch or with the other two branches of our government. Abortion will not be illegal overnight and health care packages may indeed not be mindful of our positions on contraception. But that merely puts the ball in our court to decide what we might do, despite those obstacles and more importantly, how we might do that peacefully.

The second and final point is that we play into the hands of the militant secularists when we endorse a candidate by name. We have a great responsibility to keep issues that we are concerned about in front of all the candidates, but in doing so, we cannot afford to trade an endorsement of a particular candidate in exchange for their aligning with our moral values. No, we need be more vigilant than that, because campaign promises are fickle and often unrealized. Our role in government is advisory and the body of Christ votes of their own God-given free will. And most often they vote for their candidate despite the ranting of those who think they know the state of our souls, or the assumption that they vote to endorse an immoral act. The militant secularists, those who wish to sideline religion altogether from public life are indeed winning. And they do so, because just a few people are downright dumb.

What role should the church play in politics? A huge one. The church, that is all the people of God, should be lobbying our own leaders to take a firmer role in assisting those who caring for the poor. We should become peace negotiators, like former President Carter, and be able to play that role publicly and with firm resolve for ending war. Imagine Cardinal Dolan negotiating peace at the United Nations! We should build homes for pregnant teens down the block from the abortion clinics so women think twice about making that decision and then we should support them with the full weight of our wallets. We should care for our environment and fight for the rights of immigrants. But we should do it all without regard for particular individuals and political parties.

In fact, we should do it on our own. We should do it to the point where all Governments call us and ask our advice and offer us some help because we set the standard of excellence in these situations despite the obstacles that are put in our way. We should do it because God calls us to it.

And we should do it so that they will know that we are Christians. How will they know? Because they will see us working with great love.

And not with partisan hatred.

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One thought on “Will Bishops Lose Their Tax Exempt Status for Pushing for Romney?”

  1. Did any bishop publicly endorse a candidate by name? I’m not aware of any that did and would be curious if you have information to the contrary.

    Some (including my bishop) pointed out ways that the Democratic party platform endorses grave evil and warned that voting for candidates who endorse those evils endangers their souls. But this is only an endorsement of Romney if one buys into the two-party system. There are plenty of options besides “voting for the other guy,” including voting in other contests but not for a presidential candidate or voting for a third-party or write-in candidate. (I chose the latter path, writing in a candidate that was more than just the lesser of two evils.)

    If a bishop or other religious organization is openly campaigning for a particular candidate, yes — throw the book at them. But let’s not pretend that arguing against one candidate is a de facto endorsement of another.

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