Friday, November 9, 2012

Catholic Church: Losing their tax exempt status?

Recently the Catholic Church in the United States has come under fire for it's open politicking in support of Mitt Romney over President Obama in the recent election. According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington [CREW]:
In Illinois, Bishop Daniel Jenky — who previously compared President Obama to Stalin and Hitler — is requiring every priest in his diocese to read a statement accusing the administration of an “assault upon our religious freedom is simply without precedent in the American political and legal system.”

Other bishops, including Nicholas Di Marzio in New York, David Ricken in Wisconsin, Edward J. Burns in Alaska, and Paul Loverde in Virginia have also warned of the evils of the Obama administration, followed by an exhortation for Catholics to vote.  Some have cautioned that voting for Democrats would not be faithful to Christ and would endanger the soul.
To their credit CREW is asking the IRS "to investigate the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for engaging in prohibited political activity in violation of its protected tax status."
To qualify for tax exemption under IRC §501(c)(3), an organization must not participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.   The publication or distribution of written or printed statements on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate is also prohibited.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as a 501(c)(3) group, is clearly prohibited from opposing a candidate as it is clearly doing with its  presidential election.

Sloan continued, “In completely unqualified terms, the IRS should immediately tell the Conference of Catholic Bishops that the conduct of its members is beyond the pale.  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.”

I wrote about Bishop Tobin's open politicking on behalf of the Republican Party here in Rhode Island back in May. Tobin, at least, is careful to avoid running afoul of the letter of the law. He doesn't say that that one shouldn't vote for Obama, but says the President "lack(s)... moral foundation" and doesn't have "a strong moral foundation or compass." This because the president supports marriage equality and reproductive freedom. He's not the moral exemplar Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are, I suppose.

Let's face it, Catholic voters for the most part aren't listening to their Bishops anyway, not on birth control, which virtually every Catholic woman has availed herself of at some point in her life, and not on who to vote for. Catholics in the 2012 election went 50% for Obama, and 48% for Romney. When broken down by race, Hispanic Catholics went 79% for Obama and 21% for Romney. (White Catholics got in line behind their bishops, with 40% going for Obama and 59% for Romney.)

Those who support the rights of Catholic Bishops to dictate to their flocks who to vote for often cite the First Amendment guarantees of Free Speech and Religious Freedom. I fully agree with that. Catholic Bishops have those rights. But the Catholic Bishops have agreed to not express themselves in this way when they took advantage of their tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) group.

Bishop Tobin and his brethren can start saying whatever they want as soon as they start paying taxes like the rest of us. But it's also possible that the Catholic Church, in taking such strong and frankly irrational stands against obvious public goods like marriage equality and reproductive freedom, have given away any pretense to moral authority.


  1. I think that you are absolutely right. However, I'd still be amazed to see the tax authorities take any action.

  2. Unfortunately Greg, you appear to be right. The IRS has routinely ignored calls to investigate churches for this type of infraction. If the law were to change, so be it, but remember that then any group with a 501(c)3, not just conservative churches, will be able to directly endorse candidates. as a leader of a 501(c)3 myself, i might be okay with that.

  3. It is comprehensive and before TurboTax it took me a full week to prepareour taxreturns. WIth TurboTax it takes an evening.