Watchdog group asks IRS to probe Catholic bishops

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By David Gibson

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.

Though the complaint targets the bishops’ conference, the conference itself has no control over what individual bishops do or do not say. While the USCCB has been waging a fierce political battle with the Obama White House over a contraception mandate, it has been careful not to endorse either candidate.

The bishops under scrutiny deny they are being partisan, and say they are only stating Catholic teaching and pointing out that Democratic policies violate those teachings.

Complaints to the IRS about the Catholic Church are relatively infrequent; church-state watchdogs have generally targeted evangelical churches and other groups associated with the Christian right for violating laws on politicking from the pulpit.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a secularist group based in Madison, Wis., on Monday announced that it had filed a report with the IRS charging evangelist Billy Graham’s ministry with campaigning on behalf of Romney.

The aging Graham, who turns 94 the day after the election, surprised many observers last month by pledging to “do all I can to help” Romney. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association subsequently took out full-page newspaper ads in which Graham strongly urges believers “to vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and woman, protect the sanctity of life and defend our religious freedoms.”

“The context of the ads and publications by BGEA evidence its intent to endorse candidate Mitt Romney,” FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote in an Oct. 31 letter to the IRS.

The complaints may be moot, however. The Associated Press reported last week that a senior IRS official said the agency has not investigated any houses of worship over political complaints in three years, an assertion supported by many experts in the field.

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One thought on “Watchdog group asks IRS to probe Catholic bishops

  1. Perhaps it is about time for a valid and credible alternative to Rome for Catholics:
    Welcome to the American National Catholic Church (www.TheANCC.org). When people refer to Catholics today, they often mean Roman Catholics.

    But, there are many other types of Catholics. Some are associated with cultural groups like Byzantine Catholics or Polish National Catholics while others such as Old Catholics span all cultures. While some groups are in union with Rome, others have their own bishops, in the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church. We have seen many such independently governed churches for well over 200 years.

    The ANCC is a Catholic community outside the institutional church, dedicated to making the world a more compassionate place. Guided by its own bishop we celebrate the same sacraments and follow the spirit of reform initiated in the Second Vatican Council. During much of the first eleven hundred years after Jesus, there was only one church that developed different traditions. Everything from the way the Mass and sacraments were celebrated to the date of Easter and celibacy were interpreted differently.

    Even today, the Eastern and Western churches have many externals that are vastly different yet all celebrate the same sacraments and scripture. The institutional church of today can be traced, in part, to ongoing disagreements over papal supremacy in the 12th century resulting in a schism with the Eastern Church, reaction to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century and the proclamation of papal infallibility in the 19th century, which created further schisms. All these events speak to the confusion of unity with uniformity.

    The American National Catholic Church is a contemporary expression of an ancient faith. There is a firm commitment to the sacraments and we embrace the Novus Ordo liturgy that is revered by so many in the Americas. We are also guided by the Spirit as a community which embraces a broader faith where all are welcomed and affirmed. We understand the importance of embracing and supporting each other, while continually challenging ourselves to embrace the Gospel calling of Jesus Christ.

    We are happy that you have found our website and welcome you as you learn more about our ministry and role in Christ’s church. More than likely, you may be surprise to discover one of the best kept secrets in the Church Catholic – that other bodies of that same church grow and thrive independent of the institutional church. We hope you will explore how you can play a part in this most important ministry and so that you may learn how truly liberated the soul can be.

    Welcome Home!

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