Watchdog group asks IRS to probe Catholic bishops

A public watchdog group is charging the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with openly politicking on behalf of Republican presidential … Continued

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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  • bwong5

    Last week’s news was that IRS manager Russell Renwicks said that investigations were suspended. If we are fortunate perhaps we will get to ask our elected officials why.


    The rules of the TAX EXEMPT LAW must be fully comply with by all. With our country’s debt and or the laws rule violations, it time for congress to rewrtie the TAX EXEMPT LAW that would not allow groups with over a given amout of assets or income or are in violation of tell Americans in any way how to vote on any political matter to be able to file tax exempt. Under the current TAX EXEMPT LAW, the IRS must not allow any group that violated the law’s rules to claim tax exempt.

  • Philip Hawley, Jr

    What should frighten everyone—not just Catholics—is the attempt to silence U.S. citizens from speaking openly about our BELIEFS. Priests and bishops scrupulously avoid speaking against particular politicians, but, apparently, that level of restraint is no longer enough.

    Not that we needed any more proof, but this so-called watchdog group makes clear that the intellectual elite in America want to silence those who speak out against the policies promoted by their favored politicians. That should be a mind-blowing absurdity to every U.S. citizen.

    But sadly, it isn’t. The new rule is: Our priests and bishops cannot speak out against a policy that clashes with our most fundamental beliefs, because speaking about the policy is deemed to be a statement for/against particular politicians.

    Wow…just, Wow!

    What can we openly discuss in our churches? The list is getting rather short.