WASHINGTON — A church-state watchdog group has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether the Roman Catholic bishop of Paterson, N.J., violated tax laws by denouncing Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama.
In a letter sent to the IRS on Wednesday (Oct. 22), Americans United for Separation of Church and State accused Paterson Bishop Arthur Serratelli of illegal partisanship for lambasting Obama's support of abortion rights.
In a column posted on the Diocese of Paterson's website and published in its weekly newspaper, Serratelli also compared Obama to King Herod, the biblical monarch who ordered the death of John the Baptist.
The bishop did not refer to Obama by name but only as "the present democratic (sic) candidate."
Under federal tax law, nonprofit groups — including religious organizations — are prohibited from intervening in campaigns for public office by endorsing or opposing candidates.
I'm not going to quote it all. That's about the first half of the article, read the rest for yourself.
Bishop Serratelli responded the other day and the diocese issued a statement:
"The characterization that Bishop Serratelli’s column intervened in the election process is inaccurate. His October 9 column was not directed to the upcoming presidential election, but was rather totally focused on the Freedom of Choice Act and the harm it would do to the nation if it were to be signed into law. It’s absolutely, positively misleading to say that the bishop urged Catholics not to vote for Sen. Obama. All the bishop did was to point out that in a speech before the Planned Parenthood Action Fund last year, Sen. Obama made the promise that the first thing he would do as President would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act.
In addition to his column, the bishop sent a letter on October14 to all pastors in the diocese to be published in the parish bulletins in which he asked the people to read his column and call or write to their elected representatives about the Freedom of Choice Act. He did not make any statement about voting for or against a candidate."
The column itself in the diocesan newspaper may be read online here.
I'm not an expert on the relevant tax law, but whatever fine line His Excellency came close to seems to me not to have been breached. The final paragraph of his letter:
At the time when Herod murdered John the Baptist because of his promise, Rome practiced the principle "one man, one vote." Whoever the emperor in Rome placed in authority over a subject people, ruled. Today we live in a democracy. We choose our leaders who make our laws. Every vote counts. Today, either we choose to respect and protect life, especially the life of the child in the womb of the mother or we sanction the loss of our most basic freedoms. At this point, we are still free to choose!
The letter is a review of one candidate's position on a relevant, in fact quite fundamental, Catholic teaching and its conclusion sums up the position of the Catholic Church on that issue. If bishops cannot expound on the teachings of their Church in their own diocesan newspapers without fear of recriminations and possible governmental sanction, what does that say for the rest of us when we find ourselves in similar situations?