Thursday, May 27, 2004
This probably comes as no surprise, but Americans United for Separation of Church and State (formerly known as "Protestants and Other Americans . . . ") has asked the I.R.S. to investigate the remarks of Bishop Sheridan of Colorado Springs, and to re-consider the relevant Diocese's tax-exempt status. Here is AU's press release.
Wholly and apart from the question whether Bishop Sheridan went too far, in terms of Catholic teaching, when he suggested that Catholic voters who vote for pro-abortion-rights candidates should abstain from communion (I'm inclined to think that Bishop Sheridan *did* go too far), it is unsettling to me both that (a) instructing Catholics as to (what he sees as) their obligations as Catholics could get the Bishop into financial trouble and (b) that, evidently (see the press release), the USCCB instructs bishops and other Church officials to modify or construct their public discussion of moral questions in accord with IRS regulations.
Perhaps this is naive, but I would hope that bishops would be guided, as they consider whether and how they should speak out on issues of public import and moral teaching, not by Revenue Rulings and the tax regulations, but by their best understanding of the faith, prudence, and pastoral wisdom. For bishops, the argument against statements like Bishop Sheridan's and Bishop Burke's should not be "these statements endanger our tax-exempt status" but "are we serving as good pastors and teachers?"
UPDATE: A Notre Dame law student suggests -- fairly, I think -- that I was too hasty (above) in criticizing the USCCB for advising dioceses to take care not to act in ways that endanger the tax exemption. She makes many good points. Still, there could come a point when the price is too high.