Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, July 23, 2012

“Politics and the Pulpit”


The July 30th issue of America Magazine will have an article entitled “Politics and the Pulpit—Are some bishops putting the church’s tax exempt status at risk?” written by Nicholas Carfardi a law professor and former dean at Duquesne University School of Law who is also an acquaintance, friend, and colleague of many of us at the Mirror of Justice. Unfortunately, one needs a subscription to read the Nick’s article online, but there is one link [HERE] that provides more information about the views expressed in his article. Today I write to convey my disagreement with Nick and to explain why I think he is wrong in criticizing two bishops who have exercised their teaching office on public policy issues with which Nick and others probably hold opinions different from the bishops.

In particular, Nick focuses on the recent activities by two American Catholic bishops which he asserts are causes of concern for the Church (perhaps just the dioceses) in preserving her tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. His first anxiety is the homily given by Bishop Daniel Jenky (Peoria) in April of this year on the “extreme secularist agenda” of the Administration. Having read the bishop’s homily, to which Nick refers, several times, I disagree with Nick’s conclusion that what the bishop said in any fashion jeopardizes the Church or the diocese because it was somehow an inappropriate crossing of a line that should not be crossed by an ecclesiastical official. The second target presented in Nick’s essay is Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle who asked all the parishes in the archdiocese to support the Referendum 74 initiative in support of giving the people of the state of Washington the ballot box right to confirm or seek repeal of the same-sex marriage legislation that was recently approved by the Washington state legislature. Nick concludes that both of these actions by the bishops endanger the Church’s tax exempt status because they constitute electioneering or lobbying that is not permitted by Section 501(c)(3).

If that is the case and Nick is correct, then the actions taken since the mid-1950s (when the first Congressional restrictions on certain policy activities by churches and religious organizations went into effect) by individual bishops and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and its predecessor the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, urging the faithful’s action on the following matters [this is not an all-inclusive list] would also have put at risk the Church’s teaching the faithful on important and, yes sometimes, conflict-ridden issues:

1963—support for the emerging civil rights legislation before the Congress

1966—the statement on peace in Vietnam; the statement on poverty

1967—the statement on the pending anti-poverty legislation

1969—the statement on state abortion law liberalization and the further statement in protest on the U.S. Government programs against the right-to-life and artificial contraception

1973—the statements (post Roe) on abortion and anti-abortion amendments; the statement on the reform of correctional institutions

1974—the statement against capital punishment; the statement on farm labor legislation

1975—the statements on U.S. domestic food policy; the statement on the crisis in housing

1977—the statement on DNA research; the statement on human sexuality

1978—the statement on the arms race

1980—the statement on the military draft

1983—the statement on reform of social security; the statement on broadening tuition tax credits

1984—the statement on arms control and (un)just war

1985—the statement against the MX missile; the statement on tax reform and the poor; the statement on immigration reform

1986—the statement against military aid to the Contras in Central America; the statement on the budget deficit; the statement “Economic Justice for All”

1987—the statement on welfare reform; the statement on fair housing amendments

1988—the statement on civil rights and new and pending legislation; the statement on immigration reform

1989—the statements on food policy and third world debt

1990—the statement on moral education in public schools

1991—the statement on euthanasia; the statement on the permanent replacement of strikers; the statement on national environmental policy

1993—the statement on comprehensive health care reform

1995—the statement on policy priorities for welfare reform; the statement on arms trade

1997—the statement on capital punishment


and the list goes on…


In addition to Catholic officials speaking out on the important public policy issues of the day, we also have to think about other churches and religious organizations which also have the benefit of Section 501(c)(3) provisions and their activities in elevating consciousness and exhorting action by the faithful. For example the Episcopal Church sponsors the Episcopal Policy Network which urges legislators and citizens to consider the church’s views on sometimes-divisive issues dealing with STDs, refugees, and environmental protection among other policy issues. In this context, Nick’s concerns cannot stop with the Roman Catholic Church. One particular advocacy matter currently pursued by the Episcopal Church is encouraging its members to thank the Senate (i.e., the Democrats) for its lead on poverty-focused assistance programs and to encourage the House (i.e., the Republicans) to do the same. By Nick’s standards this should also be problematic electioneering and lobbying. As Nick states, “…once a church’s advocacy goes beyond issues and, without a legitimizing invitation from the legislature itself, addresses a pending law—urging voters directly (called grassroots lobbying) or urging legislators to act (called direct lobbying)—a line has been crossed.”

It seems that the line which is of concern to Nick has been crossed for a long time when one looks at the long record of the Catholic bishops and our Episcopalian friends on the pressing issues of the day. I would hope that Nick’s concerns are not generated by his agreement with some views or disagreement with differing perspectives on those public policy and legislative initiatives which can and do divide public opinion. If that is the case, then his criticism is all the more weakened. The world of politics and public policy formulation has long been characterized by the division of different views. It would be not only strange but mistaken to insist that only some views on these matters may be expressed by churches and religious organizations but others may not.


RJA sj



Araujo, Robert | Permalink

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