A watchdog group has asked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for engaging in prohibited political activity in violation of its protected tax status.
Press reports last week indicated that a number of bishops have been abusing their positions to advocate against the re-election of President Barack Obama.
Further similar actions have been alleged or reported during sermons over the final weekend before the crucial 6 November 2012 US presidential election.
The formal complaint has been made by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). It has set out its complaints in a detailed submission to the Inland Revenue Service (IRS).
In Illinois, Bishop Daniel Jenky — who previously compared President Obama to Stalin and Hitler — required every priest in his diocese to read a statement accusing the administration of an “assault upon our religious freedom [...] simply without precedent in the American political and legal system.”
He declared that those who fail to heed his warning have no hope of salvation and urged every practicing Catholic to vote.
CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan commented “This weekend, the Catholic bishops plan to use every tool in their arsenal, including warning parishioners that they may go to hell, to promote the candidacy of Governor Mitt Romney. While the bishops are free to hold their own opinions, tax law is clear that this sort of political activity is prohibited.”
Other bishops, including Nicholas Di Marzio in New York, David Ricken in Wisconsin, Edward J. Burns in Alaska, and Paul Loverde in Virginia have also warned of the evils of the Obama administration, followed by an exhortation for Catholics to vote. Some have cautioned that voting for Democrats would not be faithful to Christ and would endanger the soul.
To qualify for tax exemption under IRC §501(c)(3), an organisation must not participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. The publication or distribution of written or printed statements on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate is also prohibited. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, as a §501(c)(3) group, is clearly prohibited from opposing a candidate as it is clearly doing with its presidential election.
Ms Sloan continued: “In completely unqualified terms, the IRS should immediately tell the Conference of Catholic Bishops that the conduct of its members is beyond the pale. If the Catholic bishops would like to continue receiving the tremendous tax benefits on which they rely, they should follow US law and stay out of American politics.”
* Read CREW's complaint to the IRS in full (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): http://www.citizensforethics.org/page/-/PDFs/Legal/Letters/IRS/11_02_12_... 
Also on Ekklesia:
* GOP accused of using religion as last ditch anti-Obama scare tactic - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17317 
* LIVE election night blog - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17316