(CNSNews.com) – Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), late Friday, filed a formal complaint asking the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for allegedly engaging in prohibited political activity in violation of its nonprofit tax status.
The CREW complaint alleges that the nation’s Catholic bishops are “abusing their positions to advocate against the election of President Barack Obama,” and anticipated further actions during this weekend’s sermons.
The complaint mentions several bishops -- including Nicholas Di Marzio in New York; David Ricken in Wisconsin; Edward J. Burns in Alaska and Paul Loverde in Virginia -- who it said have “warned of the evils of the Obama administration, followed by an exhortation for Catholics to vote.”
CREW also alleges that some bishops “have cautioned that voting for Democrats would not be faithful to Christ and would endanger the soul.”
But the complaint zeroed in on Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky, who, the liberal activist group said, “previously compared President Obama to Stalin and Hitler.”
CREW objected to the fact that the traditionalist bishop of Peoria, Ill., is “requiring 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,’” according to the complaint.
“He warns that those who fail to heed his warning have no hope of salvation and urging every practicing Catholic to vote,” the liberal activist group said in a news release accompanying the IRS complaint.
“In completely unqualified terms, the IRS should immediately tell the Conference of Catholic Bishops that the conduct of its members is beyond the pale,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan stated in the release.
To qualify for tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, nonprofit organizations must not participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.
“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,” she said.
The USCCB did not respond to weekend attempts by CNSNews.com to elicit comment.
But in a guideline for political activity issued on the USCCB Web site, the bishops’ Office of General Counsel made it clear that under the law, “(t)he political campaign intervention prohibition does not prevent a Catholic organization from addressing the moral aspects of public policy issues or from pursuing its legislative advocacy program during election campaign periods.”
The bishops’ top legal counsel also noted: “The fact that the positions of particular candidates may align with the advocacy positions of Catholic organizations does not alone taint an issue communication.
For the IRS to consider issue advocacy to be a violation of the ban on political activity, “there must be some reasonably overt indication in the communication to the reader, viewer, or listener that the organization supports or opposes a particular candidate (or slate of candidates) in an election, rather than being a message restricted to an issue,” the Catholic legal counsel noted.
‘God is Not Mocked’
Bishop Jenky’s controversial letter, as CNSNews.com reported last week, did not call for Catholics to vote for or against any candidate.
The letter, which was slated to be read at all masses in the Catholic churches of the diocese of Peoria, Ill., over the weekend, did equate pro-abortion Catholic politicians and the people who vote for them with the biblical mob that chose Caesar over Jesus Christ, and warns that “God is not mocked.”
Jenky wrote that 2,000 years ago, “after our Savior had been bound, beaten, scourged, mocked, and crowned with thorns, a pagan Roman Procurator displayed Jesus to a hostile crowd by sarcastically declaring: ‘Behold your King.’ The mob roared back: ‘We have no king but Caesar.’”
“Today, Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord,” Jenky wrote.
“They are objectively guilty of grave sin. For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life.”
“God is not mocked,” the bishop wrote, “and as the Bible clearly teaches, after this passing instant of life on earth, God’s great mercy in time will give way to God’s perfect judgment in eternity.”
Jenky’s letter also criticized the Health and Human Services mandate under Obamacare – a regulation that requires nearly all health insurance plans to offer contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs free of charge.
“Since the foundation of the American Republic and the adoption of the Bill of Rights, I do not think there has ever been a time more threatening to our religious liberty than the present,” Jenky wrote.
“Neither the president of the United States nor the current majority of the Federal Senate have been willing to even consider the Catholic community’s grave objections to those HHS mandates that would require all Catholic institutions, exempting only our church buildings, to fund abortion, sterilization, and artificial contraception.”
“This assault upon our religious freedom is simply without precedent in the American political and legal system,” Jenky wrote.
“Contrary to the guarantees embedded in the First Amendment, the HHS mandate attempts to now narrowly define and thereby drastically limit our traditional religious works.
“They grossly and intentionally intrude upon the deeply held moral convictions that have always guided our Catholic schools, hospitals, and other apostolic ministries.”
In concluding his letter, the bishop simply wrote: “I therefore call upon every practicing Catholic in this Diocese to vote. Be faithful to Christ and to your Catholic Faith.”
The diocese of Peoria, which is in central Illinois, has a Catholic population of approximately 196,000.