(Chicago Tribune) - A prominent advocate of church-state separation filed a formal complaint with the Internal Revenue Service on Thursday, accusing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Peoria of violating federal law by intervening in a political campaign.THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: In what is becoming a clear showdown between the United States government and the U.S. Catholic Church, the latest episode involves some comments made by His Excellency Bishop Daniel Jenky. Here, the good bishop dared to criticise the president of the United States, from behind the pulpit no less, and for this the president's supporters are retaliating with charges that will surely land His Excellency before a civil magistrate and place the entire diocese in financial jeopardy.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, alleges that a fiery homily delivered by Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky last Sunday effectively urged Catholics to vote against President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election.
Jenky's homily criticized policies proposed by the Obama administration that would require all employers, including religious groups, to provide free birth control coverage in their health care plans. The bishop included Obama's policies in a litany of government challenges the Catholic Church has overcome in previous centuries, including Hitler and Stalin's campaigns.
"Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care," Jenky said. "In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama — with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda — now seems intent on following a similar path...
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For my international readers, allow me to explain. It is generally understood in the United States that freedom of speech does not exist for religious leaders when they preach behind the pulpit. Certain things may not be said, and this most especially applies when it comes to politicians. If this happens in an election year, this "cardinal sin" is compounded of course. You see, the United States federal government has successfully placed a muzzle on religious leaders in the United States through the all important tax exemption. So long as religious leaders keep their noses out of politics, they may retain their tax exemption status. This doesn't mean that they themselves don't have to pay taxes, oh no, every religious leader must always pay his own personal income tax. No, this has to do with donations and the parish itself. You see, so long as the tax exemption is retained, parishioners may donate money to the parish and write this off as a personal tax deduction. However, if the tax exemption is revoked, then parishioners may no longer claim a personal tax deduction when donating to the parish, and in addition to that, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may punish the parish with tax penalties for whatever actions caused them to lose their tax exempt status in the first place. The IRS has a reputation of punishing churches with the most fiendish malignity, even to the point of seizing entire parish buildings and all property related. Yes, the IRS also has a reputation of being selective in this process. Some churches are spared, others are made examples of, and to the best of our knowledge, it often seems this happens along partisan lines. For example; radical left-wing Protestant churches (particularly black Liberation Theology congregations) such as the one previously attended by President Barack Obama for example, have a reputation of inflammatory political speech from behind the pulpit directly toward conservative and Republican leaders. These churches are rarely investigated by the IRS, and when they are, they are usually spared any serious repercussions. In contrast, right-wing Evangelical churches may have a reputation of making some veiled comment toward a politician that may (or may not) have political undertones, and these churches will often find themselves in a fight with the IRS to retain their property, which of course, they usually lose. So there is a lot of political game-playing that goes on here in the United States, and a lot of it has to do with ideology. That the tax code is applied unfairly is beyond doubt, but for the most part, the American people are powerless to do anything about it. Our leaders are spineless, and indeed, they often benefit from the system the way it is.
In this context Bishop Jenky makes his brave remarks of observation that the Obama administration is mirroring the very behaviours seen in the early ears of Hitler and Stalin. Indeed, far worse observations were made by religious leaders of former President George W. Bush, but no penalties were ever applied to them as far as we know. Bishop Jenky on the other hand will certainly be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. That's almost a guarantee, and the whole Diocese of Peoria is now in financial jeopardy. Will the bishop and the diocese escape the long arm of the IRS? Perhaps if the bishop back-peddles hard enough, he may get off with a stern warning, and the diocese may be spared. If he holds his ground however, it is not unreasonable to assume the diocese will lose its tax exemption status, along with half of its diocesan property. Parishes will be closed and auctioned. All future donations to the Diocese of Peoria, or any parish or ministry within, will be fully taxed with no deductions available.
Stepping back for a moment from the heat of the current situation, I would like my readers to examine the overall moral precedent this sets not just for the U.S. Catholic Church, but for every religious institution within the United States. Effectively, by using the much coveted tax deduction section (501c3), the federal government now has a say in what is preached behind the pulpit of every church in America. Pastors are effectively muzzled. If America's leaders act like tyrants, and a religious pastor calls them out on it, then that pastor can be prosecuted and his parish (or diocese) punished. This is all legal, according to the U.S. tax code, and it's been going on in America for a VERY LONG TIME. Is there not something inherently wrong with this? Am I the only one who sees something insidious in this?
I have in the past made the controversial statement that the best thing that could happen to the U.S. Catholic Church is for it to lose its tax exemption status. While this would be financially catastrophic at first, in the long run, it would have the effect of liberating priests and bishops to fully speak their minds from behind the pulpit. If a politician begins to act like a tyrant, as Barack Obama has definitely done, then they could call him out on it, before their entire congregation, without fear of the IRS. They could even go further than that. The bishops could meet in conference and decide in advance who they will support and who they will oppose in political races, freely preaching this and the reasons why in their Sunday homilies, thus giving lay Catholics a much more informed conscience. The U.S. Catholic Church would effectively become the largest "voting block" in the United States, marching in virtual lock-step, electing and deposing candidates as it sees fit, transforming America's political landscape almost overnight. In fact, the one and only thing that PREVENTS this very thing from happening, is the coveted tax exempt status (501c3) which so long as the U.S. Catholic Church wants it, politicians need not fear the formation of a unified Catholic voting block. Thus politicians like Barack Obama can do as they please.
I do not know what will become of the brave Bishop Jenky or the Diocese of Peoria, but I do know if politicians like Obama want to keep their worst nightmare from becoming reality, they better get the IRS to dismiss this one as quickly as possible. Because once word of Bishop Jenky's demise spreads to the other Catholic bishops, he will become a martyr for the cause of Catholic free speech, and the result will be a revolt of every Catholic diocese in the nation. I say bring it on! I say ditch the tax exempt status all together, and sell whatever church properties are needed to pay the penalties. Then with absolute liberty, having no more restraint left on them, let the U.S. Catholic bishops call "Adolph Obama" what he is, and let them preach it behind the pulpit, and let all the Catholic faithful finally vote in unison again!!! Within a decade, not only will the U.S. Catholic Church have transformed the entire American political landscape, but they will have dismantled the IRS as well!!!