Are members of the Catholic hierarchy saying one thing and doing another when it comes to partisan politics?
In a document outlining “political responsibility” that was adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2007, the bishops declared that the church is “involved in the political process but is not partisan” and “cannot champion any candidate.”
That’s the way the church should operate, of course, as required by federal law, which bars tax-exempt organizations from campaign intervention.
But fast forward to 2012, and it’s clear that some members of the church leadership have been ignoring the church’s official stance.
This month, Americans United reported two Catholic churches to the IRS because they took clear-cut stands on political candidates.
The New York City-based Church of Saint Catherine of Siena’s Sept. 2 bulletin contained a column by the Rev. John Farren, a member of the congregation’s pastoral staff. In it, he quoted former U.S. ambassadors to the Vatican who said: “We urge our fellow Catholics, and indeed all people of good will, to join with us in this full-hearted effort to elect Governor Mitt Romney as the next President of the United States.”
AU reported another church that issued a similar statement one month earlier. St. Raphael Catholic Church in El Paso, Texas, ran a notice in a church bulletin dated Aug. 5 that read, “I am asking all of you to go to the polls and be united in replacing our present president with a president that will respect the Catholic Church in this country. Please pass this on to all of your Catholic friends.”
Although the Diocese of El Paso later admitted that St. Raphael had gone too far and asked that the political statement be retracted (and the church complied), it’s clear that many in the Catholic hierarchy are anything but non-partisan this election season.
These two incidents, remember, come less than four months after Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky notoriously compared Barack Obama to Hitler and Stalin and urged parishioners to “vote their Catholic consciences” to keep church schools, hospitals and other ministries from being shut down.
As this sort of political activity becomes more common, however, an increasing number of Catholic parishioners are saying they are turned off by pulpit politics.
As Scott Alessi observed yesterday in a blog post for U.S. Catholic, “As Election Day gets closer, it is getting more and more difficult for the Catholic Church to convince Americans that it is not involved in partisan politics.”
Alessi reported that a survey conducted by the magazine of 600 mass-goers indicated that “people in the pews are clearly growing tired of the partisan approach.”
A report released in February by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life backed up U.S. Catholic’s findings. In 2010, 56 percent of white Catholics said churches should stay out of politics.
It looks like once again the Catholic hierarchy is out of touch with its flock. As Alessi noted, some mass-goers have even walked out during sermons in which priests told their parishioners how to vote.
If those partisan prelates and priests aren’t careful, they may soon have a lot in common with Clint Eastwood – they’ll be ranting to empty chairs.