July/August 2012 Church & State | People & Events

Chicago-area residents wanted to express support for Americans Uni­ted’s recent decision to report the Catholic Diocese of Peoria for illegal electioneering so they used a classic method: a petition.

Americans United took action after Bishop Daniel R. Jenky compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin as part of a sermon and an election-year appeal. AU’s complaint to the IRS noted that Jenky’s sermon was clear intervention in the presidential campaign.

Federal law prohibits churches and other tax-exempt nonprofits from endorsing or opposing candidates, said AU, and the bishop’s April 14 sermon was an order to vote against Obama.

The story created a firestorm in the media, and there were numerous calls for Jenky to apologize or resign.

Chicago resident Geraldine Martin read about the controversy and decided to act. She began circulating a petition among friends and associates supporting AU’s action.

“The undersigned voters wish to support Americans United for Separation of Church and State for their action and complaint against Bishop Jenky of Peoria, Illinois, and the Catholic diocese that he administers,” reads the petition. “His sermon, in which he compares President Obama to Hitler and Stalin, and then asks his fellow Catholics to remember that when they vote in November since it would, he says, result in the closing of Catholic schools, hospitals and social services, is a clear violation of IRS rules for tax exemption.”

The petition notes that its signers include both Catholics and non-Catholics. It goes on to say, “If the bishop will not comply with IRS rules, he and his entire diocese should be denied tax exemption, since they are really a lobbying group, not a charitable institution.”

Martin, who said she has been a Catholic for 82 years, forwarded the petition to Americans United in May.