Why Priests Should Stay The Fuck Out Of American Politics

Who cares about the Bishop of Peoria? Does he have some sort of inferiority complex at not being the Bishop of some grander place than Peoria? Here’s Eric Kleefeld of TPM:

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of the Roman Catholic diocese of Peoria, Ill., has made news with a fiery speech in which he compared President Obama to the likes of Hitler and Stalin, in allegedly suppressing the Catholic Church.

Jenky was referring to the Obama administration’s health care mandate that most insurance plans cover the costs of contraception for women. He made the remarks at a rally this past Sunday entitled “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith,” the local diocese newspaper reported.

This late middle-aged bearded bespectacled man, pompously familiar with the Catholic version of God’s law but obviously completely ignorant of the more recent and secular Godwin’s law, apparently believes he has some kind of power over secular matters in a religiously pluralistic nation. If he does have such power apart from his vote, i.e., if he is speaking officially on behalf of the Catholic Church in his diocese, he is treading awfully close to the line between religion and politics, and that’s something increasingly evident but very much to be avoided in America. If his words are official, i.e., if he’s saying that Catholics should vote a certain way, the diocese should have its tax-exempt status yanked. (Hey, a Texas comptroller did it to the UU church on no basis other than his dislike of that religion; yanking Jenky’s exemption would at least be for cause.)

Bishop Jenky cavalierly waves the First Amendment like a banner carried by a saint into battle, but he clearly has no comprehension of what it really protects, what it really grants… and that non-Catholic Americans have First Amendment rights, too. If I were his deity, I would sentence Bishop Jenky to a thousand years’ purgatory in which he is required to study, every waking moment, all the Supreme Court decisions and legal scholarly works ever published about the First Amendment. His tutor? Hmmm… how about the late, great Justice Louis Brandeis… the first Jewish Supreme Court justice, public advocate, privacy expert, protector of workers’ rights, opponent of monopolies, opponent of corporatism? Surely that experience would make the good Bishop repent of a few sins…

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  • L’Enfant de la Haute Mer  On Friday April 20, 2012 at 2:34 am

    Over here in Greece, we hug them, they are payed by the state and huge church property is not taxed!

    • Steve  On Friday April 20, 2012 at 9:20 am

      Enfant, in most democracies other than the US, there is a government-established church, and it simply isn’t a controversial issue. E.g., in Austria, I once participated as a musician in a performance of a very old Mass at a Catholic church and was paid by the government for my services.

      In America, things are supposed to be different. The principle, often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, is generally called “separation of church and state,” though these days, it is more honored in the breach than the observance. There are quasi-secret organizations of so-called “dominionists” whose goal is to turn America into an officially Christian nation. The freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to our Constitution means nothing to those people… if you’re not Christian (as I am not), they believe you should be forced to support and participate in a Christian government anyway. That noise you hear is the sound of America’s founders all simultaneously turning in their graves! Why? because the only way a religiously pluralistic society works at all is if each individual citizen can choose his/her religion, or no religion at all, based only on conscience. That’s what the First Amendment’s “religion” clause guarantees. And that’s what we are in danger of losing.

      ADDED: I forgot to mention that because of the First Amendment, America does not tax bona fide religious organizations. The Texas controversy I mentioned above was about the Unitarian-Universalist Association. The comptroller of Texas claimed it was not a religion… notwithstanding that in history, four US presidents, starting with John Adams (the 2nd president), were Unitarians! Of course the comptroller’s decision was overturned; it was made in the first place only to appeal to a fundamentalist evangelical political base.

  • Bryan  On Friday April 20, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    I wanted to check to be sure on the rules, but what he has done by targeting a specific politician is to put the ability of his congregation to make a deduction for donations to the church on their individual tax returns at risk.

    For the churches under him, they will remain non-profits and retain their tax-exempt status, but you can’t deduct contributions to political organizations on your individual return, while you can deduct for purely religious donations. The states deal with the different classes of non-profits in their own ways, and the church might become liable for some local taxes.

    The dividing line is supporting or attacking an individual politician. You can be as issue related as you want, but if you are seen as supporting or attacking an individual candidate, that is pure politics, not issue advocacy, and your status changes.

    • Steve  On Saturday April 21, 2012 at 7:58 am

      Bryan, I’ve read of occasions in the South in which ministers or priests literally passed out slates of recommended candidates to their congregations. Yes, of course, this should lose them their tax exemptions, but who is actually going to make that happen? Can you imagine the whining and howling if, say, the Obama campaign made a legal issue out of it?

      It seems that it is too much for the mighty Catholic Church to keep its nose out of anything… government, bedrooms, you name it. If somebody doesn’t enforce the rules, we’re going to have “government by synod” before long.

  • L’Enfant de la Haute Mer  On Sunday April 22, 2012 at 4:33 am

    Crisis proves a curse for Greece’s Orthodox Church:

    • Steve  On Sunday April 22, 2012 at 7:05 pm

      Thanks, Enfant. I do not know the financial condition of the Orthodox Church in America. Their local building looks well-maintained, and they are not in what I would call a poor neighborhood. I also do not know if they run anything like a soup kitchen. If the soup kitchens in Greece are in danger of closing, poverty is indeed cruel there.

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