IRS Asked To Probe Catholic Tax Status Over Anti-Gay Voter Threat

Wed. June 2, 2004 12:00 AM by

Washington, D.C. - A national civil rights organization has called on the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the tax-exempt status of a Roman Catholic diocese whose bishop threatened to withhold the sacrament from voters who support candidates in favor same-sex unions and abortion.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State says that Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan went too far in a pastoral letter sent last month to 125,000 Catholics in 10 counties.

Sheridan said he singled out abortion, stem-cell research, euthanasia and gay marriage for criticism because they are "intrinsically evil."

Sheridan's pronouncement was the strongest yet from a U.S. bishop in the debate over how faith should influence Catholics in this election year. The discussion of withholding Holy Communion had previously been limited to politicians themselves.

"[He's] telling voters whom to vote for,” said AUSCS executive director Barry Lynn.

In a letter to IRS area director Steven Miller Lynn called for an investigation to determine if Sheridan had violated federal tax law by using church resources for political purposes.

Tax-exempt organizations, including churches, have some rights in engaging in political debate over bills before Congress, but they cannot tell people how to vote.

“I believe that Bishop Sheridan, by issuing this document in a church publication in his official capacity as head of a religious organization, may have violated federal tax law and jeopardized the tax-exempt status of the Diocese of Colorado Springs,” the letter said.

Other Catholic leaders have distanced themselves from Sheridan's remarks. Charles Chaput, the Archbishop of Denver, and Sheridan's direct boss, said communion should be withheld only in "extraordinary cases of public scandal."

But, Chaput and other Catholic leaders in Colorado have endorsed a church-led voter registration effort. Although the Church says it is intended to raise awareness among voters, the voter drive is seen by some as an effort to sway the electorate to support candidates who favor the Church positions on gay marriage and abortion.

Last week Denver attorney Robert Tiernan said he will challenge the Roman Catholic church’s tax-exempt status in Colorado.

by Paul Johnson Newscenter
Washington Bureau Chief
©® 2004

This article originally appeared on Republished with permission.