Group challenges tax-exempt status of Peoria Catholic bishop
 

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posted Friday, April 27, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 17

Group challenges tax-exempt status of Peoria Catholic bishop
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed a complaint with the IRS, asking the agency to pull the tax-exempt status of the Roman Catholic diocese of Peoria, Illinois.

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria said recently that President Obama was 'intent on following a similar path' to Hitler and Stalin, and insisted that 'every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences.'

'Bishop Jenky's intervention in the election wasn't just extreme and mean-spirited, it also seems to be a clear violation of federal law,' said Americans United Executive Director Rev. Barry W. Lynn. 'Churches are tax-exempt institutions, and they aren't allowed to intervene in partisan politics.'

Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code prohibits tax-exempt charities and churches from intervening in political campaigns in support or in opposition to any candidate.

Even though the bishop never explicitly told Catholics to vote against Obama in 2012, his statement still ran afoul of the law, Lynn said.

'Bishop Jenky compared Obama to Hitler and Stalin and accused him of pursuing policies that will close Catholic institutions,' Lynn noted.

'Moments later, he exhorted members of his flock not to vote for candidates who fail to uphold Catholic values. It is impossible to interpret this as anything but a command to vote against Obama.'

While a spokesperson for the Peoria diocese said Jenky's remarks had been taken out of context, legal scholars said he probably had violated federal law.

Writing on a law blog, Prof. John D. Colombo of the University of Illinois College of Law concluded 'that Jenky violated five of the six factors identified by the IRS in Rev. Rul. 2007-41, and therefore violated the campaign prohibition rule.

'Since he clearly was acting in his capacity as a leader of the particular exempt organization at issue here (the Diocese of Peoria), my conclusion is that the IRS should indeed investigate this matter and should conclude a violation occurred.'

Americans United is not the only group challenging Jenky.

More than 90 faculty members at Notre Dame University - a Catholic institution - signed a letter calling on the bishop to take back his remarks or to resign his seat on the school's Board of Fellows.

The Chicago branch of B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League has also demanded an apology.



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