Yakima's Catholic bishop may not take up special collection for marriage equality foes
by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Plans by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Yakima to take up a special collection for Preserve Marriage Washington - the group fighting marriage equality - are not legal, the state Public Disclosure Commission says.
Bishop Joseph Tyson said in an August 17 letter to parish priests that they should distribute envelopes for the anti-equality organization during Mass, ask parishioners to put money in them, and then forward the donations to the Preserve Marriage campaign.
The bishop's letter also included talking points for priests to use in explaining why parishioners should donate to the anti-equality group.
The PDC had misgivings about the plan and, after meeting on August 21, decided to inform the Yakima Diocese that it should not proceed with the special collection.
'State law doesn't allow bundling for state and local campaigns,' PDC spokesperson Lori Anderson told SGN.
Bundling, Anderson explained, means soliciting campaign donations from a number of individuals, collecting their money, and then turning it over to a campaign.
'They can hand out the remit envelopes and ask the parishioners to mail them back to the campaign,' Anderson continued. 'Or, if they want to leave some role for the church in raising money, they can invite campaign representatives to church to present the envelopes and then collect them. But the church can't collect them on behalf of the campaign.'
CHURCHES CAN'T BUNDLE
Like any individual citizen, Tyson could personally raise money for the anti-equality campaign, but he is not allowed to do so in church.
'State law says individuals can bundle,' Anderson told SGN. 'There are special hoops they have to jump thorough - there are disclosure rules, and the campaign must treat the money in a special way.
'But he can't do it as the church. He can't represent the church, because then it's the church doing it. If he wants to go away from his job, then yes.'
In response to inquiries from SGN, the Yakima Diocese said it had not yet heard from the PDC and did not know why the state had objections to Tyson's plan.
'We have not heard from the PDC yet,' Monsignor Robert Siler, chancellor of the diocese, told SGN. 'It seems strange that the news media knows more about their concerns than we do. If and when we hear from the state, if we need to amend our procedures, we will do so.'
'It is our intent to follow the state's campaign election law,' Siler insisted. 'Basically we are simply exercising our constitutionally guaranteed right to express our views.'
Although Tyson's letter includes instructions to parish staff on how to handle the Preserve Marriage remit envelopes, Siler said the diocese will follow a procedure similar to the one Anderson outlined in her conversation with SGN.
'[T]he Bishop's endorsement for Preserve Marriage Washington's fundraising efforts does not violate state election law because the Church is not taking up the collection,' Siler told SGN.
'We're allowing Preserve Marriage Washington and their volunteers to distribute their envelopes to the parishes. They bank the money. They count the collection. If parishioners choose to donate, they can send their contributions directly to Preserve Marriage Washington, or volunteers can collect the envelopes.'
The Archdiocese of Seattle told SGN in an email that it had no similar plans for a special collection.
'Parishes and Catholic people in the Archdiocese of Seattle are encouraged to support efforts to preserve the legal definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. How they choose to do that will be a local decision,' Seattle Archdiocese spokesperson Greg Magnoni told SGN.
Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain previously asked priests to circulate Referendum 74 petitions at Mass, but allowed individual parishes to opt out. Several prominent Seattle parishes did so, including the archbishop's own cathedral, St. James.
The archdiocese did not comment on whether it agreed that the Yakima bishop's fundraising plan was illegal.
OPPONENTS' GOAL: $4M
Preserve Marriage Washington is hoping to raise $4 million to defeat R-74, but Siler told the Yakima Herald-Republic that the diocese has not set a fundraising goal.
Siler and his bishop put a somewhat different spin on the politics of the special collection. In his August 17 letter, Tyson was careful to deny that church leaders were taking a political stand.
'The Church does not engage in partisan politics, but it has an obligation to teach about moral values of the issues facing society,' he wrote.
Siler, on the other hand, emphasized that the collection was a political contribution, and not a charitable donation to the church.
'To be clear, this is basically a contribution to a political campaign, and these are not considered tax-deductible church donations,' he told the Herald-Republic.
The Yakima Diocese includes 41 parishes and some 68,000 Catholics. It is known to be financially strapped because of legal expenses related to five child-molestation suits. The diocese reportedly has paid out $1 million in settlements and spent an additional $1.5 million in legal fees. All the cases occurred long before Tyson was installed as bishop last year.
The Seattle Archdiocese, by contrast, includes 144 parishes and 972,000 Catholics.
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