Bishops, That is a Pretty Nice Tax Exemption You Have There. Wouldn’t Want Anything Bad to Happen to It.



Modern liberals are not noted for their subtlety.  Case in point is Melinda Henneberger.  A writer for the Washington Post, she is a liberal in good standing and a Catholic, a graduate from Notre Dame in 1980, who has written for the New York Times, Commonweal, a Catholic journal for those who like a dollop of incense with their leftism, and was a contributing editor for Newsweek, the magazine that is almost worth the buck its latest owner paid for it.  Henneberger is pretty ticked at the Church in regard to what she perceives as political attacks on the South Side Messiah.  Her recent column on this subject is deserving of a fisk, and I am happy to oblige:

The Catholic Church practically invented politics, so it may be asking too much to expect American bishops to steer completely clear of affairs of state.

Good, a snide start illustrates the fury with which this column was written as the good ship Obama begins to take on water.  Liberal writers are usually at their nastiest when they start to perceive that a political pasting of Biblical proportions is on the way for their team

There are times when they couldn’t if they wanted to, and they think this is one  of those times.

Ah, but you know better, don’t you Ms. Henneberger?

The upcoming “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign to push back against this  administration’s health-care mandate for contraceptives, however, sounds so much  like a “Fortnight to Defeat Barack Obama” that I’ve gotten to wondering what our  prelates would have to do to cost the church its tax-exempt status. (IRS rules  are pretty clear that churches have to give up their exemption if they campaign  for or against a political candidate.)
Please, that paragraph is a bad joke.  Democrat candidates for decades have campaigned in black churches and many of those same churches are quite forthright in their political advocacy.  Think of the Reverend Wright, the man who Obama, hilariously, claims led him to Christ, and his sermons which were merely long political diatribes.  The IRS has long turned a blind eye to this type of blatant political activity.

That is not going to happen, and I’m not suggesting it should. But as a thought exercise, what would it take to provoke such a thing?

She is certainly right that it is not going to happen unless the Democrat party has a true death wish. 

If a bishop compared Obama to, I don’t know, Hitler and Stalin, would that be campaigning against him?

Oh, but wait, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria tried that already. Jenky wasn’t exactly a household name before that tirade.

We can see from the above that whatever Ms. Henneberger studied at Notre Dame, reading comprehension was not high on the list.  What Bishop Jenky actually said was:

Remember that in past history other governments have tried to force Christians to huddle and hide only within the confines of their churches like the first disciples locked up in the Upper Room.

In the late 19th century, Bismark waged his “Kultur Kamp,” a Culture War, against the Roman Catholic Church, closing down every Catholic school and hospital, convent and monastery in Imperial Germany.

Clemenceau, nicknamed “the priest eater,” tried the same thing in France in the first decade of the 20th Century.

Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care.

In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.

Now things have come to such a pass in America that this is a battle that we could lose, but before the awesome judgement seat of Almighty God this is not a war where any believing Catholic may remain neutral.

This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries — only excepting our church buildings – could easily be shut down. Because no Catholic institution, under any circumstance, can ever cooperate with the intrinsic evil of killing innocent human life in the womb.

No Catholic ministry – and yes, Mr. President, for Catholics our schools and hospitals are ministries – can remain faithful to the Lordship of the Risen Christ and to his glorious Gospel of Life if they are forced to pay for abortions.

What Bishop Jenky was doing Ms. Henneberger is called issues advocacy and is perfectly permissible under IRS regulations.  Nice try however to ignore the obvious.

What if, however, the best-known bishop in the country — and among the  most likeable — said “the White House is strangling the Catholic  Church”?

No again; Cardinal Tim Dolan of New York did that, too. And Bishop Salvatore  Cordileone of Oakland said we have reason to fear “despotism” under Obama.

What Cardinal Dolan actually said:

The exemption given to the church is so strangling and so narrow and it’s also presumptuous that a bureau of the federal government is attempting to define for the church the extent of its ministry and ministers,” said Dolan on CBS’s “This Morning.”

What Bishop Cordileone actually said:

My own experience, I sort of backed into this religious liberty debate by my involvement with her Siamese twin–the definition of marriage in the law. And I got swept up in that, not exclusively, but in large degree because I was enlightened by Dr. [Robert] George and other people of his kind as to the erosion of the rights of religious institutions to serve the broader community in accord with their moral principles precisely because of this issue. As well, the rights of individuals to have their freedom of conscience respected.

When I saw what was happening my eyes were opened, it made me fear that we could be starting to move in the direction of license and despotism.”

Once again, both examples of issues advocacy. 

(Even Pope Benedict XVI has joined the fray – though the former Joseph Ratzinger is really not much of a fray-joiner. “Many of you, he told American bishops, “have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection…with regard to cooperation in instrinsically evil practices.’’ Abortion, he means. Birth control, which is barred under church teaching,  must be provided free to employees of Catholic institutions as part of their health care plans under the Affordable Care Act. Where does abortion come in? Some opponents argue that the Part B ‘morning-after pill,’ which is also provided as part of the bill, is an abortifacient, though science doesn’t support that claim.)

Ah, how Pope Benedict does set the teeth on edge of “progressive” Catholics!  Go here to read the Pope’s warning of the erosion of religious liberty in this country.  Once again, the Pope’s remarks would be considered issues advocacy.  The fact that Ms. Henneberger brings up these remarks indicates the depth of her ignorance on the subject of political activities deemed impermissible by the IRS regarding churches.


Surely if the church ran a massive PR campaign just ahead of a national election, calling for widespread civil disobedience and reading letters about it from pulpits across the nation, that would cross the line into campaigning?


Ixnay on that, too, because the “Fortnight for Freedom” set to run from June 21-July 4th, is just such an effort.

Once again classic issues advocacy.  Think of the churches back in the sixties of the last century who spoke out against segregation.  This argument doesn’t even rise to red herring status.

Just the other night on Twitter, the Archdiocese of Washington tweeted several messages that struck me as partisan: “Unconscionable #HHSMandate #Obamacare set to trample sanctity of human life,” said one of them, sent on June 5th.

In a press release, the bishops compared themselves to Martin Luther King writing his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and a priest in San Francisco called this “our Rosa Parks moment.’’

But that was nothing; a friend in Pennsylvania told me he recently heard a homily drawing parallels between the Catholic Church in 2012 under Obama and the persecution of Catholics in Mexico under Plutarco Calles, who between 1926 and 1929 systematically razed churches and executed priests.

The first two cited examples are clearly issues advocacy.  As to the hearsay report of the homily from an unnamed friend of Ms. Henneberger, this is the type of anecdotal tale that is evidence of precisely nothing since there are no facts given as to the text of what was actually said.

Maybe he got that idea from the May issue of Columbia, the magazine put out by the Knights of Columbus, which featured a rifle-toting, crucifix-wearing cowboy on its cover, and made the same comparison. Archbishop William E. Lori, of Baltimore, has suggested that Catholics should take a look at that issue of the magazine, which also published the bishops’s statement about religious freedom.

And as Catholic University’s Steve Schneck, a board member of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, pointed out in a recent piece on that group’s Web site, the whole issue is “devoted to mobilizing Knights to fight for religious liberty against the Obama administration. Cracking the cover, it turns out that the Cowboy With Rifle and Crucifix illustration is a stylization of General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde,’’ a leader in the Cristero uprising against Calles, which is the subject of a new movie, “For Greater Glory.’’ (Bad timing, liberal Hollywood?)

Actually liberal Hollywood, other than Eva Longoria, had absolutely nothing to do with For Greater Glory which was independently financed, partially by the Knights of Columbus, long before anyone dreamed that Obama would be stupid enough to pick a fight with the Catholic Church during a presidential election year.  Just as the Knights of Columbus in the US and Mexico stood for religious liberty during the Cristero War, they stand for religious liberty now.  Once again, issues advocacy.  It is hardly the fault of the Knights that Obama is on the wrong side of the first amendment at the same time that the film was released after it was delayed for technical reasons from last year.  As for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Ms. Henneberger neglects to mention that this organization is a George Soros funded group of left-wing Catholics dedicated to giving political cover to pro-abort Democrats.  Citing them is akin to attempting to wheel in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in a debate on the foreign policy of Israel.

If you haven’t read Graham Greene’s ‘The Power and the Glory,’ you might not even know about this bloody chapter in history, though it was neither so long ago nor so far away. But in exactly the same way that that Moroccan girl who committed suicide after being made to marry her rapist put the so-called “war on women,’’ into perspective, so, too, does the slaughter of Mexican Catholics in the last century help us see the similarly over-hyped “war on religion” a little more clearly.

Then there is this: We’re so persecuted that when the issues raised by the more than 40 Catholic dioceses and institutions who’ve filed suit against the administration’s mandate make their way to the Supreme Court — and they will — history will note that six of the nine justices who heard the arguments were Catholic.

Ms. Henneberger, counting the religious preference of Supreme Court justices says precisely nothing about the policies of Obama under debate.  Additionally, if the Church ever does come under the sort of persecution that led to the Cristero War, I have no doubt that there would be quite a few “Catholics” on the political Left in this country cheering the government on.

This is not to say that the bishops have no valid complaints. The  Health and Human Services definition of a religious institution is indeed problematic. As Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops, points out, “It says you have to hire your co-religionists and serve your co-religionists’’ to qualify as such. “We help people because we’re Catholic; not because they are.’’

There are also some legitimate outstanding issues — and not as in ‘excellent,’ either — over the contraceptive coverage, with the White House insisting that self-insured Catholic institutions will not have to pay for the contraceptive coverage. In yet another irony, those institutions are deriding the proposed alternatives as magical thinking.

“Some other organization could come in and do it, but who?” Walsh asks. “Thinking insurance companies would do it for nothing is absurd; I haven’t noticed they are so magnanimous. These ideas are being thrown around, but it would be foolish to sit around like Little Mary Sunshine and hope things change.’’

(Have I mentioned that I love Sister Mary Ann? Yes, I do, even when we disagree.)

Big of you Ms. Henneberger.  Of course, the Bishops would have loved to avoid this fight, but Obama refused to budge, assuming that the Church would be impotent in its opposition.  That you wrote this column is a demonstration of just how big a miscalculation this was by the President.


But this is one of those times.

A bishop who spoke to me on the condition that I not quote him by name said of his brother bishops that while “there are some people who welcome it being political, that’s a small number. It’s not a small number of our allies on certain questions’’ — abortion, mostly — who welcome the partisanship, though. Which is why, as he acknowledged, “How this doesn’t become defacto political is a huge dilemma’’ — and one that will be Topic A at the upcoming meeting of American bishops in Atlanta June 13-16.

Meanwhile, he said, most bishops are embarrassed by excesses like the Hitler comparison, and see the timing as “terrible in a political year. Or in a presidential year, I should say, since every year is a political year now.’’

Citing an unnamed Bishop as a source is terribly convenient, although I have little reason to doubt the veracity of Ms. Henneberger’s statement.  I am sure that there are bishops who long for the days when the Catholic Church in this country was largely the Democrat Party at Prayer.  One of the main accomplishments of Obama as President is to convince many more bishops that those days are dead, and that his administration poses a deadly threat to the religious liberty of the Church and all Americans.

The HHS mandate goes into effect in August, though, and there’s been even less message control than usual because the church isn’t very good at rapid response, the bishop said. (That’s for sure; the recent Vatican criticism of Sister Margaret Farley was aimed at a book published six years ago.)

I rather think that in this case the critics of the bishops are concerned that their response to the HHS Mandate has been too rapid and too effective.  (I love the reference to the heretical tome by Sister Farley.  Progressive Catholics are often nothing if not predictable!)

Ahead of the presidential election in 2004, we similarly had the “wafer wars,’’ over whether pro-choice Catholics – like John Kerry, and also John Kerry – should be able to receive Communion. That issue suddenly became such a big deal that in Denver, someone in a Kerry t-shirt was turned away by a lay Eucharistic minister. (The candidate himself was never refused.) The difference between then and now, though, is that then, only a  handful of bishops spoke out.

“Wafer Wars.”  Most progressive Catholics are definitely progressive first and Catholics fifth or sixth. 

On Wednesday, Archbishop Lori insisted,  “We’re not trying to throw an election.’’ But as the bishop I spoke to said, “It’s impossible that there won’t be some partisan implications.’’

No doubt.  I expect an increasingly desperate Obama campaign to reach for the anti-Catholic card several times before this campaign is done, and I expect that most progressive Catholics will be cheering lustily as they do so.




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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. Parishioners pay their taxes as citizens. The Catholic Church is organized as a Non-profit tax-exempt trust. The trustees have paid their taxes as citizens. To remove the tax-exempt status of the Catholic Church would be taxation without representation, two taxes for one vote. The property of the Catholic Church is held in trust for all generations to come by the trustees of the Church. What would Ms. Henneberger know about our constitutional posterity, taxation without representation or even “their Creator”?

  2. When Congress passed Obamacare, Congress knowingly or inadvertently imposed atheism on the country. Atheism was tried under the penumbra of Freedom of Religion and found to be a religion but atheism is only a belief, an erroneous belief that may not be imposed on the people by government. Obamacare deletes the freedom of conscience, the act of free will endowed by “their Creator”. “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Freedom of conscience is redefined by the government and Congress. Atheism imposed in the HHS mandate in Obamacare and passed by Congress redefines FREEDOM and RELIGION. Obamacare may be changed after it has been passed by Congress by unelected officials. Informed consent has been stripped from the law and secular humanism has been established as religion by law by Obamacare.

  3. Science does not support that the pill can act as an abortificeant? Even the manufacturer admits that it does on the medical insert.

    (Insert for Femodene):

    Femodene is a combined oral contraceptive pill (‘the Pill’). You take it to stop you getting pregnant.

    This low-dose contraceptive contains two types of female sex hormones, oestrogen and progestogen. These hormones stop you getting pregnant by working in three ways: by preventing an egg being released from your ovaries; by making the fluid (mucus) in your cervix thicker, which makes it more difficult for sperm to enter the womb; and by preventing the lining of your womb thickening enough for an egg to grow in it.

    And by egg, they mean a fertilized egg, i.e., embryo, i.e., human being.

    But then, I wouldn’t expect a journalism/communications major and a leftist to understand science.

  4. Correct me if I am wrong. but priests and bishops pay taxes. What they own is their clothes. The rest belongs to the church and the church belongs to the people who have already paid their taxes as citizens. Do members of the Lyons Club pay taxes as Lyons Club members? NO. Taxation without representation. Two taxes one vote. But if Ms. Hennenberger is going to remove tax-exempt status she needs to be sure all tax-exempt organizations are included, public schools, The Capitol Building, Pelosi’s tax-suppported new jet plane, The American Civil Liberties Union.

  5. I was once told that the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution no longer was valid and that the founding fathers were over two hundred years old and out of date. Don’t believe a word they say. They are just trying to bully us.

  6. As far as religious liberty and conscience is concerned, the government does not have the authentic authority to enforce a law to send us to church, only to refrain from prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and to make no law of establishing any, no, not any religion, not atheism, nor secular humanism, not Catholicism, but the churches, religion have an obligation to preserve freedom and especially that freedom of conscience that defines the human being as having unalienable rights, unalienable rights to be passed on to our constitutional posterity as their inheritance. That progressive Catholics slash and burn the only real inheritance, freedom for our posterity, that this generation must, is obliged, to hand on is dispicable and degrading.
    Priests and bishops do not surrender their citizenship when they take Holy Orders. As citizens whose sovereign personhood constitutes the U. S. A. from the first moment of their existence as human beings, priests and bishops are political and may not be disenfranchised except for treason. Not wishing to be disenfranchised is not treason. Ms. Henneberger needs to put up or shut up. Viva Fortnight for Religious Freedom.

  7. Old adage: “The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

    It’s not so much that the Church is a non-profit or a charitable organization.

    The First Amendment, IMHO, does not allow the Federal government to tax religion.

    First, they came for the Catholics. Then, they came for the States (tax exemptions), . . .

  8. How could she even use the term “wafer wars”. I was reading and reading and that made me feel sick. This is a Catholic woman saying “wafer wars”.

  9. anzlyne: same here.

    This situation isn’t child’s play, accusing another of what one is blatantly doing.
    OK to label and accuse the Church of politics, but not OK for the Church stand for its belief when that belief (Thou shall not kill.) has become political mandate for the Church to accept?
    The attitude in the writing takes her ‘work’ straight down past sarcasm and irony to a dark place.
    Melinda Henneberger sounds like a ‘smarty pants’, a term which was used years ago by teachers who singled out pupils acting disrespectfully, ignorantly, and hurtfully to get someone’s approval for their scorn.

  10. Oh NO what do I do? I can’t vote, I am only 16, and only a greencard citizen. I hope that Bishop Jenky will find me exception for not having the ability to vote.

  11. One problem among many I see is the statement that politics come from the Bishops, first off that is a flatout lie there have been politics around before Christ was born.

  12. Donald I see your point but I also have a very totalitarian feminist mother who I get in fights with a lot, I don’t have a drivers licence so getting out of the house is hard at this point because I live in a backwoods suburb pretty far away from my Catholic friends and almost any businesses to work at other than horse farms but I am allergic to horsehair, I have however been talking to many people about the contraceptive problem so other than taking part in rallies and voting both of which I can’t do very well without my mother abusing me and my brothers with rhetorical assault, I have been active both online at school and talking to people about the problem with abortion so in a way I am active in the campaign just not the standard way.

  13. I certainly don’t suggest you do anything your mother disaproves of, but you can also probably participate over the internet, as you have been doing. There are also probably youth groups forming up in your area for the Fall campaigns. Don’t give up hope for your mother. In politics, as in religion, the most unlikely converts can be made.

  14. Politics began with Adam passing the buck to Eve, who then passed it to the Serpent. No human society has ever existed without politics of a sort. I assume that the comment about the Catholic Church inventing politics was supposed to be funny, which is yet another example of the maxim that life is easy and comedy is hard!

  15. Don I am reminded of the Book of Sirac where it says that the best way to honor your parents is by doing good.

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