Group Challenges Archdiocese’s Tax Exempt Status
A Catholic group that supports abortion rights called Monday for the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the tax-exempt status of the Denver archdiocese, charging that Archbishop Charles Chaput broke laws about partisan politicking.
Washington, D.C.-based Catholics for a Free Choice argues Chaput’s repeated statements about the importance of voting in sync with church teachings against legalized abortion and embryonic stem-cell research are attempts to direct Catholics to vote for President Bush.
In a statement, Denver archdiocese spokesman Sergio Gutierrez replied: “The church in northern Colorado respects and observes the law. That will continue. So will our public engagement in moral issues that impact our shared public life.”
To enjoy tax-exempt status, churches are barred from participating in campaigns supporting or opposing any candidate. Chaput has been careful not to name Bush or Democrat John Kerry, a Catholic whose support of legalized abortion puts him at odds with the church.
Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, wrote, “This does little to hide the fact that he is providing clear guidance to voters on who to choose.”
She cites an IRS manual stating the use of “code words” – such as “pro-choice,” “pro-life” or the political parties’ names – paired with discussion of a candidate or election also can violate the rules.
Jean Carl, an IRS spokeswoman in Denver, said the agency does not comment on complaints. But it’s extremely rare for the IRS to revoke a church’s exempt status over politics.
In May, Americans United for Separation of Church and State leveled a similar IRS complaint against Colorado Springs Catholic Bishop Michael Sheridan. The status of that complaint has not been made public.
This article originally appeared in the 26 October 2004 edition of the Denver Post.