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Antichoice Catholic Group Flouts IRS Regulations: Catholics for a Free Choice Files Complaint against Priests for Life

May 9, 2006

Catholics for a Free Choice Files Complaint against Priests for Life

WASHINGTON, DC—In an early sign that the 2006 election season will parallel 2004 with widespread and flagrantly illegal political activity by tax-exempt antichoice groups, Priests for Life is at it again.  The notorious antichoice organization, composed of only 13 percent of the nation’s 47,200 Catholic priests, has issued a direct challenge to the Internal Revenue Service and started recruiting “volunteers who want to do some concrete work to elect pro-life candidates in 2006.”

“Once again, we need ‘all hands on deck,'” wrote Fr. Frank Pavone in an April 11 email to supporters.  “Because in this year’s elections, we have to make sure that the President has a Senate who will not block any further nominations he may be able to make to the Supreme Court. This will be the most important result of the election.”

In addition to his exhortations, Fr. Pavone also provided action steps for supporters, such as “Giving a brief talk in a Church after Communion, with the pastor’s permission,” and “Meeting with your pastor to inform him about resources he can use to promote political responsibility.”

This is not the first time the antichoice and Catholic organization has flouted its tax-exempt status in an attempt to influence an election.  In October 2004, CFFC filed an IRS complaint detailing Priests for Life’s involvement in prohibited electoral activities.  The IRS released a report in February 2006 that, while not mentioning organizations by name, detailed its investigation of what it called an unprecedented increase in political activity by exempt organizations.

Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, noted that “Priests for Life’s current violations and open and flagrant contempt for the IRS and the tax-exempt regulations is breathtaking.  Fr. Pavone is fully aware of the legal parameters of 501(c) (3) incorporation and its restrictions on political activities.  He has clearly decided he is above the law.”  In his April 24 blog entry, he wrote:

We will repeat and intensify this year all we did in the previous election cycles. The pro-abortion groups, the liberals in the Church, the over-cautious attorneys, and the people who don’t want to see the Church “influencing elections” can yell and scream all they want. In fact, I invite them to. It won’t make a shred of difference. We will move forward with more boldness than ever before.

Last week, Catholics for a Free Choice filed a complaint with the IRS against Priests for Life.  It is unacceptable for any organization to reap tax benefits for a charitable mission and then use resources to engage in illegal political work.  Charitable status is a privilege, not a right.  Organizations are free to educate their members and the public, but must do so within the legal limits of their charitable status.  Organizations even have the right to participate in the election process if they choose to renounce their charitable status.  What they are not free to do is flout the federal statutes and IRS regulations that govern all charities by endorsing or targeting candidates during an election year.

CFFC has asked the IRS to take swift action to establish zero-tolerance for these types of violations.  In the interim, CFFC will monitor the actions and statements of groups such as this throughout the election cycle and call out anyone that breaks the law.  CFFC has also written to the Archdiocese of New York, where Priests for Life maintains its corporate headquarters, and requested that the archdiocese instruct Father Pavone to comply fully with the law or put its own tax-exempt status in jeopardy.