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Catholics for a Free Choice Files IRS Complaint Against Archdiocese of St. Louis

October 26, 2004

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke violates election law with
consistent and rigid instruction to voters.
Statement of Frances Kissling, President, Catholics for a Free Choic

Washington, DC—One week before the United States presidential election, Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against the Archdiocese of St. Louis, MO, for Archbishop Raymond Burke’s statements in violation of its status as a public charity and his illegal interventions in campaigns for public office.

Archbishop Burke, the leader of the archdiocese, has used official archdiocese communications to explicitly urge Catholics to vote against candidates who support abortion rights, euthanasia, reproductive cloning, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research. Additionally, he has issued overt directions to Catholics to vote against candidates who support positions opposed by the archdiocese, a clear violation of the restrictions placed on all tax-exempt organizations.

CFFC has called on the IRS to “immediately exercise [its] authority to revoke the tax-exempt status of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and bring an action to enjoin it from conducting further efforts to intervene in the imminent elections.”

The Archdiocese of St. Louis and Archbishop Burke have patently violated their tax-exempt status by releasing an official Pastoral Letter aimed at Catholic voters, specifically instructing them how to vote in the upcoming election. The letter informs voters about church teachings and implores Catholics to vote accordingly. Through his letter “On Our Civil Responsibility for the Common Good,” the archbishop presents a step-by-step protocol for voters when choosing a candidate. He states that Catholics are “morally bound” to choose voters according to the archdiocese’s plan, a plan that includes the requirement of Catholic voters to consider a candidate’s stance on abortion, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia “above every other consideration.”

Archbishop Burke’s letter outlines a number of different scenarios involving hypothetical candidates and their positions. These hypotheticals, suspiciously reminiscent of presidential candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry, instruct members of the archdiocese to pick the proper candidate at the risk of “assisting another to achieve evil…which is never morally permissible.”

The archbishop’s directives have also been consistently articulated in the St. Louis Review, the weekly archdiocesan newspaper.

Through the Pastoral Letter and the St. Louis Reporter, Archbishop Burke and the archdiocese have clearly crossed the line into political intervention because these materials invite the audience to compare a candidate’s positions with the organization’s own views, another violation of IRS restrictions.

This year, CFFC has filed complaints with the IRS against Catholic Answers, Inc., Operation Rescue West, the Culture of Life Foundation, Priests for Life and the Archdiocese of Denver for their flagrant violations of their tax-exempt status.

In filing these complaints, Catholics for A Free Choice does not infringe on either the right to free speech or the practice of religion. Each of these groups made a contract with the federal government and the IRS when they sought to be exempt from paying taxes. In return for such a privilege they agreed not to participate in election campaigns in ways that constitute an endorsement or opposition to specific candidates, explicitly or implicitly. In much the same way that campaign involvement by individuals and profit making corporations is regulated by law, the involvement of tax exempt organizations is regulated to prevent the indirect use of taxpayer funds in political campaigns. We think these laws are equitable and we call on all tax exempt organizations to follow them.