With election season now in full swing, Catholics are again immersing themselves into the political dialogue. Though dialogue and voter education is encouraged, the US Bishops have issued guidelines as to what kinds of political activities Catholic parishes, dioceses, and nonprofits may and may not do in order to keep their tax-exempt status. Among the political activities that Catholics can and should do: sharing Catholic social teaching, encouraging voting, educate voters, and always remain non-partisan. Endorsing or opposing candidates or parties is prohibited, as is promoting partisan materials or inviting only certain candidates to address congregations.
In the state of Washington, election officials are also reminding religious and other nonprofit groups about certain boundaries they must respect in order not to jeopardize their tax status, especially in light of the gay marriage ballot referendum. From Religion News Services:
Churches in Washington state are being reminded that collecting money for a political cause is not OK — including a high-stakes ballot battle over gay marriage.
The state’s Public Disclosure Commission recently learned that Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima sent a letter to pastors in 41 parishes asking them to take up a special collection for Preserve Marriage Washington, the group that is trying to overturn the state’s same-sex marriage law.
A formal complaint, however, was not filed. Lori Anderson, communication and training officer for the state commission, said the reminder was merely precautionary.
“There’s been no formal action. There’s no story here. Preserve Marriage Washington and our partners have done everything within full compliance of the law,” said PMW Deputy Campaign Director Chris Plante.
Anderson explained that any organization — religious or not — cannot serve as an intermediary for a contribution, though it can freely promote a campaign.
“Churches can distribute the envelopes and encourage parishioners to use them, but they can’t be the middleman,” she said, adding that individual contributors have to send the donations in themselves, or someone from the campaign has to be on hand to collect the money.
Plante said the Catholic dioceses of Yakima and Spokane will distribute pre-addressed remittance envelopes in September, which will then be collected by PMW volunteers. A date for the collection has not yet been determined.
“The Catholic Church, during the month of September, plans to up its teachings on marriage and on our understanding that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman based on natural law, the Scriptures and our traditions,” said Monsignor Robert Siler, chief of staff and chancellor for Yakima diocese.
The Catholic Church in Minnesota is also vocal about gay marriage in that state, where a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is on the ballot, dividing the Catholic community there.
Michael J. O’Loughlin