Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane responds to Nicholas Cafardi in the current issue of America. Here we post the full text of his response:
Re “Politics and the Pulpit” by Nicholas P. Cafardi (7/30): Dr. Cafardi seems to imply that Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle engaged in impermissible lobbying by assisting in gathering signatures in support of Referendum 74 in Washington State to undo the same-sex marriage legislation. The tax code allows tax-exempt organizations to engage in lobbying as long as the lobbying does not form a substantial part of the organization’s activities.
Dr. Cafardi acknowledges this but seems to minimize to the vanishing point the degree to which lobbying is permitted. Whether it is “substantial” or not is judged in relation to an organization’s totality of activities in terms of time, effort and expenditure. Dr. Cafardi should be familiar enough with the activities of Catholic dioceses to know how “insubstantial,” though still important in itself, this effort of the archdiocese is in proportion to all that it does in worship, education and social service. And Dr. Cafardi does not sufficiently emphasize the fact that this limitation is placed on all non-profit organizations that come under 501(c)(3) of the tax code—not just churches.
Moreover, Professor Cafardi seems to draw into his discussion the totally extraneous issue of the “separation of church and state” to have the opportunity to quote James Madison in order to characterize the church’s opposition to the referendum on marriage as an initiative that would “repeal the civil rights of a significant sector of our fellow citizens” and seems “disposed ‘to vex and oppress.’” In doing so, Dr. Cafardi ignores the fact that all the rights of marriage have been granted to registered domestic partners in Washington State, and so even if the same-sex marriage law is overturned, these rights will remain intact except for the description of these relationships as “marriage.”
Several decades ago pro legal abortion activists sued the Internal Revenue Service to remove the Catholic Church's tax exemption because of our opposition to legalized abortion. It took a decade to resolve that suit in the church's favor. It is a good example of the lengths to which some will go to prevent the Church from ever voicing its opinion in a public debate by declaring its efforts to do so out of bounds due to its tax exempt status or the "separation of Church and state."
Dr. Cafardi admits that "churches can certainly advocate on social issues they perceive to have a moral component without violating the tax code." I regret that he has decided to provide an interpretation of the code that limits rather than supports the Church's ability to help politics achieve just and charitable purposes.
(Most Rev.) Blase Cupich
Bishop of Spokane, Wash.