Lynn Woolsey Asks: “Who Elected These Bishops?”

Once upon a time, in a far away land called Orange County, I was a Catholic. I come from an Irish-Catholic family and we did the usual church thing, though my own parents were infrequent about it. Over time I came to realize that my lack of belief in a god meant my ongoing participation in organized religion had no point, so I wound up joining the ranks of the lapsed Catholics. A proud group we are.

I have no specific objection to Catholicism. But I always did find it annoying that the church hierarchy, especially after John Paul II’s ascension to the papacy in 1978, chose to aggressively espouse conservative social politics as opposed to embracing the more enlightened, even socialistic aspects of the church’s teachings. I’m well aware of the reasons for that – the church enjoys being close to those with economic and political power, it has a long history of inherently anti-woman sentiments, and so on.

Still, it made it easier to leave the church when it became clear that, in addition to my realization that John Lennon was right about god (“above us, only sky”), the church wasn’t offering any positive reason to remain, as its bishops preferred to aggressively espouse a social conservatism that I resoundingly rejected.

Despite the fact that at least half of Catholics support allowing a woman to choose an abortion, their unelected bishops chose instead to mount an all-out attack on a woman’s right to an abortion through intensive lobbying for the Stupak Amendment last week. Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair and North Bay representative Lynn Woolsey call out the bishops AND their tax exemption:

I expect political hardball on any legislation as important as the health care bill.

I just didn’t expect it from the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Who elected them to Congress?

Right there Woolsey shows her willingness to call BS on the bishops. Merely because they are “Catholic bishops” politicians are supposed to tremble at the thought that they represent the views of all 70 million US Catholics. But the fact is they don’t. Ever since John F. Kennedy won the 1960 election, it’s been a widely known fact that most Catholics tend to ignore the political dictums handed down by the church’s hierarchy. Most Catholics don’t even know who their bishop is, not to mention what the bishop says about health care reform.

Woolsey goes further, pointing out that the church’s actions call into question their tax exemption:

The IRS is less restrictive about church involvement in efforts to influence legislation than it is about involvement in campaigns and elections.

Given the political behavior of USCCB in this case, maybe it shouldn’t be.

Of course, the Stupak Amendment wasn’t the only USCCB political action over the last 2 weeks – Catholic parishes played a major role in organizing to pass Question 1 in Maine to repeal the state’s same-sex marriage law.

If the Catholic church wants to play in politics, then it’s time they rendered up to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

4 thoughts on “Lynn Woolsey Asks: “Who Elected These Bishops?””

  1. Taking away the Catholic Church’s tax exemption isn’t going to happen; Congress would never allow it, and they write the tax laws.  Maybe instead we can push the other way: why is it fair to deny the ACLU or the Sierra Club a tax exemption, or to deny NARAL a tax exemption, for engaging in the exact same kinds of politics that the Catholic and Mormon churches do?

    Or maybe we should just start new “churches” to fight for gay rights and abortion rights with tax-free money.

  2. It bothers me that any contribution or expense I have as a citizen in lobbying or politics is taxed, and for corporations, it is a business expense, and is not taxed.

  3. Never heard her say the IRS should be restrictive about church involvement in efforts to influence legislation after the Catholic bishops supported immigration reform. It’s only when they advocate something she doesn’t agree with that she plays the TE card.

    Tax exempt groups are free to exercise their first amendment rights to petition the government as long as they don’t support or oppose candidates. Thats an appropriate line and one that shouldn’t be disturbed simply because you don’t like a particular point of view being expressed.

    Legislators need to have the ability to thank people or groups for their input and be able to vote against them, even if they are friends, members of their political caucus or group or social oroganization or faith. Some Catholics voted for the Stupak Amendment. Some voted against.  

    I’m not concerned about an attempt to take away the tax exempt status of groups who advocate on policy grounds. As one of the commenters noted above, that idea would be DOA. It’s usually Republicans wanting to squash advocacy by non-profit groups. Here its from a Democrat who lost a vote that might have been avoided.

    Perhaps in reconciling the bills the Great Communicator II can find the common ground that has escaped so many on this issue within the context of the overall legislation. Encouraging that effort should be Woolsey’s focus, not trying to muzzle people.

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