Complaint filed with IRS against Peoria Diocese
Group contends bishop's homily that criticized Obama's policy crossed the line
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, bishop of Peoria. (John Kringas, Tribune photo / October 15, 2002)
The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, alleges that a fiery homily delivered by Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky last Sunday effectively urged Catholics to vote against President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election.
Jenky's homily criticized policies proposed by the Obama administration that would require all employers, including religious groups, to provide free birth control coverage in their health care plans. The bishop included Obama's policies in a litany of government challenges the Catholic Church has overcome in previous centuries, including Hitler and Stalin's campaigns.
"Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care," Jenky said. "In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama — with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda — now seems intent on following a similar path."
Lynn has said church-affiliated agencies that operate on taxpayer dollars should follow public policy guidelines or only collect money from parishioners. But remarks delivered later in the homily prompted Lynn's complaint to the IRS.
"This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries — only excepting our church buildings — could easily be shut down," Jenky said.
In a letter to the IRS, Lynn wrote that Jenky violated the rules that prohibit issue advocacy and called on Catholics to vote as a bloc at the polls.
"To be sure, Jenky never utters the words 'Do not vote for Obama,'" Lynn wrote. "But the Internal Revenue Code makes it clear that statements need not be this explicit to run afoul of the law."
On Wednesday, Lonnie Nasatir, the regional director of Chicago's Anti-Defamation League, demanded an apology from Jenky, calling his remarks "outrageous, offensive and completely over the top."
A spokeswoman for the diocese didn't return calls Thursday about the IRS complaint, but said in a statement that the comments that ADL found offensive were taken out of context and misunderstood.
"Based upon the current government's threatened infringement upon the church's religious exercise of its ministry, Bishop Jenky offered historical context and comparisons as a means to prevent a repetition of historical attacks upon the Catholic Church and other religions," said Patricia Gibson, chancellor of the Peoria Diocese.
"Bishop Jenky gave several examples of times in history in which religious groups were persecuted because of what they believed," Gibson said. "We certainly have not reached the same level of persecution. However, history teaches us to be cautious once we start down the path of limiting religious liberty."
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