Controversies surrounding the controversy

There was a piece of last evening’s All Things Considered interview with Archbishop John Nienstedt that didn’t make it to the the final product because of time constraints. Nienstedt answered questions about a DVD being sent to 400,000 Catholics throughout the state in which church leaders cal for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to be put before Minnesota voters.

The story started on KSTP the other night. The archbishop says when he gave the interview to the station, the subject.

“Throughout the conversation, the word homosexual or same sex or gay was never mentioned.

The station’s Web site has two stories posted. One is a text story, which quotes the archbishop from a previous speech, called “In defense of Marriage and Family.”

A video post several hours later carried two comments from the archbishop, none longer than 10 seconds. None of the facts in the story, however, appear to be in dispute other than the archbishop does not believe the DVD constitutes an “attack” on homosexuals. But that word wasn’t part of the station’s report.

Given that the station interviewed the archbishop after his speech, it would appear the archbishop’s complaint is that the station didn’t tell him that it knew about the DVD.

A transcript of the edited interview with the archbishop has now been posted on the All Things Considered page.

In the wake of the story, some have suggested the church cannot be involved in a debate over a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage because it violates laws about the political activities of non-profits.

It doesn’t appear to.

The rules for non-profits are they can’t work on behalf of a particular candidate. They are free to weigh in on issues.

According to the IRS:


Organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

It’s a somewhat finer line, however, when it comes to lobbying:


An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.

Organizations may, however, involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying. For example, organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.

The church says the DVDs are educational.

  • David

    “conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status”

    I’d like to see this part of the law changed. It’s a big part of the reason we stopped going to church at the Cathedral, all the “educational meetings” and groups that were held there as well as the constant political leaning sermons from the pulpit just became too much.

    Also, the first quoted paragraph is easily skirted with statements like “Vote with your conscience when deciding how a candidate stands on abortion”

    I’d say this is “indirectly participating in, or intervening in, “, but apparently lawyers feel otherwise.

  • Curt C.

    Thank you, Bob! This was very informative. But this brings to mind the story of the Council of Catholic Bishops directly lobbying Bart Stupak & Nancy Pelosi last year during the whole Health Care Reform kerfuffle to try and get abortion coverage out of the bill. It would seem to me, after reading this post, that those actions were clearly illegal. So it shouldn’t matter whether the Catholic Church’s actions with regards to the political sphere are illegal or not, because it’s clear to me they won’t be held accountable regardless.

  • bsimon

    “Nienstedt answered questions about a DVD being sent to 400,000 Catholics throughout the state in which church leaders cal for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to be put before Minnesota voters.”

    What is sad, and I say this as a person who was raised Catholic, is that the Catholic church is becoming synonymous with bigotry, intolerance and hypocracy rather than with the message of Jesus.

    Archbishop Nienstedt ought to keep his focus on his institution, and leave the politics out.

  • vjacobsen

    bsimon, I could not agree more.

    I was raised Catholic exclusively during the JP2 era, including 4 years at a co-ed Benedictine college. While the theology itself is something I can agree with, the behavior of the Church’s leaders is growing increasingly repugnant. We watch the sex abuse scandal blow up and largely get ignored…until very recently. The denial was astounding. But despite the many shortcoming of the leaders, the homilies at church grew increasingly shrill about politics. The very last time I went to church was shortly before the 2006 elections. I distinctly remember being told that we had to reject candidates that “embrace the culture of death” (read: abortion). I found that statement so jolting; I’d never heard anything like it before in 25+ years of going to church. It was the last time we attended mass, though we still get the mail from the Diocese, mostly spewing messages of hate and judgment.

    Coincidentally, I just was talking with my younger sister, who is starting the process of becoming an Episcopalian. She said the class is entirely made up of 20-something men and women, all raised Catholic. Somehow, I’m not surprised…

  • Jeanne

    Here’s a concept: take religion out of everything. Can you imagine taking the religion out of politics and the politics out of religion? Can we just work based on the premise of treating one another respectfully and humanely? Let’s see, what might we accomplish? Everyone who wishes to serve in the military can do so without need for apology. That might be a start. I’m sure if we all thought about it, we could come up with a long list of disagreements (maybe even some wars) that would not be necessary if we didn’t get on a high horse about OUR religion (versus YOURS).

  • Al

    vjacobsen – I attended an Episcopal ordination of a friend last winter. Of the 3 being ordained that night all had been previously ordained in other churches. Two had been Catholic and 1 had been Lutheran. Two of the 3 are gay. And amazingly there were even Episcopal priests in attendance who were female. And here I thought you needed an appendage hanging between your legs to be able to preach a sermon.

  • matt

    As soon as unions, environmental advocacy, cancer groups, museums, AARP, the AMA, ADA and every other group that lobbies the govt and “informs” its members starts paying taxes then go ahead and tax the churches.

    It always amazes the number of people that will take every opportunity to bash religion. We all understand that there are parts of this or that faith that you don’t like and nobody forces you to believe. Yes religion influences public policy, but it is no more effective than the other usual suspects that equally force their viewpoints, fears and aspirations on the rest of us even if we strongly oppose their perspective. The problem does not lie with big religion, big welfare, big science or any of the other groups it is the willingness of our politicians to subordinate liberty.

  • Jeanne

    If you want to see how nonsensical the world seems and how intertwined religion and public policy are, try being an atheist. Most of it is pretty insane from this viewpoint.