Pro-Abortion Group Files IRS Complaint
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A pro-abortion group purporting to be Catholic is trying to discredit at least two Catholic organizations that educate voters about life issues.
“We are looking closely at a lot of different groups who've been very active during this election cycle,” said Michelle Rinquette, communications director for the group, Catholics for a Free Choice.
Though most of its energy is focused on Catholic groups, Catholics for a Free Choice has also criticized Operation Rescue West, a nondenominational pro-life organization. It's looking closely at Catholic Citizenship — an organization sponsored by the bishops of Massachusetts and headed by former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn — which encourages Catholics to become more informed and involved in civic life.
Catholics for a Free Choice — which has been denounced by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for using the word “Catholic” in its name — filed a complaint Sept. 20 with the Internal Revenue Service against Catholic Answers Inc. of San Diego. The group charges Catholic Answers with what Catholics for a Free Choice president Frances Kissling describes in a press release as a “blatant violation of its charitable status.”
In its complaint, Catholics for a Free Choice contends that Catholic Answers violated its tax-exempt status with an Aug. 31 ad in USA Today that called on readers to “eliminate from consideration candidates who are wrong on any of the five ‘non-negotiable’ issues of Catholicism, including abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning and homosexual “marriage.” Text for the ad was taken from the Catholic Answers publication Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics.
Under tax laws, charitable organizations with tax-exempt status are not allowed to campaign for or against candidates. The ad, however, didn't mention any candidates by name or tell readers where candidates stand on the issues. Likewise, the voter's guide mentions no candidates and merely tells readers what platforms they should look for in candidates.
In her press release, Kissling argues that the ad and the voter's guide are aimed at Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, who is pro-abortion, because of an email that Catholic Answers chairman Karl Keating sent to subscribers April 13. The email said Kerry “flunks the test given in Catholic Answers’ Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics; he is wrong on all five ‘non-negotiable’ issues listed there.”
Jimmy Akin, director of apologetics and evangelization, said nothing Catholic Answers has published violates the spirit or the letter of the IRS code in any way. He said Catholics For a Free Choice is desperate to get pro-abortion candidates elected and has decided to “viciously attack” pro-life organizations with groundless accusations.
“Their complaint is completely frivolous,” Akin said. “We have had the documents thoroughly vetted by legal experts who are the best in the business, and they indicate that we are well within the law. There's no basis to the charge whatsoever.”
That's true, said Charles Rice, a visiting law professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich., and professor emeritus at Notre Dame.
“You can list issues and what the Catholic stance is on those issues, and you can even go so far as to list the issues and then list where each candidate stands on those issues,” Rice said. “What you can't do is call for people to vote for so-and-so, naming the candidate by name, or tell them not to vote for so-and-so, naming candidates specifically.”
Akin agrees that Catholic Answers could go much further in educating Catholics about politicians and still not be in violation of the law.
“We don't even talk about candidates,” Akin said. “We leave it up to voters to educate themselves on the particular candidates, and that way our voter's guide is pertinent for elections all over the country.”
Akin said the voter's guide is part of Catholic Answers’ effort to educate the public about Church teaching on a wide variety of matters, including political involvement. He calls it “issues advocacy.”
Catholics for a Free Choice also engages in issue advocacy — though they portray their position as in line with Church teaching when it is not, he said. “They are trying to undermine the teachings of the Church from within, by fraudulently calling themselves Catholic,” Akin said.
Kissling refused to speak with the Register. Communications director Rinquette, however, disputed Akin's claim as “ludicrous.”
“I'm not even sure what he means by that,” Rinquette said. “People can say that about us because much of the hierarchy of the Church isn't affiliated with us, but that's because members of the hierarchy are afraid of repercussions if they do.”
Kissling's group also filed a complaint Sept. 28 against The Culture of Life Foundation — a nonprofit with a mission to provide leadership and financial resources to promote a universal commitment to protect and nurture all human life, from conception until natural death.
Catholics for a Free Choice contends the foundation violated its nonprofit status by sending an email that questioned Kerry's standing as a Catholic because of his position on abortion and other life issues. It also criticizes the group for publishing an article on the Internet one week later that cited a variety of religious scholars saying Catholics should not vote for pro-abortion candidates.
“We are delighted once more to come under attack from ‘Catholics’ for a Free Choice, that rollicking band of wealthy, anti-Catholic, pro-abortion bigots,” said Austin Ruse, president of The Culture of Life Foundation.
Ruse said Kissling's group is trying to abuse IRS code “to violate our First Amendment rights to free speech and religious practice.”
Rice agrees, saying, “this is a complete effort to silence those who are taking a pro-life stance.”
As for calling Kerry a bad Catholic, Ruse said that's well within his First Amendment rights.
“He is,” Ruse said. “And so is Frances Kissling.”
Rice pointed out another wrinkle. “Nobody said anything when Bill Clinton went to the pulpit before his recent operation to campaign for the Democrats in the venue of a Baptist church with tax-exempt status,” he said. “These are attacks on free speech aimed only at those with a pro-life message.”
Wayne Laugesen writes from Boulder, Colorado.
- October 17-23, 2004