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Bishop Sheridan At It Again (Update)

Here is a copy of the Bishop of Colorado Springs most recent pastoral letter. This letter was read aloud in every church in the Diocese of Colorado Springs this October. In it, the Bishop claims that you cannot support legal rights for same sex couples (short of actual marriage) and be a Catholic. It is well known that the Bishop has threatened to deny Holy Communion to Catholics who vote for candidates who support same sex marriage, same sex unions, abortion, or euthanasia. Curiously, the Bishop does not support denying Holy Communion to Catholics who vote for candidates who support the death penalty, torture, or unjust war. What is the role of a Bishop?


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I didn't see this sentence in the bishop's pastoral letter: "In it, the Bishop claims that you cannot support legal rights for same sex couples (short of actual marriage) and be a Catholic." At the end, he urges Catholics to vote the way he proposes, and prays that they will do so, but I didn't see him saying more than that, and no threats accompany the letter. Perhaps he has learned a thing or two.This in the interest of precision...

I think there should be some kind of restriction on how many strawman arguments can be raised in any single rant, but this is my favorite one:"Secondly, any benefit that same-sex couples seek through recognition of their partnership is already available through contract law."Really?! Well, whoop-de-doo! So that means when my son graduates from school and is no longer eligible for medical benefits under my plan, I can simply declare a contractual partnership with him and he'll get benefits?I can declare a contractual partnership with my son that leaves us free to file jointly with the IRS and receive the same tax deduction as married couples? Boy! That'll be a break! And here we were worried about getting slammed for his first year filing as a single and me not being able to file as head of household.Would that contractual partnership supercede any future marriage of his, I wonder? Would I inherit his estate over his wife? Would I be considered his next of kin and be responsible for making medical decisions on his behalf rather than his wife? Would I be eligible to receive his pension benefits? Social Security benefits? Thank you, Bishop Sheridan! You have opened up a whole new array of possibilities for exploiting the tax and legal benefits currently afforded to married couples who receive such benefits based on no other single criteria except their marriage.What a guy.

"He who travels in the barque of Peter had better not look too closely into the engine room." ........... Msgr. Ronald Knox" If (episcopal) folly were grief, there'd be weeping in every (church) house" ..........(Modified) Spanish proverb.

What the bishop actually says is:"To support any other understanding of marriage is contrary to the will of God and the teaching of the Catholic Church."Is this incorrect? Has the Church changed its teaching?

Actually Donna, the bishop is closer to the truth than you are. The benefits you cite cannot be available under a state dometic partnership law. As federal benfits, they would be unavailable under the Defense of Marriage Act. Virtually every - though not all - benefits that would accrue under a sate domestic partnership law can be realized through private legal arrangements.

"Virtually every - though not all - benefits that would accrue under a sate domestic partnership law can be realized through private legal arrangements."Then every benefit not able to be realized through private legal arrangements should also be denied to those who receive them for no other reason than being married or recognized as domestic partners.Personally, I think the best resolution is to repeal all legal benefits that are afforded to married couples based on no other criteria than their marriage. Let's all negotiate our private legal arrangements.

Anna,At it again? Then we have been at it for millennia.Donna,But the protection of marriage by the state is also urged by Catholic teaching.The state does so because marriage is, as the Bishop writes, the fundamental and indispensable unit of society. What am I not getting? I have read the letter. It seems unimpeachable.

I think that the person is the fundamental and indispensable unit of society. Without the person, all else is without purpose or merit.Rights, priviliges and responsibilities belong to persons, not units or groupings of persons.

Is anyone actually paying much attention to Sheridan and their ilk this time around? Or is the general reaction, "there he goes again"-- with apologies to Ronald Reagan.

Jimmy,Certainly rights pertain to individuals, but the question is at what point do individual's preferences become rights that the rest of society is bound to respect, particularly as they relate to fundamental social institutions. Marriage as a social institution has always been subject to regulation based on moral principles and standards. For thousands of years every culture in the world and every major religion has not recognized same sex marriage as valid. Now we are told that this restriction is purely malicious prejudice.What other preferences will we recognize as rights? Why not polygamy? Certainly it has a much longer history and recognition in other cultures. Why not adult consensual incest? Many primitive cultures not only tolerated, but mandated it. The whole genetic objection is really a 20th century thing. This historic basis for the prohibitions on these types of marriages is moral, and it deals with the definition of a family and the proper relationships and responsibilites among men, women, and children. Why are these prohibitions not also illegitimate prejudices?

Here's something you can't get by contract: tenancy by the entirety, a form of ownership wherein, if the co-owner dies, the remaining owner owns the property outright without taking a single step to perfect or file his or her ownership interest. This is available in most states only to married people and it keeps houses out of marital estates. If I had some time I could think of others. I disagree that there is some "unified field theory" of marriage that makes marriage some sort of stable and unchanging relationship across age and time. For thousands of years marriage was a means of preserving the property rights of families who found it convenient to align their interests. But before the rise of the so-called nanny state it really didn't matter if you were "officially" married unless you had property, and I have the genealogical records to prove it. Rather more accurately, marriage was understood or implicit even when it was informally secured. More recently it has acquired the romantic mumbo jumbo that is so often responsible for clouding the judgment of the uninitiated, and even at some point the Church picked up on the mumbo jumbo so as not to be completely divorced from the social and cultural context of the faithful. And finally, at some point it became unthinkable to impose a choice of spouse on anyone. This is the principle that gays are trying to advance and has more in common with the general popular view of marriage than the Catholic view does.

"But the protection of marriage by the state is also urged by Catholic teaching.The state does so because marriage is, as the Bishop writes, the fundamental and indispensable unit of society."I'm not saying the state can't protect marriage as a social institution. What I'm saying is that the right to inherit property should not be determined by marital status.The right to be someone's medical advocate should not be determined by marital status.The assessment of tax obligations should not be determined by marital status.And so on. The sacrament of marriage, the social institution of marriage, is supposed to be based on the emotional and spiritual union of two people. That's what makes marriage something above and beyond a legal partnership, isn't it? But state and federal governments don't need or want to know about the spiritual and emotional status of the union. No rights and benefits afforded to married couples by the gov't is predicated upon anything more than the objective elements of shared living space, shared expenses, combined incomes, shared property, etc. Division of assets after the dissolution of a marriage is based on the same objective elements.The IRS doesn't ask if the marriage is a stable one, or if the couple has agreed to have children. They don't care if anyone is getting along with each other, if anyone is being abused, or if the children are being raised in a loving home.A man and woman could be married and sleeping in separate bedrooms and never even speak to each other, but if they're living in the same house, sharing expenses, combining incomes, and have joint property, then they will qualify as a married couple under the law.But is that a marriage? Is that the sacramental spiritual and emotional union of two people joining to become one that we're looking to protect?I don't think it is. In fact, I think it is even more of a travesty of a marriage than two homosexuals in a committed relationship. At least one pair is fulfilling the spiritual and emotional union!So why should this travesty of a marriage get anything more in terms of rights and benefits than a homosexual couple? If we're looking to protect the institution of marriage and preserve it as a fundamental building block of society, then shouldn't we also be concerned with those heterosexuals who make a mockery of it in other ways - abuse, adultery, mail-order brides, marriages of convenience, green card marriages....?In fact, a gay man could legally marry a gay woman, keep their homosexual lovers on the side, and still reap the legal benefits of the marriage contract. They've met the "between a man and a woman" requirement, but certainly no one at city hall is going to ask them if they intend to have sex with each other.So why not take the financial and legal incentives out of the marriage picture altogether? I bet there will be a lot less people rushing to the altar, but those that do come to the altar will do so because they recognize that what they have transcends a legal arrangement. Isn't that the type of marriage we should be promoting anyway?

Here is the actual quote from the Bishop's 1 May 2006 letter."There must be no confusion in these matters. Any Catholic politicians who advocate for abortion, for illicit stem cell research or for any form of euthanasia ipso facto place themselves outside full communion with the Church and so jeopardize their salvation. Any Catholics who vote for candidates who stand for abortion, illicit stem cell research or euthanasia suffer the same fateful consequences. It is for this reason that these Catholics, whether candidates for office or those who would vote for them, may not receive Holy Communion until they have recanted their positions and been reconciled with God and the Church in the Sacrament of Penance."

Cathleen Kaveny asks if anyone is paying attention to Sheridan and his ilk. We absolutely should be paying attention. One lesson from 2004 is that these elements on the far-right defined the debate. They were the true Catholics, and the rest of us were squishy dissenters. We need to fight back on their own turf, that is, in the theological sphere. It can get depressing. Those of us who appealed to the nuances of Catholic moral teachings in light of the Terry Schiavo case were called every name in the book by the right, but we still need to make these arguments. In the following link, I try to tackle Sheridan's argument using the principle of double effect (based on a highly informative paper I read):

-I'm confused about what Bishop Sheridan missive we're talking about? May 1 or october 6?The October 6 letter, posted at the Colorado Catholic conference, emphasizes the defense of mariage gainst any other than the non-traditional catholic understanding.The notion of gay secular unions is outright rejected.In early November, the USCCB wil look at finalizing a document on homosexuality and it appears somewhat more balanced than the Bishop's statement, exercising great care in upholding the traditional notion of marriage with real pastoral concern for the problems of gays.Was ther ea political; slant to the Sheridan article? Surely, Was it issue oriebted? YesIs ther emore here on partisanship? Could be.

Barbara,As to survivorship interests (which you cite as an advantage), tenancy by the entirety is identical to joint tenancy which is available to anyone, regardless of marital status. In fact, tenancy by the entirety limits the ability of the joint owners to alienate - sell or give away - their property.I am not saying marriage is static, but that society has a right to define it and to place limits on it. This is the fundamental difference in these positions. Most SSM proponents take the position that society has no right to place a limit on homosexuals' right to marry each other. That is why I bring up other restrictions, like incest and polygamy. These resrtictions are fundamentally the same as the restriction on SSM - that is, based on moral proscriptions and a particular model of the family. This is always trotted out as a red herring, but as of today, some states allow first cousins to marry, but most don't. Who's right? Is this a legitimate restriction?Several of the arguments use the sad state of affairs of civil marriage and the abuse of the institution as an argument for SSM. I say the solution to the holes in the boat is not to turn off the pumps. Everywhere SSM or civil unions have been instituted illegitimacy climbs and the numbers of marriages decline.

Tenancy by the entirety is not the same as joint tenancy. I got my title changed after I got married (house was purchased before) and TE was not available and provides benefits not available to JT or CT ownership. Tenancy by the entirety is not divisible in the same way, and the issue of what happens upon death of the joint tenants can vary by state. I am not going to take the bait on incest and polygamy. I've argued this elsewhere. "Society has a right to define marriage." On that you and I agree. Which is why i consider Sheridan's position to be a form of overreaching, especially since it is abundantly clear that in more pertinent ways (divorce and remarriage) the Church's view of marriage is manifestly not accepted and no one is excommunicated, for instance, for voting for someone (like Newt Gingrich) who pretty clearly doesn't have the Catholic form of marriage.

Barbara,I am sorry, but you said in describing tenancy by the entirety, "the co-owner dies, the remaining owner owns the property outright without taking a single step to perfect or file his or her ownership interest." Clearly implying that this is different than any other form of ownership. This is not true. Joint tenancy entails the right of survivorship, and as far as I know that's true everywhere, even if another state calls it something different it still has some form of joint ownership with right of survivorship that applies to anyone, even those not married. If you have an example of a state that doesn't have a right of survivorship I'll gladly acknowledge that this is not 100% accurate.I haven't seen your arguments elsewhere, but I'd like to know what they are because I have yet to see a principled distinction made.Aren't the Church and individual Catholics part of society? Were it up to me, divorce would be far mare difficult to obtain, but that's not what's on the ballot. The bishop is commenting on what is on the ballot the election. By voting for Newt Gingrich do I cooperate in his sin or am I just voting for a sinner (something that is always unavoidable)? There is a distinct difference. Do I facilitate his adultry or validate his divorce if I support him? This standard will come as something of a surprise to all the "I condemn what he did, but . . . " supporters of Bill Clinton. Truth be told, I probably wouldn't support Gingrich for president, in part, because of this (you can tell a lot about a person's character by how they treat their family), but I can't say that those who do are materially cooperating in sin. Such is not the case with politicians who openly, vociferously, and consistently support abortion and euthanasia, which are intrinsically evil.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I know I'm not using the abuses of the institution to support SSM. I also agree that society has the right to define and limit marriage.What I don't agree with is state and federal governments tying marriage to individual rights, privileges, and obligations, and I'm pointing out how the guaranteeing of these rights based on the definition of marriage alone is not instrumental in protecting the institution.

Donna,You said above"A man and woman could be married and sleeping in separate bedrooms and never even speak to each other, but if they're living in the same house, sharing expenses, combining incomes, and have joint property, then they will qualify as a married couple under the law.But is that a marriage? Is that the sacramental spiritual and emotional union of two people joining to become one that we're looking to protect?I don't think it is. In fact, I think it is even more of a travesty of a marriage than two homosexuals in a committed relationship. At least one pair is fulfilling the spiritual and emotional union!"In other words, because the current state of affairs allows bad marriages, those who support the current standard can't legitimately and consistently oppose SSM - or at least that's what I get out of what you said. This is what I mean by using abuse of the institution of marriage as a justification for SSM. I apologize if this is an incorrect interpretation.

Sean, I don't want to be pedantic, but joint tenancy is not the same. It has a right of survivorship sometimes if the conveyance was in terms that clearly specified survivorship, if both parties were conveyed the property at the same time and so on. It is simply not the same type of ownership. TE is open to married people only and it prevents one party from disrupting rights of the other in the property without consent. Neither TC nor JT does that. I don't know why it squicks everyone out to admit how much of the legal institution of marriage is just a means to allocate and protect the property interests of the spouses. It is so apparently true that it's silly to pretend otherwise.

SeanH, of all your arguments on this thread, I think I understand these: 1. SSM is contrary to the will of God. So, SSM ought not to be legalized. 2. SSM is contrary to the teachings of the Church. So, SSM ought not to be legalized.3. In every country where SSM or CU are available, the annual number of new marriages (where the term "marriage" is given some legal content) declines. So, SSM and CU ought not to be legalized. 4. In every country where SSM or CU are available, the annual number of out-of-wedlock births (where the term "wedlock" is given some legal content) increases. The former causes the latter. So, SSM and CU ought not to be legalized. Are these summaries fair? You might be inclined to include CU in (1) and (2), but it's not clear to me that that's your position. You have (I think) two more arguments that I don't think I understand. As best I can tell, they are: 5. Prior to 1989, no "culture" (where the term "culture" is given some legal content) and no "major religion" recognized SSM as legally valid or as something that ought to be legally valid. This is because the same cultures and religions construed (or construe) marriage according to a normative model that is inconsistent with SSM. So, ... I'm not so sure. 6. A society has the right to legally regulate the institution of marriage. So, ... again, I'm not sure. Would you please explain (5) and (6)? I'm genuinely interested.

Oops. Add a dollop of causality to argument (3) above.

Barbara,Again, I did not say they were identical, but that both forms of ownership permit survivorship interests. This started from the point that you were trying to make that Bishop Sheridan's claim that the the benefits of civil unions can be acheived through private legal arrangements was false. My point was that it was not completely accurate, but that as to most issues under state law, it is substantially a true statement. Sure there are differences, but just as he underplays them, you overplayed them.Mr Kerr,I will respond if you want me to if when I have more time, but no, you don't exactly get my position on several of these points.

I have long thought debates like this one are slightly dishonest. They are proxy arguments for more fundamental disagreements. The conversation would be more fruitful if one party to the debate candidly admitted that they do not believe in the Church's teachings on sexuality and the sacrament of marriage. That admission would clear away the moral haze that prevents clear perception of what the debate is fundamentally about.

Well Sean, I don't think I'm overplaying the differences. My point is that even if one goes to the expense of hiring a really good lawyer there are benefits open to married people that are not available to those who would avail themselves of SSM if they could, and those benefits can be extremely important. mlj, I disagree with you. I can fully accept the Church's teaching on marriage and still not want to see it codified as law for any number of prudential reasons, starting with the notion that (1) many Catholics themselves don't adhere to it, and shouldn't have to if they don't want to and (2) non-Catholics should not even be expected to try to adhere to Church teaching. I also note that the Church makes the biggest stink about the group that has the smallest representation. What would happen if it promoted making cohabitation or contraception or divorce illegal? I understand that there is a certain amount of opportunism involved -- it just happens there is a referendum this year and all that, but still, the stench of hypocrisy is awfully strong. Sorry.

Today's New Jersey Supreme Court ruling underscores the property rights issue. etc. here . Either permit "gay marriage" or allow civil unions with the same legal rights.What continues to befuddle me is why the Church thinks gay unions are undermining the institution when: less than half of us are now married, divorce rates have soared for over 3o0 years and the current average age for enteruing marriage has risen to 30.If the Church wants to condemn gay marriage because it believes homosexual acts are disordered, it should say that (though being careful not to offend one's orientation as the new directive makes clear.) I think the church loses some credibility when it keeps attacking gay unions as the problem with the institution, whose current dimunition has many more and complex causes.

We should not forget Donna's equally strong point that Catholics who support the war, torture and the death penalty should not have access to the sacraments either.Therefore, the bishop confirms the prolife lie.

Bill,There is a difference between supporting the war and even the death penalty and abortion and euthanasia. Abortion and euthanasia are intrinsically immoral and sinful. War and the death penalty are situational. Support of them is related to the good faith belief of the person and the surrounding facts. I do not support the death penalty, but it is different in kind from abortion or euthanasia. This is the teaching of the Church, period.

I think it is time for the State to stop deputizing religious groups as its agents of "marriage."Let the State issue civil union licenses to all couples with state and Federal rights, priviliges and responsibilites being based on possession of that license which is, in effect, a civil contract.License holders are then free to approach any coven, mosque, Las Vegas wedding chapel, temple, church or what-have-you for an additional service of their choice. My partner of 34 years and I dont' feel any need to have a "wedding", "marriage" or "Holy Matrimony" (isn't the last really what Christians are institutionalizing anyway?). We are even to live with the "separate but equal" state of civil union.Now, does that may those worried about our diminishing the "sanctity of marriage", or are you still afraid that all of your kids will decide that same-sex unions are "cooler" and will run off and never give you grandchildren?

A few points -The legal benefits of marriage are all the result of society taking the decision to create them for the benefit of the institution of marriage. Marrriage wasn't created to recieve these collateral benefits - i.e. property rights etc. It was the other way around. Therefore, the argument that the definition of marriage should be changed so that those who don't meet the criteria can get the benefits of marriage is illogical. The benefits were created to promote the institution as it was defined historically. They are separate issues. To put it simply, most people don't get married for the tax break.Again, we see the divorce rate and the deterioration of marriage as a justification for SSM. (see Eobert's comments above) This is nonsensical. Because the institution is weakening isn't a reason to discard it. This is particularly so since many of the legal and societal bases for its decline were supported by the same groups that support SSM today.Finally, the implication that if I support the Catholic view of marriage in the public sphere I am "imposing" my faith on others is nonsense. My Catholicism informs and helps form the views that I take to the public sphere. In some ways this addresses what I think is missing from Mr. Kerr's statement of my opinion on this. I do think SSM is against God's law and Church teaching. I think it is also contrary to the Natural Law. In my experience, and I think according to the teaching of the Church, any free and well-ordered society is most so when it follows God's law. If I exercise my rights to air those views and to vote on them, I am not imposing them any more than those who disagree with me are imposing their views on me - so long as they do so through the democratic process.The key difference is that most supporters of SSM claim that I may not legitimately express those views through the democratic process. I actually believe in pluralism, which means if, through that democratic process, my view loses, I won't go to court where I actually can impose my views on the other side. If I disagree, I will seek to change the hearts and minds of my fellow citizens, and do so through the democratic process.

SeanH, yes, do expand, please (if, of course, you have time). By the way, have I (in your view) got *any* of your arguments right?

Sean,Sorry. Show me where the church has approved a non-defensive war. there was no attack by iraq on the US.this is a PRE-EMPTIVE war. not even the crusading chuch did this.Most of all show where the bishops and right to lifers have shown interest in the brutality and torture of the US and their puppet governments in South America?

Bill,Your arguments advance irrelevancies in every respect, starting with the fact that we are debating a discrete democratic referendum unconnected to any particular candidate.

Sean,I brought up the abuses of the institution of marriage simply to illustrate that it is not the morality of the union that the gov't seeks to protect, nor is it a set of moral criteria the gov't uses to determine the validity of the union. Therefore, it is also not the morality of the union that provides the foundation for the distribution of legal rights and benefits. That foundation is purely based on the objective criteria of property, finances, and obligation. The state and federal gov'ts can certainly limit marriage and restrict the legal definition, but if the distribution of legal rights is based on an objective rather than moral set of criteria, then anyone who meets that objective criteria is entitled to the same rights as anyone else who fills the bill.That does not make me a supporter of SSM, but a supporter of equal rights under the law.

It appears from a comparison of Sheridan's 2004 statement, on the one hand, and his (more recent?) statement on the CCC website's "Bishop Statements," on the other, that His Eminence still publicly and officially holds the view that Catholics who vote for candidates supporting abortion rights, etc. may not receive Communion until they "recant" and repent in the confessional. This discussion prompted me to look at the IRS website's information about so-called Exempt Organizations. I share the following information from various parts of the agency's site:"Currently, the law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one 'which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.'""Political campaign intervention includes any and all activities that favor or oppose one or more candidates for public office.....[P]ublic statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of an organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition on political campaign intervention.""The political campaign intervention prohibition is not intended to restrict free expression on political matters by leaders of organizations speaking for themselves, as individuals. Nor are leaders prohibited from speaking about important issues of public policy. However, for their organizations to remain tax exempt under section 501(c)(3), leaders cannot make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official functions of the organization. To avoid potential attribution of their comments outside of organization functions and publications, organization leaders who speak or write in their individual capacity are encouraged to clearly indicate that their comments are personal and not intended to represent the views of the organization."It would appear that the good bishop has violated federal law and subjected his diocese to possible revocation of its tax exempt status. Why? Read the following example provided by the IRS:"Example 16: Candidate A and Candidate B are candidates for the state senate in District W of State X. The issue of State X funding for a new mass transit project in District W is a prominent issue in the campaign. Both candidates have spoken out on the issue. Candidate A supports for [sic] the new mass transit project. Candidate B opposes the project and supports State X funding for highway improvement instead. P is the executive director of C, a section 501(c)(3) organization that promotes community development in District W. At C's annual fundraising dinner in District W, which takes place in the month before the election in State X, P gives a lengthy speech about community development issues including the transportation issues. P DOES NOT MENTION THE NAME OF ANY CANDIDATE OR ANY POLITICAL PARTY. HOWEVER, AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE SPEECH, P MAKES THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT, 'FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO CARE ABOUT QUALITY OF LIFE IN DISTRICT W AND THE GROWING TRAFFIC CONGESTION, THERE IS A VERY IMPORTANT CHOICE COMING UP NEXT MONTH. WE NEED NEW MASS TRANSIT. MORE HIGHWAY FUNDING WILL NOT MAKE A DIFFERENCE. YOU HAVE THE POWER TO RELIEVE THE CONGESTION AND IMPROVE YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE IN DISTRICT W. USE THAT POWER WHEN YOU GO TO THE POLLS AND CAST YOUR VOTE IN THE ELECTION FOR YOUR STATE SENATOR' [emphases added]. C has violated the political campaign intervention as a result of P's remarks at C's official function shortly before the election, in which P referred to the upcoming election after stating a position on an issue that is a prominent issue in a campaign that distinguishes the candidates."Considering the content of the bishop's statement, its official status as an expression of diocesan policy, its widespread availability on the internet, its continued presence/availability less than two weeks before the upcoming nationwide elections, and the religious/spiritual significance of eucharistic reception for Catholic voters regardless of political affiliation, I think the case can be made that Bishop Sheridan continues to violate provisions of federal law and implementing regulations governing tax exempt status of his diocese. If you believe as I do that this man has, indeed, violated the conditions for allowance of tax exempt status for the Diocese of Colorado Springs, I encourage you to send a complaint to Exempt Organizations Examination Division, 1100 Commerce Street, ATTN: SE:T:EO:E, Dallas, TX 75242. Be sure to include all relevant facts.For too many years to remember, reactionary "pew spies" have submitted complaints to bishops, the papal nuncio, and the Vatican about "dissident" priests, etc. Now we progressives have the opportunity to return the favor by notifying the IRS about a clear violation of federal law committed by a reactionary hierarch who arrogantly believes he is above the law. Sheridan's actions likely will sway some Catholic voters to change their political preferences (and possibly violate their consciences) by voting for a different candidate or not voting at all.Please be sure to vote. In the meantime, please seriously consider filing a formal complaint with the IRS.

Bill,I give up. Since the bishops didn't do anything about the Latin American dictatorships, they are forever barred from taking a stand on any other life issues.

A friend of ours counsels gay people on how to protect assets because, on the death of one partner, family members suddenly crawl out of the woodwork to claim their "blood right" to the dead person's stuff--often out of some sense of spite.This has left some surviving partners having to liquidate assets to pay for court costs or to provide some portion of the property to the heirs (mostly brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews). SSM would rectify this.Of course, so would strengthening the rights individuals have to name heirs, regardless of marital status. But this would cut out the traditional rights of survivorship wives and children have. A husband could leave his mistress the house and money, and the wife would have no redress.Given the above alternative, wouldn't SSM actually help preserve the traditional survivorship rights that all civil marriages impart?

If a Catholic votes for someone in order to support their pro-choice position or a pro-stem cell research position or whatever as such, then that is a personal moral issue. Outside of that, a Catholic has an obligation to vote his or her conscience for the candidate who in their judgment will be most likely to promote the most ethical government.One thing that we always need to look at is whether a candidates political position taken as a whole is coherent and whether the candidates actions relative to his or her position are coherent. We seem to be asked too often to vote for a candidate on his or her claim to support a few particular positions and we are asked to ignore the rest, as though Catholic moral law consists of a set of moral injunctions and one gets more points for supporting one and fewer points for supporting another.In fact, in politics as in life, a person needs to have a coherent moral position. The virtues must be unified in order to truly be virtues. We may recognize the shadow of temperance in someone who wants to have drug dealers executed and the shadow of fortitude in a president who will not change course no matter what happens as a result of his original decisions. But these are not virtues. Actions need to coherently support, not contradict, statements of belief.Bishop Sheridan would have us separate some candidates positions from other positions they hold and separate their words from their actions. In defense of the dubious principle that some moral injunctions are capable of standing entirely alone, he wants to invite incoherence directly into the moral system. He wants to discount the primary importance of order and consistency in moral affairs and his makes Bishop Sheridans moral position (to use one of my favorite words from the Catechism) disordered.

Joe,As much as I hate to get people with whom I disagree to stop wasting time, I will tell you I think any such protest is a waste of time.First, the bishop clearly didn't violate the Church's tax exempt status. In the example you cite, the hypothetical executive director addressed a specific issue in a specific election and tied it to the election of a specific office - state senator. Religious leaders are allowed to discuss the moral content of public policy.The word "partisan" means something. The fact that one party supports a position more than another does not ipso facto make support for that position partisan. What made them partisan in the hypothetical above was tying the issue to a specific election for an office. For example, the Massachusetts bishops have come out in support of an amendment on SSM here. This is not a partisan issue. It would be partisan if they said, don't vote for XXX because of his position, but they didn't, and neither did Bishop Sheridan.Second, I would be shocked to see the IRS take an action on something as ambiguous as this. Unless you have a clear cut, partisan campaign stump speech, they would never touch a religious leader who was stating a position based on a religious belief or teaching. The free exercise issues are just too great.

Sean, I am a retired federal bureaucrat who had to apply provisions of 5 USC and 5 CFR , not to mention implementing directives from various agencies, during my career in staffing, position classification, and training for the former U.S. Civil Service Commission, its successor agency (Office of Personnel Management), Army, Defense Logistics Agency, and VA. I am quite comfortable in applying standards to individual cases, albeit not in tax law. Judgment applies. The process is the same regardless of subject matter. I was accustomed to delivering "bad news" to people and being able to support my official determinations before "higher ups."I shall, indeed, be submitting a formal and detailed complaint to the IRS regarding Bishop Sheridan's statements. Under the law here, the government must review my complaint, seek additional information as necessary from any and all sources, and arrive at a formal administrative determination. Unfortunately, the IRS is prevented by the same law from providing any followup information to me or to anyone else regarding the ultimate disposition of my complaint. For all I know, perhaps Sheridan and/or some of his fellow reactionary bishops have received notifications from IRS regarding having "stepped over the line into impermissible territory," etc. I don't know.I disagree with your view that the good bishop didn't violate the law. I think the example provided fits very well into examining the bishop's inappropriate comments to members of his flock (and, by extension, to Catholics elsewhere who tend to hang onto the views/opinions/interpretations of reactionary bishops). "Religious leaders are allowed to discuss the moral content of public policy." Yes, and I think Sheridan crossed the permissible line. He indirectly pointed out the "benefits" of voting in accordance with his understanding of what the Church requires: no need to "recant" and no need to confess one's sin on this matter. This approach amounts to voter intimidation. It so happens that the bishop's understanding of what is required of Catholic voters is disputed by those of us Catholics who can cite various provisions of nothing less than the doctrinally authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church in our contention that Catholics have a duty to listen and consider the official teachings of the Church --- but also have the God-given right to decide ultimately for themselves how a particular teaching applies to their particular situations or circumstances. Even the Catechism, for example, admits that a person must follow an erroneous conscience if the individual sincerely believes that s/he is right.Having had at one time the responsibility to handle inquiries on the Hatch Act governing political conduct of federal employees, and having served on numerous occasions down South as a federal poll observer, and having a BA degree in political science, I am well familiar with the word 'partisan.' The IRS guidance does not consistently use this word. (Federal employees, for instance, may run in non-partisan elections for public office.) Given the bishops' statements that the fundamental right to life is a non-negotiable issue (and I am staunchly pro-life), a bishop's statement that crosses the line (as in Sheridan's case) can clearly be construed by a neutral IRS panel as an attempt to steer voters in their polling booth decisions.As for your contention that the IRS would never "touch a religious leader who was stating a position based on a religious belief or teaching," I think you are incorrect. As I noted earlier, it's one thing to state official religious teaching. It's another thing altogether, however, to go one step further and issue an organizational (diocesan) statement to the effect that if a Catholic gives his/her vote to a candidate who supports abortion, etc., he or she, in effect, has sinned and must, therefore, "recant" and confess the presumed sin.I think your observations carry no convincing weight.

Two supplementary thoughts:1. To elaborate. Sheridan's statement caught the public eye precisely because he went beyond the practice of most if, indeed, not all his fellow bishops, progressive and reactionary alike, in reminding Catholics of Church teaching on abortion, euthanasia, etc. This point is no small matter. It clearly indicates that most (all?) of his fellow bishops concluded that they would be jeopardizing their diocese's tax exempt status if they were to come anywhere close to suggesting, much less telling, their flocks how to vote.2. This situation illustrates how our bishops tend to think of diocesan money as "their" money. They are ultimately accountable to no one for how it is spent. A sad commentary on church governance. Illustrates the need for transparency and accountability.

Let's start with the political/legal issue.Joe, It looks like you pulled your quote from IRS Fact Sheet 2006-17 "Election Year Activities and the Prohibition on Political Campaign Intervention for Section 501(c)(3) Organizations" (link below). I agree that some of the examples indicate that Bishop Sheridan is cutting it close in the pastoral letters at issue, both 2004 and 2006.However, it does look like that, in practice, the IRS uses a slightly higher or tighter standard in evaluating political activities by 501(c)(3) organizations. According to Professor Donald Tobin (link below), Bishop Sheridan's 2004 pastoral letter seems to violate the current rules. However, Tobin feels that the IRS is looking for actions that involve the explicit use of the candidate's name. The report by the IRS on the results of their 2004 cycle investigations would seem to bear this out.(Tobin also mentions that the IRS does not necessarily acknowledge investigations until they result in a ruling or litigation. If the diocese in question did not publicise an investigation, we might not know if the 2004 letter resulted in one.)But Sean, I would advise you to check those links. The religious content of the speech does not matter -- just that it was done on church property or with church funds, by an official representative acting officially, and a particular candidate is mentioned (apparently). Bishop Sheridan is close enough that it would not take much of a slip to get into trouble, in my opinion.In particular, if he is participating in campaign activities in concert with an active candidate, there could be problems. I have not been able to find a story about Bishop Sheridan's participation in the campaign calls cited before -- anyone have a link?FS-2006-17:,,id=154712,00.htmlIR-2006-36:,,id=154780,00.htmlThe IRS and Secret Campaign Regulation, Donald Tobin:

Whoops -- let me add that, in addition to it being an official activity using organization funds or facilities, the activity must be partial to a particular candidate.

Claude,Did you read the letter? Nowhere does it even mention a political candidate let alone endorse one which is what, as you point out, the law prohibits.The 2004 letter talked about church teaching regarding certain issues, and didn't mention partisan political candidates either.Joe,I seriously doubt the other bishops are worried about their tax exempt status. Here in Massachusetts, Cardinal O'Malley requested all his priests allow the defense of marriage amendment petitions be made available for signature in the diocese churches. I, myself, signed one in a church. He also allows pro-life groups to hold meetings and even plan protest vigils on Church property. He spoke at a rally against the House immigration bill last Spring. As far as I know, the Archdiocese of Boston is still tax exempt. Also, how can holding fast to the Church's teaching be considered "intimidation"? If you think he's wrong, why do you care? Is it because of all of us benighted traditional Catholics who might be fooled by bishops like him?

Actually, Sean, I have read both letters. I would respectfully suggest that, if you have not already, you should read the IRS guidelines that were linked to, in particular Example 16 which Joe quoted above. The 2004 letter, in my opinion, might reasonably be considered to refer "to the upcoming election after stating a position on an issue that is a prominent issue in a campaign that distinguishes the candidates . . ." No, candidates were not mentioned by name -- but according to the example, that may not be necessary. Consider the opening sentences of the letter:"This coming November we Americans will participate in one of the most important national elections in recent history. The president, senators and congressmen who are placed in office by our votes will serve at a time in which issues that are critical to the very survival of our civilization will be at the top of the political agenda. "This includes specific reference to the upcoming election and the offices involved. Then skip further down in the letter:"The November elections will be critical in the battle to restore the right to life to all citizens, especially the unborn and the elderly and infirm. As a result of the pro-life efforts of countless Americans the number of abortions performed in our country is now declining for the first time since the appalling Supreme Court decision of 1973 that made it "legal" to kill our children. We cannot allow the progress that has been made to be reversed by a pro-abortion President, Senate or House of Representatives. Neither can we permit illicit stem cell research that makes use of aborted babies. Any movement to promote and legalize euthanasia must be halted. Our votes have the power to stop these abominations. "Again, all the features that the IRS cited as problematic are present. Professor Tobin (who specializes in election law as it applies to tax exempt organizations) seems to agree -- he states that Bishop Sheridan's letter was as clear a violation of the rules as other cases that the IRS is now pursuing against nonprofit organizations. In fact, the apparent absence of interest by the IRS in Bishop Sheridan's letter is what leads Tobin to speculate about whether it would take an explicit mention of a candidate's name to trigger an investigation, despite the IRS's own guidelines.My speculation is that the explicit statement that the Church does not specificallly instruct the faithful on who to vote for may have weighted against starting an investigation. There is no way to be sure. But it is clear that Bishop Sheridan is working closer to the edge than other bishops. If he is actively participating in a political campaign along with a current candidate about "a prominent issue in a campaign that distinguishes the candidates", he may have moved past that edge.

Claude,It not only weighted the decision, it is the basis of decision. The hypothetical in IRS pamphlet is the outer edge of what's permitted. In it, a specific partisan candidate for a specific office was tied explicitly to a specific issue. The person "all but" named a candidate.Regardless of Prof. Tobin's analysis of the law, the actual law say the Commissioner of Internal Revenue must find:"such organization has flagrantly participated in, or intervened in (including the publication or distribution of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office"Again, please show me where he did this. Does every Democrat support SSM? I know they don't here in Massachusetts. Does every Republican oppose it?

While waiting patiently for SeanH's response to my request that he flesh out his arguments against SSM and CU, a question occurred to me: Why are governments in the marriage racket at all, save to enforce the legal obligations that the marriage contract entails? I submit the following position for discussion: U.S. out of marriage! CU them all, and let God sort the marriages out!I don't necessarily endorse it, mind; but I do wonder whether it is consistent with orthodoxy, though.

B. Kerr writes: U.S. out of marriage! CU them all, and let God sort the marriages out!Jean asks: I think that IS what we have, isn't it? My husband and I were married in a civil ceremony that called on no authority higher than the state of Michigan. That state civil union/marriage conferred rights and responsibilities on both of us in the event of death or divorce.The Church happens to recognize our civil marriage as valid because neither of us were Catholic at the time we married, and neither had been married before.When we converted, we were automatically required to certain moral obligations within our marriage in addition to the requirements imposed by the state. The Church, as we all know, does not recognize ALL civil unions/marriages.Neither does the state recognize all church marriages, e.g., those involved in polygamous marriages performed by a clergyman but not allowed by the state.So, there's always been a distinction between a civil union/marriage and a Church marriage. Just as there is a clear distinction between what's legal and what's sinful.I would agree that it is sinful to vote for a candidate BECAUSE he supports laws that go against Church teaching.But it is not a sin to vote for a candidate DESPITE the fact that he supports laws that go against Church teaching IF there are other, compelling reasons to vote for that candidate.Bishop Sheridan may challenge Catholics to consider whether there ARE reasons compelling enough to vote for a candidate who supports laws at odds with Church teaching. He may even do so in terms that alienate and provoke some in his diocese (though whether this speaks for or against his leadership skills is a matter of opinion).But it's what's in your head when you pull the lever that makes your vote a sin or not, and if Bishop Sheridan doesn't know what's in your head when you vote (and how can he?), then how can he excommunicate anybody for their votes?.

"Jean asks: I think that IS what we have, isn't it?"I haven't any idea. (I'm not getting hitched until April.) If it is the case, however, then what's the difference between CU and, as it were, straight marriage?