Upping the ante in the culture wars
The U.S. bishops are drawing more heat than ever from the mainstream media. First it was the somewhere around $550,000 of church funds funneled to the Maine ballot initiative repealing the state's same-sex marriage law, including money raised during second collections at Mass. (I honestly can't believe that the diocese of Portland did this.) This week it's been the U.S. bishops' conference support of the Stupak amendment, which maintains (and some argue broadens) the ban on federal funding of abortion. (You can read this blog on Huff Post if you want, but it's not for the easily offended.) Today it's the Washington DC archdiocese threat to withdraw from all social service contracts (through Catholic Charities) if the DC government passes a same-sex marriage law, for fear that Catholic Charities will have to offer domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees.
I'm a little surprised that media folks are just now figuring out that the U.S. bishops lobby; they do it on all kinds of issues, from immigration to school vouchers. But it seems that new church-state questions are getting raised, especially when church funds are used to advocate particular positions are ballot initiatives or when the bishops get credit for a particular congressional vote.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand church institutions enjoy generous tax privileges in exchange for being apolitical (not supporting candidates); on the other, they have agendas--not just related to marriage--that they want to promote in a democracy. Where is the line of separation to be drawn?
For me, the obvious solution is for the church to refuse all public money for its charitable work and to give up the tax exempt status it enjoys. Then the bishops' conference and local dioceses would be free to be full participants in American democracy.
I somehow doubt that will be a solution the bishops would choose.