As “This Week in God” settles in on Saturday mornings, the God Machine has plenty to offer again this week.
First up is a look at Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of the Roman Catholic diocese of Peoria, Illinois, who caused quite a stir with a homily last weekend, when he compared President Obama to Hitler. And while that proved to be the part of Jenky’s hysterical tirade that generated the most attention, there’s a little more to this story that’s worth keeping an eye on.
As Brian Tashman reported, Jenky not only likened the president to Hitler and Stalin – a line that was not appreciated by the Anti-Defamation League – he went on to compare those who support the administration’s policy on contraception access to Judas Iscariot. But don’t miss the bishop’s conclusion:
“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.”
Now, the notion that contraception access might lead the government to shut down Catholic institutions is obviously ridiculous – someone might want to remind Mr. Jenky that there’s a commandment about bearing false witness – but in context, when the bishop concluded his harangue about his hatred for the president by giving the congregation voting instructions, that raises a separate legal question.
As my friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State noted, federal tax law prohibits tax-exempt houses of worship from intervening in political campaigns. Indeed, in a complaint to the IRS, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn explained it’s “impossible to interpret” Jenky’s voting instructions as “anything but a command to vote against Obama.” Since the church is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status if it tells parishioners who to vote for, the Hitler comparison in the bishop’s partisan rant may end up being the least of his troubles.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Mitt Romney will speak at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University commencement in a couple of weeks, but not everyone at the evangelical school is pleased about having a Mormon speaker.
* Among “Millennials,” young adults under 30 who followed “Generation X,” one in four describe themselves as having no religious affiliation. This is the highest of any age demographic in the country.
* And the Vatican is not at all pleased with the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, for being too liberal on gender and sexual issues, and promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” The nuns said they were “stunned” by the Vatican’s scolding.