Dear Parishioners:In my work as the Diocesan Lobbyist at the RI Statehouse I often have some odd encounters.  Recently while I was there a rather prominent special-interest lobbyist engaged in a short exchange with me.  He thinks that the Church should not have tax-exempt status.  He’s not a secular humanist but an active Catholic who regularly attends Mass. He was responding to School Choice Statehousethe call for School Choice in our state. As you may know School Choice involves allowing all parents especially the economically disadvantaged decide which school to send their children. However, for the poor the choice is limited because they cannot afford tuitions and often there are not enough seats in the Charter Schools.  So School Choice calls for a tax-credit or voucher system that would enable all families a choice in their children’s education. This lobbyist felt that if the Catholic Church along with Jewish Schools of RI, Christian Schools and non-religious private schools wanted School Choice they should pay taxes.  He was really directing his emphasis upon the Catholic Church.  His argument for removal of exempting for  religious groups is not new and seems to be picking up more supporters as our nation gets more secular.BHHS Ambassadors I often hear this type of argument anytime I lobby on a particular issue or if Catholic Bishops speak out on a social issue like abortion, marriage, immigration, peace or poverty.  These calls for the federal government to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches usually take place in election years! The most common arguments made for taxing churches are that exemptions deny the government important sources of revenue.  Also  many claim that  churches often abuse their tax-exempt status by violating IRS guidelines that prohibit them from engaging in political activity.  The IRS specifically IRS_logodefines “politics” as seeking to influence the election of candidates and “lobbying” as seeking to influence legislation.   The Catholic Church cannot and does not endorse candidates or political parties.  However, the Church can educate their followers about the voting record of elected officials and the stance on issues of political candidates.  This is part of the Church's mission of education not a political endorsement.  The Church can and does lobby on both local and national level  elected officials about issues of concern. None of this activity is illegal or prohibited by the IRS. In fact, many non-profit, tax exempt groups do the same thing and they are often non-religious.  In fact, the IRS exempts many different types of organizations from paying taxes, including labor unions, chambers of commerce, social clubs, and “social welfare” organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the  American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Interestingly enough I just read an article about the National Football League (NFL) and its tax-exempt status.  Some US Senators are now questioning why the NFL is tax exempt since the NFL Commissioner is paid $30 million a year.  By the way the NFL spent over $5 million lobbying US Congress over the last few years.NFL-Money-CBA_JPG For the record, all priests pay Federal and State income tax and property tax on their personal property like homes and cars.  The Catholic Church is tax-exempt as an institution because She provides a public good.  In fact, the Catholic Church is the second largest provider of social services and education after the government.  Should we pay  taxes?  Would that curtail some of the good works we provide to all people, Catholic or not?  Perhaps we should begin to look at non-profits which don’t provide as much to the common good of our nation before we go after Churches.  My lobbyist friend works for an extremely large tax-exempt non-profit himself.  When I brought this to his attention he began to waiver his position slightly. You can hear more about the “Church in the Public Square” on Monday at 7:00PM.  I hope you join us.  Happy Presidents’ Day. Have a great school vacation