PEORIA, Illinois, April 20, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – After a fiery homily last weekend urging the faithful to oppose President Obama’s “radical pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda” at the ballot box in November, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria has been hit with an IRS complaint from a national secularist lobby group.
At a gathering of Catholic men on Saturday, the Illinois prelate had slammed Obama’s mandate forcing religious employers to cover contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs. The unprecedented attack on religious freedom, he said, signaled that the president “seems intent on following a similar path” as past dictators such as Hitler, Stalin, and Otto von Bismarck.
“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,” he said.
On Thursday, the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State claimed the homily violated federal law by taking sides in a political campaign.
“No rational person could believe the bishop was doing anything but saying vote against Obama,” said Barry Lynn, the group’s executive director.
“Bishop Jenky’s intervention in the election wasn’t just extreme and mean-spirited, it also seems to be a clear violation of federal law,” said Lynn. “Churches are tax-exempt institutions, and they aren’t allowed to intervene in partisan politics.”
“To be sure, Jenky never utters the words ‘Do not vote for Obama,’” Lynn wrote in his complaint. “But the Internal Revenue Code makes it clear that statements need not be this explicit to run afoul of the law.”
Bishop Jenky’s remarks have also been denounced by the Anti-Defamation League, which demanded an apology. Lonnie Nasatir, regional director for the Chicago branch, told the Chicago Tribune that his statements were “outrageous, offensive and completely over the top.”
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In response to the criticism, the Diocese of Peoria told local media that the bishops’ comments were misunderstood outside their context.
“Based upon the current government’s threatened infringement upon the Church’s religious exercise of its ministry, Bishop Jenky offered historical context and comparisons as a means to prevent a repetition of historical attacks upon the Catholic Church and other religions,” said diocesan chancellor Patricia Gibson.
“Bishop Jenky gave several examples of times in history in which religious groups were persecuted because of what they believed,” she added. “We certainly have not reached the same level of persecution. However, history teaches us to be cautious once we start down the path of limiting religious liberty.”
LifeSiteNews did not hear back from the diocese by press time.
In his remarks on Saturday, Bishop Jenky had insisted that Catholics must oppose Obama’s mandate because “no Catholic institution, under any circumstance, can ever cooperate with the intrinsic evil of killing innocent human life in the womb.”
The bishop acknowledged that Christians could lose the battle against the mandate, but said that “before the awesome judgement seat of Almighty God this is not a war where any believing Catholic may remain neutral.”
The faithful, he said, “can no longer be Catholics by accident, but instead be Catholics by conviction.”
“The days in which we live now require heroic Catholicism, not casual Catholicism,” he added.