Vote Wrong & Go To Hell?

On September 23, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois issued a statement detailing the evils supported by the Democratic Party Platform:  God isn’t in it enough (and could be taken out!), abortion should be safe and legal, and gay rights are human rights.  

He continues:

Now, why am I mentioning these matters in the Democratic Party Platform? There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic Party Platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils. My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding “political” and didn’t say anything about the morality of these issues. People of faith object to these platform positions that promote serious sins. I know that the Democratic Party’s official “unequivocal” support for abortion is deeply troubling to pro-life Democrats.

So what about the Republicans? I have read the Republican Party Platform and there is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin.

Not even capital punishment, which the Bishop notes and goes on to reconcile with Catholic Catechism.  The statement concludes:

Again, I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.

Right.  Not telling you who to vote for.  But “the eternal salvation of your own soul is in serious jeopardy if you vote for Democrats.”

Over at The Daily Kos, “An Open Letter to Bishop Paprocki” takes on many of the moral points that Paprocki raised, and with regard to that last paragraph, concludes:

You sir may seek to hide behind theological obscurantism and state that you have not sought to tell people how to vote, but leveling threats at them, albeit ones of a spiritual matter, IS in a way telling them how to vote, and actively seeks to dabble in politics and influence an electorate.

It is my sincere hope that your statements are copied to the US IRS in respect of the continued charitable status of your diocese, as you have blatantly broken the tax law in respect of not preaching politics from the pulpit.

Steve Benen over at The Maddow Blog says:

It’s worth noting that federal tax law prohibits tax-exempt religious institutions from intervening in campaigns for political office, which is no doubt why Paprocki said he isn’t telling people how to vote. That said, warning Catholics — many of whom support reproductive rights and marriage equality — are putting their souls at risk if they vote in ways Paprocki doesn’t like comes close to the legal line, if it doesn’t cross it.

Enter John Freml and this petition over at, asking IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to revoke the tax-exempt status of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Illinois:

In short, this statement by the Catholic bishop of Springfield, Illinois is tantamount to political endorsement of the Republican Party, which is a violation of IRS rules that regulate tax-exempt, non-profit organizations. Churches are not allowed to officially endorse or oppose any political candidate from the pulpit or in church publications, and maintain tax-exempt status. Additionally, churches may not show favorable or unfavorable bias toward a candidate or political party.

Please help in revoking the tax exempt status of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, and preserve the separation of church and state.

It seems that Catholic bishops are on a roll this year, flexing political power that brings them right up to the brink of what’s legal.

So, I’m not telling you what to do here, but doing nothing to stop religious leaders from exercising illegal political influence makes you morally complicit in threatening the existence of this pluralistic democracy.


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About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.