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.


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.

  • John Freml

    Thanks for the link, Caryn. I still can’t quite wrap my mind around how Paprocki can justify the Republican platform on capital punishment when the very text he cites from the Catechism specifically states, “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” Not to mention the Republican Party’s platform on issues of immigration, financial nonregulation, labor rights – all of which go against specific statements and documents from various Catholic leaders, including our current pope and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

    • AnneG

      Just FYI, Bishop Paprocki’s statement is in agreement with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sacred Scripture and Tradition. Abortion by medical intervention, regardless of means used, is taking of an innocent life. It is killing a baby human being. The death penalty is used against persons convicted in a civil court of a crime. According to the Catechism the death penalty is permissible by the state but not desirable. It is not an intrinsic evil, so not in any way, by any measure equal to killing a baby in his mother’s womb.
      How can you pretend they are equal?

  • James

    Just a note, that is the CATHOLIC diocese of Springfield, Illinois. Not Episcopal or any other denomination. Might be confusing off the first paragraph. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Caryn Riswold

      Yes. Good point to clarify.

  • Jaime

    The death penalty does not represent “intrinsic evil or explicit sin,” which are the particular issues that His Excellency was addressing. Church dogma holds that abortion and infanticide are always and everywhere evil and sinful. The Church does not make similar statements about the death penalty. While it is flawed and it would be a good thing to abolish it entirely, the Church recognizes that decisions which are not intrinsically evil must be left to the prudential judgment of those entrusted with the civil authority to regulate and administer them. This list includes the death penalty, war, and the “social justice” issues that lead some Catholics think that the best way to pay their tithes is to the taxman collect them from other people.

    • Sonja Faith Lund

      Is abortion always “evil and sinful,” even when it’s abortion of a dead fetus, or abortion to save the life of the mother?

      • AnneG

        Removing a dead fetus is not an abortion.
        Medically, there is almost never a need for abortion to save the mother. This is a complicated medical situation that is exploited by those who benefit financially from killing unborn babies and who want to protect their “right” to do whatever they want. Most abortions are performed for convenience and are not hard cases, even for sex selection. Is that right? Is that moral?

    • c matt

      True, the death penalty d0es not rise to intrinsic evil per se, but, as practiced in the US, it comes pretty darn close. Part of the teaching on the death penalty is that it should be used as a last resort in order to safeguard society (not too different from Just War in that regard). As done int he US, we don’t even pay lip service to that consideration.

      What Catholic teaching implies is that neither of the two leading candidates is qualified, but the GOP one is less evil than the Dem (fwiw). 4th level of hell v. 7th level. Take your pick.

  • AnneG

    “doing nothing to stop religious leaders from exercising illegal political influence makes you morally complicit in threatening the existence of this pluralistic democracy.”
    Where do you get the idea that religious leaders cannot exercise political influence? Union leaders, sports personalities, celebrities, college professors, rock stars all try to influence the political process. Why should a religious leader be prohibited? Aren’t you trying to influence the debate?

    • Alan

      Tax-exempt status…

      • AnneG

        “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” Tax exempt status is to protect the free exercise of religion from interference of government not the other way around. You have turned the Constitution on its head.

    • Amanda

      Religious dogma has no place in our secular government and no religious leader or group should ever try to force their spiritual beliefs on the rest of the population through legislation.

      • AnneG

        That is exactly what we try to do in a representative democracy, convince others of our arguments, that they are try and to vote with us. I will continue to try to do that. Bishops and any religious leaders also should do that. You have a right to do that too. Only your education seems to be so woefully inadequate that you are unable to see past what you want at this minute. Abstract thinking is necessary to make these decisions. Why does Snoop Dog have any more rights than a Catholic Bishop to voice his opinion?

  • Themon the Bard

    You know, compared to the weight of even a single eternal soul, the tax-exempt status of a diocese, or even the entire Catholic enterprise in the US is a small matter. Certainly no more weighty than the “venal sins” of the Republican Party.

    I think if Bishop Paprocki had an ounce of integrity, he’d voluntarily relinquish the tax-exempt status of his diocese. Or go full-on rogue against the evil US government and simply refuse to file any paperwork or send in any taxes.

    Preachers and priests and holy men are long on talk so long as it isn’t their ox getting gored.

    • AnneG

      They are genial, not venal sins. Why should the Church have to pay taxes to exercise her constitutionally protected right?

  • Mary

    Where is the separation of church and state when you need it. O.o

    • AnneG

      Does not exist in law. That statement, from Jefferson, was in a letter and was an explanation protecting the Church, not the state.

  • c matt

    While a church or parish can be a 501(c)(3) organization, a bishop, to my knowledge, is not. So the bishop qua bishop, can say anything he darn well pleases (you are of course free to not take his advice). Same goes for any religious leader.

    On a related note, Planned Parenthood is (ostensibly) a 501(c)(3), yet its president continually tries to influence politics and legislation. So where’s the outrage?