SHOULD THE CATHOLIC CHURCH LOSE ITS TAX-EXEMPT STATUS? – Part 1

church-and-state2

March, 2015

“Preferential Option For The Poor” appears frequently in Church documents and refers to the Church’s commitment and responsibility to care for the poor. It’s also one of seven themes of Catholic social teaching released by the U.S. Bishops in 2005.

Problem is the Catholic Church, in many ways, has become a corporation struggling like most other businesses from the endless attacks of government regulations and oppressive executive actions that end up stealing whatever extra money we Catholics had allocated for the Offertory collection. Ironically, the Catholic Church supports much of the secular progressive culture that enables the fatherless to remain fatherless, the widow to remain widow, the orphan to remain orphan, the sick to remain sick and the poor to remain poor.

As a business, the Catholic Church is figuring out that parishioners are reducing their contributions to the basket—some because they’ve lost jobs and face financial crises of their own, some because they don’t want to out of protest (let’s face it, the Catholic Church in Maine has made decisions that have hurt many individuals and families in its fold), and some because they joined the 86% of Maine Catholics who don’t bother going to church anymore (and honestly, some people don’t appreciate having their conservative values challenged or being scolded for more money so they go where they are nourished).

At Our Lady Of Hope Parish in Portland, for example, the weekly bulletin clearly proclaims $14,500 is needed to meet weekly expenses, while also listing actual weekly contributions sometimes as low as 50% of that goal. In my 20 years of employment there in the Music Ministry, I can count on one hand the weeks they met their financial obligations (thank you C&E Catholics).

As a business, the Catholic Church is also figuring out that, like their parish families, when the money isn’t coming in, expenses must be cut. When they did the math, Our Lady Of Hope terminated my employment because it was too expensive to maintain my salary and health insurance and get someone cheaper, musical integrity aside. I’m not sure when creating the jobless, the poor and the uninsured became part of the Catholic mission, no doubt since Obama began his anti-Christian assault in 2008 with little-to-no resistance from the faithful.

Maine Catholics have exceedingly been urged to give more and more to the Catholic coffers in the face of parish clustering, church closures, building sales and schools being closed. They sacrificed to the bleeding point just a few years ago to make former Bishop Richard Malone’s capital campaign goal of $40 Million a resounding success (where did that money go?). Where’s the responsible stewardship?

Several years ago, the Diocese displaced 32 elderly residents of St. Joseph’s Manor’s Assisted Living wing—this, on the heels of hiring venomous administrators who brutalized the staff, got rid of the nuns, and made unethical cuts. Why would the Catholic Church do this? So they could rebuild an Assisted Living wing for “private pay” residents and no longer serve the poor elderly on MaineCare. They went so far as to…shh…remove the Mission Statement in the lobby and had it replaced without the part about serving the poor in financial need.

Why would a Diocese that preaches social justice and advocates for the poor act so un-Christian like?
Sounds more like a ruthless for-profit corporation that should pay taxes on such ventures, not a tax-exempt non-profit Church…oops. Which could explain why state regulators stepped in and allegedly challenged the Mission, and why the building sits empty and in disrepair to this day. Maybe it’s just me, but this does not present a Good Shepherd worthy of following.

With many years of experience running my own business and a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, and also working for huge worldwide corporations, I know what it’s like to be held accountable, to eat macaroni & cheese when I can’t afford a steak, to live a bohemian lifestyle when I can’t afford rent, to experience high levels of stress and anxiety before hitting the panic button to avoid failure.

Again, maybe it’s just me but I’m sensing an underlying presence of panic in the administration of Maine’s Catholic Church, Inc. The fact that some parishes are thriving speaks well to their individual pastors and priests, workers, leaders, families and parishioners—all growing in the same spirit. Yet, one could go to the next Catholic Church down the street and find an amazingly opposite franchise, one not so user-friendly, that obviously doesn’t consider music a priority in worship, with no sounds of crying babies, very few parish events listed in a one-sheet bulletin loaded with typo’s, and the all-too-familiar dispensation of Catholic guilt.

Anyway, it was Thursday in the second week of Lent. I was moved to go to Daily Mass. The Gospel reading was Luke 16:19-31, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Beautiful Lenten message on how we should not ignore the pain and suffering of those less fortunate and in fact be diligent in our Christian duty to reach out and change such scenarios we may encounter in our daily lives.

But the homily veered into local territory, personifying Lazarus as the homeless and poor right here in Portland, where we are to welcome strangers (illegal immigrants, panhandlers in traffic) and take care of them (give more money). I wanted spiritual comfort and nourishment, not to be pitted against Portland’s socialist politics and failing welfare system that are creating a bigger financial burden for Portland taxpayers (that’s why I was glad I left Portland years ago).

Truly, I was ready to stand up and heckle the homily or walk out but thankfully Lazarus showed up and dipped the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue. “I can handle this,” I kept repeating, praying to see the lesson I needed to learn.

But then I was completely t-boned at the intersection of Pews and Pulpit where there was a huge chasm and disturbing traffic pattern. After his instruction that we are to welcome strangers and take care of them, the priest than blurted, “Too bad the Governor didn’t get that message,” a clear reference to Governor Paul LePage’s welfare reform proposal that would reduce the state’s reimbursement levels to cities who provide general assistance to non-citizens.

“Really, Father, you want to bring in politics to your homily? Isn’t this against the rules? Not only does it alienate all the Republicans, Conservatives, Libertarians, and non-political parishioners, but couldn’t such a blatant offense cause the Church to lose its tax-exempt status?

Figures prove that Conservatives/Republicans tithe and donate more than Liberals/Democrats and with greater happiness give more money to Churches in support of their social justice programs. This church has long made it clear of their Liberal leanings in the name of faith. One man’s message made it clear that Conservatives are not welcome and, in fact, are to blame for the poor.

I believe in breaking the pattern of oppression and lifting the poor with empowering hand-ups, not stealing from others to appease the addictions of the needy with band-aids. After that homily, I thanked God (and Lazarus) for the lesson learned: I was to shake my sandals off and keep walking, never to step foot in such a hostile environment again.

And the more I reflected on it, I thought that perhaps since Portland has already hit the panic button by entering the foray of taxing its large non-profit employers (e.g.,Maine Med) to pay for its city’s out-of-control spending, perhaps they might want to tax the assets and revenues of their Catholic churches to offset the cost of giving free everything to anyone who shows up. It’s a business model and progressive redistribution of wealth philosophy whose time may be coming.

Bottom line: Maine Catholics are in need of a shepherd, not a school teacher pointing his finger of blame at me, my friends and my family.

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