Friday, February 10, 2012

Rethinking 501(c)3: What profiteth a man...

EWTN, Belmont Abbey College, Christian University, and Priests for Life are all taking Sebelius et al. to court! Yee hah! This is action! This is more than writing a letter. This is more than having strong-sounding words read at Mass.

This is doing something about an egregious campaign against religious freedom and the Catholic Church. But…something seems to be missing…

It’s…our bishops! Why aren’t our bishops were leading this campaign?

Could it be that decades of receiving federal grants has compromised their position? Could it be that they are afraid of biting the hand that feeds them?

The creeping socialism that has become a roaring lion in this country is threatening not just our religious freedom, but the integrity of our religious leaders. We are soft. We've been lulled into complacency. We've stuck to the middle road so as not to ruffle feathers and to ensure that federal grants will continue to be awarded for our good works to be accomplished.

There's a price to pay.

I remember way back in grad school when I was a liberal non-Christian studying child psychology. At that time, much was being said and written about the socialized day care and school programs in the Scandinavian countries. I had a child, too, and state subsidized (read: free) child care sounded pretty good on the face of it. But even I, naive as I was politically, realized that when you invite the government to help you raise your children, the government is going to insist on having something to say about how they are raised, what they are taught, and the number of hours the kids will be in state care. 

There's no free lunch.

I found this 2002 statement on federal funding in the USCCB archives:

The past several decades have seen huge increases in federal awards to state and local governments and non-profit organizations. Many of these federal awards are of a social service nature and have been granted to church-related organizations interested in meeting the needs of the underprivileged in this country (e.g., foster care grants to Catholic Charities). As the amounts awarded to governmental units and non-profit organizations have increased, so have the attempts to ensure that such funds are spent as intended and that such funds are not subject to fraud, waste, and abuse. Additionally, the terms of federal awards are becoming more restrictive with regard to the religious character that may be involved with the use of those funds. Accordingly, care should be exercised to safeguard the free exercise of our Catholic faith
By accepting donations from individuals or organizations that have attached restrictions to the donation, an organization incurs a legal and moral obligation to adhere to the restrictions imposed by the donor. The clear alternative is not to accept the donation. Federal awards are no different in this respect…

I guess the bishops have seen the current situation coming, slowly but surely.

Certainly, our Catholic institutions – health, education, and charity – are of value to society, and it is not altogether unreasonable to expect that some tax moneys might go to the institutions that provide these services. But, again, there is a price to pay for receiving federal funds.

Now we are beginning to see the price go up. And as the price goes up, institutions fall. To wit: Catholic HealthCare West has voluntarily changed its name and dropped its affiliation with the Catholic Church (see more about this here).

I think it’s time for Catholics – bishops, priests, laity – to begin to grow up and take responsibility for funding our own works. It’s time to get out of bed with the government, to stop relying on government funds to do good works, and to put our own Catholic money to work.

I hear the weeping and gnashing of teeth commencing: “We can’t afford it!” “There’s not enough money!” “It’s impossible!” “People won’t give that kind of money in this economic climate!”

Hogwash, I say. And I always have. There’s money. People will give…if they understand about giving, about supporting the Church. And God will provide.

This means re-training the faithful, though. Come to think of it, it means re-training the pastors as well.

Pastors of Pentecostal churches, in my experience, hammer on tithing and on trusting God. In many Protestant churches, tithing – and they mean ten per cent of one’s income – is unstintingly taught. And people do tithe. People are taught to give by faith, to understand that “God loves a cheerful giver” and that “you can’t out-give God”, etc. Sometimes the message rests on thread-bare theology, but at least it’s taught – and taught with enthusiasm and sincerity.

Believe me, there is a huge difference between hearing an earnest sermon about giving freely of one’s resources to the local church because of the needs of God’s people, and hearing a lukewarm, monotone explanation of why we have to fork over some cash for the Bishop’s Appeal (or whatever) by a pastor who’s afraid the mere mention of giving money to the Church will offend some people. Giving “from the heart” to a God Whom we love and Who loves us is just plain different than the sort of institutionalized giving I’ve seen in the Church.

I’ve tried to convince a priest or two that, if they make a change that really should be made (e.g., correct a liturgical abuse), they may lose some “givers”, but they will gain others. They didn’t believe me, and so they didn’t even try.  

But ask yourself: why would God not provide for a parish that is growing in holiness, becoming more reverent in the liturgy, and striving to minister to the poor?

Nowhere in Scripture is it written that “God helps those who help themselves.” On the contrary, Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.”

I think it’s time to re-group and take stock of the Church’s relationship with the government. It’s time to rethink the tax exempt status that is so near and dear to the hearts of so many of our bishops – so near and dear that it led one bishop to silence a priest who preached the truth and banish him to a distant corner of the diocese.

If the Church’s tax exempt status truly does require a silencing or twisting of the truth, is it worth it?

Are the souls lost to falsehood and sin worth the dollars made available for “social justice” projects?

Bishops and priests, is it worth risking your own souls (by failing to teach and preach the truth to your flock) in order to gain a few extra dollars?

There has to be a better way. Pray for our bishops.

1 comment:

  1. Mixed bag. If the Church gives up its tax exempt status those who donate to Churches no longer can deduct their donations from their taxes. Might be a disincentive for giving. But we are headed that way anyhow as the current regime would love to do away with charitable giving deductions.


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