Denver: Priests barred from donations to candidates
FORT COLLINS, Colorado – Priests and deacons serving in the Archdiocese of Denver will not be allowed to donate money to political candidates or make endorsements under an upcoming directive from Archbishop Charles Chaput.
The directive states that clerics “may not publicly participate or endorse political campaigns or initiatives, or publicly affiliate themselves with groups whose primary purpose is to do so”, The Coloradoan of Fort Collins reported Saturday. The amendment to the archdiocese’s pastoral handbook will be published in Wednesday’s Denver Catholic Register.
Chaput is one of the country’s most vocal bishops about Catholics’ need to speak in the public square and is set to publish a book on the subject this August. He oversees churches in metro Denver, northern and northeastern Colorado and some mountain communities.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Jeanette DeMelo said Chaput wants to give clergy guidance ahead of the 2008 election and wasn’t responding to any particular activity by priests or deacons.
She said the directive only affects partisan political activity and said that clergy still have a duty to speak out on moral issues such as abortion or immigration.
“The church’s role in the public square is to help Catholics understand the teaching of their church regarding moral issues and encourage them to make informed decisions in light of those moral principles,” DeMelo said.
She said the archdiocese encourages that initiatives on issues like immigration or abortion be non-partisan and clergy members could still be involved in those.
Clergy of all religions are legally allowed to make individual political donations but churches are not allowed to donate money. However, the Catholic Church has long limited political activity by its priests, including barring them from running for office.
Last year the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document encouraging Catholic lay people to participate in politics but instructing church leaders to avoid endorsing candidates or telling people how to vote. Defining what counts as an endorsement was left to individual bishops but it’s not known how many other bishops have issued guidelines like Chaput’s.
William Trewartha, deacon at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Fort Collins, said Chaput told him and other deacons about the change during a meeting in January and followed up with a letter in April.
Trewartha gave $1,200 to Republican presidential candidate John McCain and $300 to Republican Senate candidate Bob Schaffer before the January meeting.
According to The Coloradoan’s review of Federal Election Commission records, Trewartha, a retired podiatrist, is the only donor during the current election cycle who listed his occupation as priest or deacon in the Denver archdiocese.
A priest in the Colorado Springs diocese, the Rev. Lawrence W. “Bill” Carmody, was the largest Catholic clerical donor in Colorado and the second-largest in the nation. Carmody donated $5,500 to Republican candidates, politicians he supports because of their opposition to abortion.
His donations were second only to a Kansas City pastor who has given $8,300 to Democrats.
Carmody, who also participated in the Republican caucuses, said he thinks he has a responsibility as a citizen to be active in politics.
“As I understand it, from the pulpit I can’t publicly endorse someone or say anything about a candidate. But as a private citizen I should have the same rights as anyone else,” said Carmody, who won’t be affected by Chaput’s directive.
Nationally, FEC records show about 100 Catholic priests and deacons have donated nearly $100,000 during the current election cycle. The bulk of the money went to Republican groups or candidates but Democrat Barack Obama received the most money of any single candidate.
On the Net:
Database of clerical donations: http://www.coloradoan.com/apps/pbcs.dll//article?AID=/20080627/DATABASE/8062 7030
Information from: Fort Collins Coloradoan, http://www.coloradoan.com
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