For Immediate Release
Thomas J. Reese, S.J.,
Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center
Only 28% of Americans agree that “clergy should be permitted to endorse political candidates during worship services,” according to the Calvin College “Religion and 2008 Election” survey. Support among Catholics is even lower (23%). Support for a politically active clergy is highest among Latino and Black Protestants, but even among these groups only 35% agree that clergy should be permitted to endorse political candidates during worship services.
"While members of the clergy, like every American citizen, have a constitutional right to vote and support candidates, their congregations do not want to hear endorsements from the pulpit," says Thomas J. Reese, S.J., senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center. "Endorsements at church services can also get the clergy and their churches in trouble with the IRS."
Catholic Church canon law forbids priests from holding "public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power," but does not forbid priests from endorsing candidates or political parties. However, in the United States it has been the tradition, often enforced by the local bishop, that priests should not endorse candidates. This restriction is beyond any imposed by the Constitution or the IRS.
“Church’s leaders are to avoid endorsing or opposing candidates or telling people how to vote,” states "Faithful Citizenship," the U.S. Catholic bishops' document on political responsibility approved overwhelmingly in November 2007. This prohibition applies both inside and outside church services.
"This is a church imposed restriction that has nothing to do with separation of church and state," said Father Reese. "The American Catholic bishops learned from the mistakes of their European brethren who got too close to particular parties and candidates," said Reese. "Inevitably the church got tainted by the corruption and bad policies of these politicians. Many Protestant ministers have ignored this history and are making the same mistakes today. I wish they would follow the Catholic example."
"It is alright for Catholic priests and bishops to talk about political issues (hunger, homelessness, abortion, war) as moral issues, but they must avoid endorsing parties or candidates," said Reese. "That is why you will not see Catholic clergy listed among 'Catholics for Obama' or 'Catholics for McCain.'"