Churches must not be afraid to speak out against abortion in the 2016 election, according to one prominent pro-life group.
On Wednesday, Priests for Life hosted a press conference on abortion in light of the upcoming 2016 elections at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The event centered on the question “How political can the Catholic Church be?” under its tax-exempt status and highlighted that “restrictions on political activity by churches are misunderstood” -- even by the media.
Priests for Life National Director Fr. Frank Pavone opened the press conference by stressing Church obligation during the election season.
“This is not about the Church becoming a political machine,” he said. “This is about the Church becoming more the Church.”
But instead, many churches have been undergoing a “massive self-censorship” to avoid losing their tax exemptions.
During elections, Catholic institutions and Christian entities send out instructions and memos, he said, "somehow telling us that we cannot really participate in the election process by doing, for example, clear teaching and preaching that the people of God have to elect public servants who know the difference between serving the public and killing the public.”
According to Fr. Pavone, churches too frequently veer away from teaching Catholic doctrine due to the Johnson amendment, which forbids tax-exempt organizations from intervening “directly or indirectly” in political campaigns.
He deemed the amendment a “law on the books which is being vastly misunderstood, misrepresented.”
“Whether it’s by the fact that we simply do not understand this particular law or whether it’s by the fact that we are using the taxman as an excuse for our own fears and hesitations,” he said, “we have not gotten in our institutional churches a proper understanding of what we really are allowed to do and what we aren’t allowed to do.”
But the vague rules directly influence diocese memos, said Fr. Pavone, like one, which read, “Do not even appear to endorse or oppose particular candidates for public office or political parties.”
Fr. Pavone deemed that mandate impossible.
“I ask you, brothers and sisters, how can anyone carry out that particular piece of advice?” he pressed. “How can you not even appear to favor or oppose a candidate who is in favor of child-killing throughout pregnancy when you represent a church that says no abortion is ever morally permitted and that the law has to protect children from the beginning of their lives?”
Fr. Pavone stressed that the Church really is non-partisan in messaging.
“Whatever my message today seems to favor or oppose when it comes to political parties or candidates, what if tomorrow those parties and candidates swapped their positions on abortion?” he challenged.
“Nothing changes,” he confirmed.
MRC Culture Exclusive Interview
Following the event, MRC Culture asked Fr. Pavone if he saw a pro-life president in the near future.
“I am very confident that a lot of pro-life candidates are going to be elected in 2016,” he said, “and the reason for that confidence is that the American people are learning much more about what abortion is.”
He also expressed confidence that the Priests for Life’s new initiative to encourage churches to speak out was “very much in line with the spirit of Pope Francis.”
“The pope has made statements about the fact that we shouldn’t be afraid to ‘mess things up,’” Fr. Pavone said. “In other words, don’t feel constrained by the limitations that are imposed just by an institution.”
While the pope takes a staunch pro-life stance in line with Church doctrine, he called the Church “obsessed” with certain doctrines, such as abortion, in 2013.
“This is what the pope means when he expresses concern,” Fr. Pavone told MRC Culture. “The Church is not defined by one or another particular issue.”
The Church, he continued, is defined by Jesus. And it’s in Jesus that “we find the reason why we’re pro-life and the reason why we take the stance on every other issue that we stand on.”
Fr. Pavone also addressed the media’s part in church restrictions.
“The media’s role in all of this, I believe, plays into the confusion as well, because I don’t believe that our friends in the media,” he said, “necessarily understand these limitations any better than the pastors do.”
Attorney James Bopp, Jr., a law expert on church freedom in elections, Alliance Defending Freedom’s legal counsel Christiana Holcomb and Priests for Life executive director Janet Morana also spoke at the event.