Friday, October 22, 2004

Revenue Canada Threatened Catholic Bishop

Revenue agent threatened tax hit, bishop says
Warning allegedly came after Calgary cleric denounced PM's 'moral incoherence'
By MICHAEL VALPY AND GLORIA GALLOWAY
UPDATED AT 2:55 PM EDT
Friday, Oct 22, 2004

TORONTO and OTTAWA -- The Roman Catholic bishop of Calgary said yesterday that a federal revenue agent threatened to lift the church's charitable status in the city because of a letter he wrote to his flock saying Prime Minister Paul Martin was not a good Catholic politician.
Bishop Fred Henry said a Canadian Revenue Agency official called him in June during the election campaign and asked him to remove his pastoral letter from the Calgary diocesan website.
"I said, 'Of course not.' "
He then quoted the official as stating that the letter left the perception that the bishop was telling Calgary Catholics how to vote. "I said, 'I can't control that perception.' "
The 20-minute conversation ended with the official vowing that he would file a report on the affair with his superior, Bishop Henry said in an interview from Cornwall, Ont., where he is attending the annual meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Canadian Revenue Agency call is on the bishops' agenda.
The agency's regulations say: "A partisan political activity is one that involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office."
Charitable organizations, including churches, are prohibited from partisan political activity and strictly regulated as to the amount of time they can devote to political lobbying.
It is not clear under which of these categories falls Catholic Church teaching on the moral obligations of Catholic politicians, which is what Bishop Henry says was the sole substance of his pastoral letter.
The government frequently revokes the charitable status of organizations deemed to be in violation of its rules. For example, in recent years the government has delisted the anti-abortion organization Human Life International Canada, three Sikh temples, a Montreal rabbinical college and a group raising money for the equivalent of the Jewish red cross, among other organizations.
But only in the case of HLI Canada did the government say the cause was that the organization had crossed the line on political activity.
Canadian Revenue Agency spokeswoman Colette Gentes-Hawn said yesterday that no church organization has had its charitable status revoked because of improper political activity.
She would neither confirm nor deny that a call to Bishop Henry was made. But she said: "We speak to charities on an ongoing basis, and sometimes we speak to charities whenever we see there is something that can use correction. We also act on complaints."
Which is what Bishop Henry, no stranger to controversy in his many forays into the public square, figures happened in this case. Someone didn't like his pastoral letter, and complained to the federal revenuers, he said.
The bishop described his pastoral letter, posted on the diocesan website on June 6, as nothing more than a summary of church teaching on the role of religious faith in public life and a clarification of what he called media and public "confusion" around Mr. Martin's claim to be a "devout Catholic" while at the same time not opposing same-sex marriage and abortion.
The letter did not pull punches. It described Mr. Martin's views as "a source of scandal in the Catholic community" reflecting "fundamental moral incoherence." But at no point did Bishop Henry state, or even hint, that Catholics should not vote for the Prime Minister or his Liberal Party candidates.
The bishop said he had the distinct impression that the official hoped he was penitent as a result of the phone call and would not do anything more.