Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 16:00 pm
In an interview Wednesday, the chairman of the Federal Election Commission accused Catholic bishops of “hiding” behind the Church’s tax exempt status instead of backing political candidates, and said that priests and lay Catholics have a “right” to conduct political activity on parish premises.
The Catholic Church has had long-standing policies against endorsing particular candidates for political office. Experts in civil and canon law explained to CNA why Catholic clerics do not endorse political candidates, and why that issue touches on the religious liberty of the Church.
James E. Trainor, a Catholic, was appointed to the bipartisan commission by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate earlier this year. He spoke Wednesday in an interview with the website Church Militant.
In his interview, Trainor questioned the legal and moral authority of bishops to limit the endorsement of candidates from the pulpit and in the pews.
“I don’t think a bishop has the right to tell a priest that he can’t come out and speak… When the priest takes the vow [sic] of obedience to the bishop, it is in the area of faith and morals, but they have a higher duty to our Lord, and if the bishop is putting something out there that is not right then the priest has an obligation to the faithful to correct it,” he said.
Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, OP, is a civil and canon lawyer who was nominated by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the Senate to the Board of Directors of the Congressionally-funded Legal Services Corporation, which provides funding for legal aid programs.
The priest, who serves as a professor of canon law at St. Patrick’s University and Seminary in California, told CNA it is not the function of clergy to instruct laity on who they should choose in the voting booth.
“The primary end of the Church is not the ordering of civil society,” he told CNA. “The primary end of the Church is the sanctification of humanity,” he said. “While the Church is concerned that secular society be just and moral, the prudential decisions on carrying that out is properly the role of lay people in the world.”