Catholic fights, with the IRS picking a side

By Terry Mattingly Modified: June 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm •  Published: June 14, 2013
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There is nothing particularly unusual about conservative Catholics arguing with liberal Catholics, especially when it comes to hot-button issues such as abortion.

It is unusual, however, for the IRS to jump into these pew wars.

Catholic sociologist Anne Hendershott is convinced that's what happened to her in 2010. This was during the time when IRS leaders, according to their own testimony, were inappropriately targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny, especially those with "patriot" or "tea party" in their names. Also, some religious groups -- the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, for example -- drew challenges after making public efforts to defend their beliefs on issues such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

"I don't think the IRS cares about the Catholic Church's position on life," said Hendershott, who teaches at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Instead, the agency's leaders "care about passing Obamacare, because the health-care program gives the IRS tremendous power. ...

"Anyone who threatens that growth is an enemy to them. Anyone who tries to point out that Obamacare provisions for funding abortion are counter to Catholic teachings is a threat."

Hendershott has engaged in her share of debates about Catholic doctrine and public policy, primarily in the pages -- analog or digital -- of conservative publications such as Catholic World Report, InsideCatholic.com and Catholic Advocate. Then, in the fall of 2009, she wrote a Wall Street Journal piece critical of Catholic groups -- both official and unofficial -- that she believed were serving as "faithful helpers" for President Barack Obama's health care plan.

"Drawing upon support within Catholic community agencies is a strategy that worked well for Mr. Obama when he was running for president," she wrote. "Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United tried to neutralize the abortion issue during the campaign by suggesting that Mr. Obama's proposals on 'social justice' issues like poverty were the way to reduce abortion rates without restricting abortion rights.

"Now personnel from these organizations are playing a role in enlisting Catholic support for health care reform."

The following spring, an IRS agent called to say she would be audited. This didn't surprise Hendershott very much, until she heard that the government was especially interested in whatever income she had earned from nonacademic work. When the requests for documentation arrived, almost all of them focused on deposits linked to her freelance articles and speaking engagements.