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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Hendershott immediately thought about the Wall Street Journal piece, especially since it reached a much larger audience than her many articles written for small publications targeting Catholics. The "faithful helpers" piece also linked some liberal Catholic activism to groups funded by billionaire George Soros, an atheist known for his opposition to official Catholic beliefs and causes.

During their face-to-face meeting in New Haven, Conn., the agent never asked questions about the "politics" of anyone who funded her writings, stressed Hendershott. Instead, she was repeatedly asked to name the groups or individuals who provided any stipends that had been deposited into the family's bank account.

In one twist, the agent was especially interested in knowing the source of one large deposit -- for $12,000 -- during the period of time being investigated. This was rather ironic, said Hendershott, since that was a refund check from the IRS itself.

The bottom line, she said, is that writers don't make much money when they are writing for small Catholic publications. Most of the documents she was ordered to provide indicated that she received no payments at all.

On one level, these kinds of disputes usually pivot on points of doctrine, with Catholic organizations -- including giants such as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Catholic Health Association -- arguing about how best to apply Catholic social teachings in the muddy realities of public life.

Seen from the government's point of view, said Hendershott, the key is that some Catholics back the goals of the administration that is in power, while others do not. For the IRS, doctrine is secondary.

"I believe that is why I became the enemy" in this case, she said. "I cannot think of another reason that I would have been audited. So, I do believe the IRS is protecting itself by picking sides. ...

"Businesses try to get rid of the competition. The IRS just tried to silence the opposition -- or the competition to their growth model."

(Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.)

(EDITORS: For editorial questions, please contact Kendra Phipps at kphipps@amuniversal.com.)

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