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Diocese responds after Wisconsin priest urges Catholics to vote against pro-abortion candidate 

St. Patrick's Church in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. (Image: St. Patrick's Facebook page)

St. Louis, Mo., Apr 3, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Madison clarified late last week that the Church does not endorse nor oppose specific political candidates after a Wisconsin pastor urged parishioners in his weekly parish bulletin message to vote against state Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz, who is openly pro-abortion.

“The Catholic Church’s involvement in public life doesn’t extend to endorsing candidates for election to public office nor calling for their defeat and thus refrains from partisan political activities. The Church does encourage voter registration and encourages Catholics, as citizens, to vote and to be civically engaged,” the diocese said in a statement sent to CNA.

“However, the Church also has both a duty and a right to call attention to the moral and religious dimensions of public issues, measuring social policies and political activities against the natural moral law and Gospel values. Since the first century, the Church has consistently affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law in its respect for all human life.”

The diocese’s response comes after Father Brian Dulli, pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin, urged his parishioners to vote against the pro-abortion candidate in Tuesday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election, a race that observers say could have major effects on the legality of abortion in the state.

As reported by Wisconsin Public Radio, an attorney with the activist group Freedom from Religion Foundation, which is based in Madison, wrote to the IRS last week to complain about the bulletin, asking the IRS to revoke St. Patrick’s 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

The April 4 election is between former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly and current Milwaukee judge Protasiewicz. Protasiewicz has spoken openly about her pro-abortion views while insisting that she has made “no promises” to pro-abortion groups that she will seek to overturn the state’s current abortion ban.

In a March 26 parish bulletin, Dulli urged Catholics not to vote for Protasiewicz, saying she has “tried to make this race entirely an effort to legalize abortion in the state of Wisconsin.”

“Abortion is the intentional taking of a human life. It is murder. Our Catholic faith is clear that this is grave sin. It should never be controversial among Catholics to say that you can never intentionally take any action that knowingly will help in the taking of a human life. You cannot publicly support abortion or abortion advocates and remain a Catholic in good standing,” Dulli wrote.

“As a Catholic, I urge you, for the salvation of your soul; do not vote for her [Protasiewicz] in the Supreme Court race on April 4,” he continued.

“I encourage you to study the race carefully and form you [sic] conscience correctly in accordance with the truths of the Catholic faith.”

In his April 2 bulletin message, Dulli acknowledged that the March 26 bulletin “got much more exposure than usual” and reiterated that “given a choice between any two people, we must say ‘absolutely not’ to the person who says abortion should be on the table.”

“We need to say no to a system that demands human sacrifice of the unborn be on the table. Jesus said that we will be judged by what we do to the least among us. Babies are the littlest and least. If someone consents to the killing of unborn children, they will not stop at the destruction of you or your family,” Dulli wrote.

“Haven’t we seen enough destruction now to know it?”

Reached by CNA on Monday, Dulli declined to comment further, saying he believes the situation has been “talked about enough.”

What’s Tuesday’s election all about?

The 2023 Wisconsin judicial race, which might have remained obscure in other years even within Wisconsin, is garnering national media attention and record fundraising numbers for the candidates. The reasons have to do with a prediction — both among pro-life and pro-abortion groups — that the winner of the election could tip the scales in Wisconsin when it comes to the state’s current abortion ban.

Wisconsin is the only state in the nation with a pre-Roe v. Wade abortion ban in effect, at least on paper. Wisconsin’s ban, which is contained in Section 940.04 of the Wisconsin Statutes and dates to 1849, allows abortion only to save the life of the mother. The state’s Democratic governor and attorney general have said they will not enforce the ban and are currently suing in an attempt to have it overturned.

The law was previously unenforceable following the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, but Roe’s overturning last year allowed the statute to come into effect. So far, it has not been blocked in court, as has happened with pre-Roe bans in West Virginia and Michigan.

Pro-abortion groups within and outside Wisconsin have identified the state Supreme Court race as the key to getting 940.04 overturned. Gov. Tony Evers, along with Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, announced a lawsuit last year to attempt to overturn the law, arguing that it has been superseded by subsequent legislation and cannot be enforced.

The lawsuit is likely to be ultimately decided by the state Supreme Court, which has had a 4-3 conservative majority for the past decade and a half. The current election will determine who will sit in the open seat being vacated by retiring conservative justice Patience Roggensack. The winner will serve a 10-year term.

Pro-life advocates worry that should the state Supreme Court obtain a pro-choice majority, the state’s pre-Roe ban could be declared unconstitutional, as happened last year in neighboring Michigan.

Who are the candidates?

Kelly is a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who served on the court from his appointment by then-Gov. Scott Walker in 2016 until he was voted out in 2020. He describes himself as a “constitutional conservative” and on his campaign website charges that his opponents are “judicial activists who seek to impose their own political agenda on our state.”

Amid a contentious campaign, Kelly has earned the endorsement of three statewide pro-life groups — Wisconsin Family Action, Pro-Life Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Right to Life. He said during a recent debate that his numerous endorsements from pro-life groups came about after having conversations with them about his pledge to uphold the Constitution, not because of any promise to keep the abortion ban in place.

In contrast, Protasiewicz has garnered endorsements from numerous top Democrats in Wisconsin as well as from pro-abortion groups such as NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and EMILY’s List. Protasiewicz currently is a judge for Branch 24 of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in Wisconsin, having been elected to that court in 2014.

Protasiewicz has insisted she has made “no promises” to pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood and EMILY’s List but also has made no bones about her pro-choice views. “My personal opinion is that [it] should be the woman’s right to make the reproductive health decisions, period,” she said during a March 21 debate.

What have Catholic leaders said?

At least two of the state’s bishops, including Bishop Donald Hying of Madison, have reiterated to Catholics that the right to life is a foundational issue that should form their consciences as they decide how to vote on Tuesday.

“Without the right to be born and to live, every other right is worthless,” Hying wrote in a March 30 letter.

“Do we want to live in a country that welcomes the wonder of every human life, supports marriages and families, helps the needy and suffering, seeks justice for all, and builds a civilization of love, or, do we want a society which aborts its children, leaves struggling parents without support, and lives a radical autonomy with no reference to the dignity of life and the common good? Do we elect civic leaders who stand on the unshakeable moral principle that every human life is sacred and of immeasurable worth, or, do we elect those who disregard the fundamental dignity of life and advocate for taking the life of the most innocent in the womb? Such questions we should ask ourselves as we exercise our moral and civic duty to vote.”

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee also issued a letter, dated March 28, urging Catholics to vote for candidates that uphold the right to life.

“The killing of the innocent has never been supported by Catholic Church teachings. As citizens, we have an obligation to support the laws that protect the innocent. We must take our responsibility, as citizens before God’s judgment, for the times we have supported the destruction of the innocent. We must also take responsibility for the lack of support for the protection of the innocent when we vote for candidates and laws that liberalize abortion laws,” Listecki wrote.

“There is nothing enlightened about an individual who fails to realize that the denial of the right to life for the most vulnerable among us is an attack on the dignity and personal value of every citizen. I could not and would not support a candidate whose position on life is contrary to the teachings of the Church — a position contrary to the teachings and love of Jesus.”

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  1. Two out-of-state, non-Christian billionaires – George Soros and JB Pritzker – have each dumped $1 million dollars into this state supreme court race on behalf of the Marquette University educated Janet Protasiewicz. In last year’s Michigan abortion referendum, Soros and New York City resident Michael Bloomberg spent millions to legalize baby murder in that state. Please don’t infer anything untoward from these facts.

    • Interests funded by billionaires were also behind the scenes for the Irish feticide referendum. I’m appalled at what George Soros spends his billions promoting but his is a general lack of faith. Saying he’s “non-Christian” really infers something else which isn’t helpful to the argument, I think.

  2. I say let the Church’s tax exempt status be damned. Let’s not worship the God of money – pay their damned tax. Then let the full truth ring out from every Catholic pulpit over this country. Let’s stop worshipping false gods in the Catholic Church and playing games with the truth. I once gave a homily on abortion entitled “Every day is Newtown in America” (Google it to download a copy). I made no attempt to sugar-coat the message against abortion. The message got an ovation at the 8 AM Sunday Mass and a standing ovation at the more solemn 10 AM Mass. People are hungering to hear truth.

    • Deacon Ed,

      My sentiments exactlly! I have always felt that this so called “church tax exempt status” is absolute BS. We all know the lesson that our beloved Jesus gave to Peter about in the episode of where Jesus directs Peter to go and fish for the two coins. Each coin is to pay the “tax” so as to not cause a scandal of not paying the tax to Rome. Well, if Jesus felt compelled to pay the tax, the so, too, should the Church today, and then our Lord’s Sheperd’s can throw of this self imposed muzzle about proclaiming the full truth! Yes, throw this damn tax emempt status muzzle in the trash where it belongs! We’ll gladly pay taxes on our church property so that our our Lord’s little Jesus’ can proclaim the fullness of the Faith from the Church Steeples! Yes, it is that simple!

    • Thank you, Edward! I agree—if standing up for truth, fidelity and justice risks the Church’s tax exempt status, so be it. This would be an example to other Christian churches.
      The Church in Germany is not just tax exempt but receives tax money. Look what’s happened to it.

    • Also whole heartedly agree. The Church by not speaking the truth to avoid taxation is in effect letting Satan rule! It is about time to just stop being so cowardly, and just show some fortitude. The faithful is yearning for the Church leaders to speak the Truth.

      • Not to disagree about taxation, but do any of you believe our bishops would be less cowardly if they did not have to protect an exempt status?

        • You’re correct i.e. bishops would be no less cowardly but they wouldn’t have the tax exempt issue to hide behind. In the end, clergy are answerable to God and will have to give an accounting for whether they proclaimed the truth of the Gospel. But that same accounting applies to all followers of Christ no matter their place in the Church.

    • If the Church is a “legal individual” then I don’t see why it/she should be tax-exempt. And the same is true for all the 501c3 non-profits/not-for-profits.

  3. If you are interested in accessing the homily I referred to in my earlier post, place quote marks around the title. (It was published online by a parishioner who heard it and requested my permission to publish it.)

  4. The Catholic Church should openly campaign against any politician who endorses abortion. The Catholic Church should deny Holy Communion to any politician who endorses abortion. The Catholic Church should eject any politician who endorses abortion from its facilities. The Catholic Church should turn its back on its nebulous understanding of civic engagement, which entails registering voters who will almost certainly vote in favor of abortion. The Catholic Church should stop playing word games where it condemns abortion but stops short of attacking politicians who support abortion. The Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion should be so overwhelming that the share of the Catholic vote received by pro-abortion politicians is nonexistent. And so on.

    • I expect if the issue at hand was enforcing segregation or revoking minority voting rights our bishops would find their voices pretty quickly.
      And attorneys such as the one currently complaining in the article would look aside.

  5. I am not sure reading this article if the Diocese of Madison’s “clarification” of the pastor’s statement is meant to be a rebuke. Is it OK to say don’t vote for a pro-abortion candidate, but not OK to mention who the pro-abortion candidate is?

    It is apparently OK to say that Biden’s promotion of abortion is immoral, but at the next election we cannot say do not vote for Biden.

    I recently read another commentator’s statement that we have abandoned teaching truth in exchange for keeping our tax-exempt status. There does seem to be some truth in that.

    Last year a candidate for governor of Georgia campaigned in a Baptist church and pushed her pro-abortion views. They did not seem to worry about their tax-exempt status.

    • Just one additional comment. The democrats own platform states that they are in favor of abortion, any time, any place, for any reason, paid for by the government. Why not print that portion of their own platform in parish bulletins?

  6. How exactly did “the media” find out what the priest said in the bulletin? The article says, “An attorney from Wisconsin Public Radio, an attorney with the activist group Freedom from Religion Foundation, which is based in Madison, wrote to the IRS last week to complain about the bulletin, asking the IRS to revoke St. Patrick’s 501(c)3 nonprofit status.” HOW DID THE ATTORNEY FROM FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION find out what a priest said in a church bulletin?!!!! It had to be someone in the parish who received the church bulletin either at church (physically present at Mass?) or who received it via email or snail mail. WHY would someone who is pro-abortion be at Mass? Obviously they WERE there or at least used to be active in the parish and still receive the parish bulletin, and they decided to “squeal” on the church. Or do the pro-abortion action groups get on church mailing lists to receive the written communications of all churches and religious organizations? How do they get on a mailing list?! Do they use someone’s actual name rather than the name of their organization? Obviously, a written statement in a church bulletin would be the BEST proof to a court that “something was said” by the “leader” of a church (priest or pastor) and use this “something” to hurt that church by asking that their tax-exempt status be revoked. Would it be better if all Christian churches who uphold the right-to-life of all humans gave up tax-exempt so that they would have more freedom to speak out and protest during church events (including Masses or worship services) and not have to worry that “someone might tattle?” Churches would certainly have more freedom to actually name political parties and candidates who are pro-abortion and urge people NOT to vote for those parties or people. Perhaps this would stop the rationalizing that many church members do when they decide to vote for a pro-choice candidate; e.g., “Well, she’s pro-choice, but she has so many good ideas on how to help the poor.” or “My parents would roll over in their grave if I ever voted for a Republican!”

    • To get straight to the point –

      Q: “Would it be better if all Christian Churches who uphold the right to life of all humans gave up tax-exempt so they would have more freedom to speak out and protest during Church events (Including Masses or worship services and not have to worry that someone might tattle?”

      A: Yes

    • Many parishes post links to their bulletins online & our own parish priest has a Facebook page. So you wouldn’t have to get that info just from a hardcopy bulletin at Mass.

      • Yes, that was my first thought, would not be hard for someone to find out

        Thank you Lyndon Johnson for getting all this passed to help a political crony get elected

  7. If the church abnegates its role as the conscience of the state, it loses all capacity to prevent its own demise. Necessarily, it seeks its own destruction and irrelevance. Trust me, when we lose all access to the public square, we welcome our own persecution. Thanks, bishop for sending your own sheep to the shearers. ☹️

  8. I just read that the pro-abortion candidate won by a significant margin. But, on the plus side we still have our tax exemption.

  9. The Badger State has decided to follow the state shaped like a “Mitten” down the drain.Around and around they go swirling around to a place we know.

  10. The R.C. church acting as some kind of moral arbiter for life and children born or yet to be born is laughable. First atone for the crimes committed against children under your aegis and the coverup of same. Then and only then could you perhaps be taken seriously as an advocate for the unborn, for children and for life.

  11. Virtually every institution that cares for children & vulnerable young people experiences the same issues with a minority of employees who have chosen their vocation for the wrong reasons. And every institution has its own form of damage control & peer protection.
    The Church is no exception to that but it’s not unique unless one has a reason to make it appear so. And Catholic clergy abuse cases have been overwhelmingly about adult men & post pubescent boys. Which suggests an additional set of problems.

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