Next Tuesday’s elections invite citizens to the polls to elect men and women for local, state and federal offices. Tuesday will also see the end of vilifying advertisements on TV and radio and automated phone calls, at least for another two years. And to the relief of Catholic pastors, there’ll be a respite in the practice of flyers and pamphlets descending upon the parishes.

Often the flyers are placed on cars while the people and the priest who might prevent the practice are at Mass. Despite the good intentions of those producing the flyers and distributing them clandestinely, the practice is dangerous and wrong. {{more}}

Advocacy organizations with a narrow focus such as pro-life or poverty prevention perform worthy service to educate and motivate people toward justice in those areas. Their methods, however, sometimes run afoul of what may be acceptable by dioceses or parishes.

For example, a pro-life group runs seminars, publishes educational materials and organizes faithful people to get involved in political action to protect the right to life for unborn and frail persons. So far so good.

In their zeal, the group’s leaders publish single-issue voters’ guides that produce ratings of candidates as either pro-life or pro-abortion.

The problem comes when the flyers show up at Catholic churches. An organization can publish whatever it wants, but a parish is a different kind of organization, and in the United States it operates under different rules. Specifically, the Internal Revenue Service places upon churches an “absolute prohibition” on political campaigning, even the appearance of endorsing or supporting one political candidate over another during an election.

Violating the IRS code could lead to revocation of the parish’s tax-exempt status, and flyers distributed on parish property could provide evidence for political support and grounds for IRS action.

This is why pastors try hard to prevent distribution of single-issue flyers (no matter how fundamentally important the issue is) on parish property. This is also the reason why, when the Archdiocese publishes educational materials for voters, such as the one that appears in this newspaper and on the Archdiocese’s web site at, a wide range of issues is covered. Responses to questions are given but no label is applied to candidates.

The Church presents candidates’ stands on issues to inform the conscience of Catholics. It does not tell them how to vote. This broad view does not satisfy some people who want the Church to give voting “orders,” but it does respect Catholic voting adults, who ultimately are the ones who can change the culture for the better.