Rep. Kriesel, Catholic priest at odds over gay marriage amendment
A feud between Rep. John Kriesel and Rev. John Echert of Holy Trinity/Saint Augustine Parish in South St. Paul erupted on Catholic blogs on Tuesday. Kriesel, a Republican who opposes a putting an anti-gay marriage amendment on the ballot in 2012, received a letter from Echert that said the parish was launching a campaign to ban gay marriage in the Minnesota Constitution. Kriesel’s office warned the parish about violating its tax status by lobbying.
Echert sent the following to Kriesel:
Dear Representative Kriesel:
Greetings from Father John Echert, Pastor of the Parishes of Holy Trinity and St. Augustine in South St. Paul. I am writing to you specifically in regards to the proposed Marriage Amendment under consideration here in Minnesota in light of an email exchange which you recently had with my Associate Pastor, Father Robert Grabner.
Within your response you wrote, “Unfortunately I do not support the Marriage Amendment and will not be voting for it.” I am very saddened to learn this, especially since I had encouraged one of our parishioners, one of your campaign advocates, to have you come to our parish Fall Festival last October so that parishioners could meet you in the days leading up to the elections. Also, as a military Chaplain here in the Minnesota Air National Guard I have been using you as a heroic example of resiliency in our monthly Yellow Ribbon Program for recently returned deployers.
I ask you to please reconsider your position on this critical matter. While we can legitimately debate issues related to finances and politics, those that are grounded upon basic moral principles and family values are rooted in the laws of God. I am commencing this week with a parish campaign to promote support for a Marriage Amendment in Minnesota; I hope that you will be among those elected officials upon whom we can count for your efforts at the leadership level to protect traditional marriage in our state.
Father John Echert
An aide to Kriesel sent back this response:
I would like to respectfully remind you that the Internal Revenue Service frowns upon churches and religious organizations devoting time to influencing legislation. Your admission of the commencement of a politically involved “campaign” will probably violate several state and federal tax provisions.
Echert called the response “rude,” “threatening” and “outright insulting.”
“Folks, God help us if the day has come when the Church cannot speak out on moral issues,” Echert wrote in the parish’s bulletin (PDF). “If the staffer or Representative Kriesel has a mind to sic the IRS on me or our parishes here in South St. Paul, they better plan to take on the Archdiocese of St Paul, the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the bishops of Minnesota and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, for that matter, for our united opposition to abortion and support for the protection of traditional marriage.”
Kriesel’s office later clarified his remarks:
Since the initial exchange, Father Echert and I have been in contact and have cleared things up. The original email was misinterpreted and we have since come to an understanding. It was never meant to be any manner of threat and no manner of disrespect was intended whatsoever.
According to the Pew Forum, churches are subject to the same lobbying restrictions as nonprofit groups. They cannot devote a substantial portion of their yearly spending on lobbying for or against legislation or ballot initiatives and the IRS generally views substantial as more than 20 percent but that also depends on a church’s total expenditures.