- Carrie Simison-Bitz
- The Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission is being threatened with a loss of funding if it doesnt take a stand against abortion and same-sex marriage.
Politicians and voters aren't the only ones being pressured by Bishop Michael Sheridan to take a stand against abortion and gay marriage.
Local charities that rely on contributions from the Colorado Springs Catholic Diocese are under the gun, too.
The Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, an anti-war group with ties to the church, is facing the loss of funding from the diocese unless it condemns abortion and pledges to uphold Catholic teachings, including opposition to same-sex marriage.
"I am asking that the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission explicitly acknowledge its commitment to defend life at every moment from conception to natural death, in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church," Sheridan wrote to the group on April 12, in response to a request from the commission for financial support.
Other groups are facing similar demands.
"This is something that we ask of every organization," said Peter Howard, Sheridan's executive assistant.
Sheridan, who took over the Catholic diocese leadership from former Bishop Richard Hanifen last year, recently made headlines when he proclaimed that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights or gay marriage, as well as Catholics who vote for them, should be barred from communion.
Although not part of the Catholic Church, the Justice and Peace Commission was founded in 1978 with backing from the Denver Catholic Diocese, which at the time included Colorado Springs. The group continued to enjoy financial support from the church after the Colorado Springs diocese was established in 1984, and many of the commission's board members and directors have been active in the church.
The commission advocates on behalf of the poor and actively opposes war and the death penalty -- all in line with Catholic teachings.
Under Hanifen, the diocese gave the Justice and Peace Commission between $3,500 and $6,000 each year from its tithe fund, said the commission's executive director, Dorothy Schlaeger, who is a Franciscan nun.
But when the group recently made its annual request for support, Sheridan responded by questioning the organization's views. In addition to the fact that the Justice and Peace Commission doesn't explicitly condemn abortion, the bishop also noted that an organization for gay Catholics, Dignity USA, participated in an event sponsored by the commission earlier this year.
Dignity USA, which supports gay marriage, "is clearly against the teaching of the Catholic Church," Sheridan wrote, calling homosexuality an "intrinsic disorder."
Sheridan said the diocese would consider contributing to the Justice and Peace Commission only if the group states its opposition to abortion, and pledges to uphold Catholic values in its mission statement as well as on its Web site.
Outside the scope
Schlaeger said the Justice and Peace Commission can't meet the bishop's demands.
The organization is committed to defending "all life," which is inconsistent with support for abortion, Schlaeger acknowledged. But it can't pledge to uphold Catholic teachings, because it's an interfaith group that welcomes people of all beliefs, she said.
"What we do is in accordance with Catholic teachings," Schlaeger said. "It's just that we're not a Catholic organization."
The issues of abortion and gay marriage are simply outside the scope of the organization's mission, Schlaeger said.
The diocese has in the past supported groups that have little or no religious component to their work, such as the Housing Advocacy Coalition, which lobbies for affordable housing.
Pressed on whether opposing abortion and upholding Catholic teachings would be an absolute requirement for all groups seeking tithe money, Howard wavered.
"It depends on what their work is," he said.