Kansas constitutional amendment on abortion is a bailout for the Catholic Church

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press file photo

Does your church have a lobbyist? I posed a similar question in social media last week. I suppose during my time in Topeka, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing lobbyists who work for certain religious organizations and affiliations, but overwhelmingly, regular taxpayers seemed to be unaware of this activity. Some who replied to me indicated the very idea seems inappropriate given the separation of church and state.

Over the past few years, certain lobbyist groups in Kansas have been extremely focused on forwarding the constitutional amendment on the Aug. 2 ballot dubbed “Value Them Both,” which would allow the Legislature to ban abortion. Lobbyists for the Kansas Catholic Conference, Kansans for Life and Kansas Family Voice have had a consistent presence in the Capitol the past several sessions. Having a church building with an oversize banner supporting the amendment and offices directly across the street from the Capitol allows for easy access to legislators, along with a constant reminder of their agenda.

Mind you, this is all perfectly legal — although some would contend that’s only because state statutes have special carve-outs and loopholes allowing it. The bigger issue, though, is that many people — including parishioners of the Catholic Church — seem surprised to hear of this. Some voice concern about how their offerings to the church have been spent.

To say the movement to ban abortions in Kansas has been fueled by the Catholic Church is no overstatement. The Sunflower State Journal noted several main funders:

The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas gave approximately $2.5 million to the campaign this year. Last year, it contributed close to $500,000.

The Catholic Diocese of Wichita contributed $550,000 this year, and the Kansas Catholic Conference added another $275,000.

Kansans for Life provided close to $325,000.

The Catholic Diocese of Salina and St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood each contributed $100,000.

The Legislature currently has the power to pose limits on abortion. To date, there are dozens of restrictions. What the Legislature can’t do is ban the procedure, as the Kansas Constitution currently guarantees access. That’s what this amendment is about, contrary to the confusing language that appears on the ballot.

Here is what’s interesting, though: More than half the membership of the Catholic Church believes abortion should be legal. So why has the church invested so much in this effort? The answer appears to be finances. Consider this:

Over the past decade, the Catholic Church has lost substantial membership, dropping by nearly 20% since 2000, according to the Catholic News Agency.

The church has paid out close to $4 billion in sexual abuse settlements involving priests. Of course, there are more cases out there.

The church is “going broke” in the U.S., as a Catholic News Agency analysis recently put it. The long-term financial health of many parishes across the country is in question as people leave the church.

This is not a sustainable path for any organization, let alone a denomination that enjoys opulent buildings and a massive, top-heavy hierarchy that is dependent upon strong incoming revenue.

The church has been relying on handouts to continue its power establishment, including receiving more than $1.4 billion in aid through the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Additionally, lobbyists in Kansas tied to the church work to divert taxpayer money from public schools to their private facilities.

And then there’s the topic of abortion. What could that have to do with finances? It has to be a major challenge for the church to retain members with messaging about banning abortion when half its congregation believes it should be legal and accessible. Loss of membership means fewer people in the pews and a loss of revenue. If the church gets the government to ban abortion, it doesn’t run the risk of continuing to lose members by consistently bringing the topic up. It’s a government bailout.

Bill to help sexual abuse victims blocked

Here’s something else you should know. A few years ago, I introduced a bill to update the statute of limitations (which is currently very narrow) for civil cases for survivors of childhood sexual assault. The person who chairs the committee the bill has been assigned to is state Sen. Kellie Warren, a Catholic. Additionally, the lobbyist for the Kansas Catholic Conference has voiced concern regarding the “impact” on the church if it should pass. My bill — S.B. 420, which would help dozens of survivors of childhood sexual violence pursue justice — has never been granted a hearing.

Coincidence? I think not, especially considering the staggering amount of power the church wields at the state house.

Please know, I have no quarrel with members of the Catholic Church — or any church, for that matter. I do have a problem with a church using its outsize, top-heavy power structure to force its belief system on everyone while looking for government hand-outs to do it. And, guess what? Most of its rational members also have a problem with that.

There are many reasons to vote no on this amendment. One of the most compelling being the fact the government already provides unparalleled support to churches through their tax exempt status. In Kansas, roughly 18% of the population is Catholic. Getting the entire state to confirm to church doctrine would be a huge win.

And that brings us to the final reason to vote against this amendment: No state or body of citizens in a democracy should have the religious doctrine of one faith imposed upon them. Period.

Value them both? No, this is the church valuing its bottom line. Don’t fall for it.

Cindy Holscher represents District 8 in the Kansas Senate.