by Steven Ertelt
October 29, 2004
LaCrosse, WI (LifeNews.com) — An attorney who provides legal advice for a Catholic diocese in Wisconsin says he will recuse himself on any tax status issues after becoming the subject of nationwide controversy when he told the church it should prohibit a pro-life voter’s guide from being distributed.
James Birnbaum, a legal advisor for the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin told the church it could not distribute the pro-life voting guide, published by Catholic Answers, because he claimed it would jeopardize the church’s nonprofit tax status.
The 10-page voter’s guide cites Vatican documents showing that candidates who support abortion, euthanasia, human cloning or embryonic stem cell research should be disqualified from receiving the votes of faithful Catholics.
The voter’s guides should not be distributed "on your parish grounds or during your parish activities," Birnbaum wrote.
After a Catholic World News story exposed Birmbaum’s donations to a number of pro-abortion candidates, he told the diocese he would recuse himself on any legal matters regarding the church’s tax status.
The diocese issued a press release Thursday night that CWN says indicated Brimbaum decided to step aside on such legal matters "to avoid even the appearance of even the appearance of a conflict of interest and to end any controversy" about his legal advice.
Father Richard Gilles is the administrator of the La Crosse diocese, which is temporarily without a bishop. He told CWN that Birnbaum, who has served as legal counsel for 25 years, will continue to offer legal advice on other matters.
Gilles also said that no voters guides other than those published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would be distributed at official church events.
Despite standing aside on such legal questions, Birnbaum told a local newspaper he thought the criticism was unwarranted.
"These groups are wrong and I highly resent the professional implication of conflict of interest," Birnbaum told the La Crosse Tribune.
He also told the Tribune he resents the accusation he supports abortion because of his donations to pro-abortion politicians.
"I am a lifelong Democrat and continue to be," Birnbaum said. "I neither apologize for, nor seek their approval of, my political affiliations. I am a Democrat for many moral reasons. It is political demagoguery to suggest that support of a political candidate makes one pro-abortion."
Birnbaum has donated $6,500 to pro-abortion Congressman Ronald Kind, a Democrat who has only a 9% pro-life voting record according to the National Right to Life Committee. Birnbaum sent Kind donations as recently as March and June of this year.
CWN reports that Birnbaum has also made donations to the campaigns of Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, who has a strong pro-abortion voting record and co-sponsored a campaign finance proposal pro-life groups opposed because it restricts their activities, and to Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, who has spoken at Planned Parenthood fundraisers.
Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, former bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse, entered the national spotlight when he told priests in the diocese that they could not offer communion to pro-abortion elected officials.
Now based in St. Louis, Burke has said he would not allow presidential candidate John Kerry to take communion.
Burke’s diocese in St. Louis has ordered the Catholic Answers voting guide to be distributed in churches there.
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