CHICAGO (CBS) – The Roman Catholic bishop of Peoria has set off a firestorm of controversy, comparing President Obama’s policies to those of Hitler and Stalin.
Bishop Daniel Jenky made the comment Sunday. As the crowds who gather round him will attest, he is a firebrand outside and inside the pulpit.
“Hitler and Stalin at their better moments would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care,” Jenky said over the weekend. “In clear violation of our constitutional rights, president Obama with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.”
Chicago Francis Cardinal George declined to comment on the comparison but echoed some of the frustration Jenky expressed.
“This is the first time in the history of our country where our very own government has told our Catholic institutions ‘If you’re going to operate in public, you can’t operate in a Catholic way, you have to give up your Catholic identity,’” George told CBS 2’s Mike Parker on Thursday.
Also during his homily, Bishop Jenky blasted what he called “the calculated disdain of the president of the United States.”
George declined to weigh in on that statement, saying, “I’m not privy to the president’s inner life.”
The church’s anger grows out of the recent flap over contraceptives and healthcare reform known as “Obamacare.”
The head of the Chicago Anti-Defamation League is calling the bishop’s words on Hitler, Stalin and Obama way over the top. He wants the bishop to apologize.
Meanwhile, an advocate for the separation of church and state is urging the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Jenky.
United Church of Christ Minister Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says the bishop’s comments violate the federal tax code provision that bars churches and other non-profits from intervening in political campaigns.
“If you can get away with this, you might as well tell parishioners to put money into the collection plate on Sunday morning Mass and simply turn that over to whoever is running against Barack Obama,” Lynn said.
A spokesperson for Jenky says the bishop’s comments were taken out of context and misconstrued.
Contributing: wire service reports