NEW YORK — A federal judge on Friday enlarged his contempt-of-court penalty against the nation's Roman Catholic bishops, ordering them to pay legal fees of a pro-abortion group challenging the church's tax-exempt status.
However, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Carter, whose contempt ruling Thursday criticized the bishops' legal tactics, allowed a four-day delay, to next Friday, in the $100,000-a-day fines he had threatened to impose, starting Monday.
The bishops' lawyers said at a hearing that they would use the reprieve to appeal the contempt ruling, which accused two Catholic groups of stalling on his order to release subpoenaed church records.
Lawyer Charles Wilson said later that, rather than stalling to deceive the court, the church had been awaiting the outcome of an attempt by the Internal Revenue Service, the defendant in the case, to have the suit dismissed.
Wilson said Carter's was the first contempt finding ever issued against the United States Catholic Conference and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the church's civil and ecclesiastical national organizations.
The bishops, claiming religious freedom, have resisted releasing records sought in a 6-year-old suit by the Abortion Rights Mobilization Inc. that contends the Roman Catholic Church should be denied tax-exempt status because it supports political candidates who oppose abortion.
Carter last year ordered the bishops to release records on their political activities and relationship with the IRS.