The Catholic Church filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against former President Donald Trump and two top White House officials, accusing them of conspiring to defraud the church and its millions of members.
The suit, which seeks to force Trump to repay millions of dollars in church funds and other compensation, accuses the administration of conspiring with Trump to undermine the church’s mission.
“These are serious allegations that are deeply disturbing,” said the Rev. William Barber, the archbishop of New York, who has been representing the church in court since the lawsuits began.
The Catholic leaders, who are Catholic bishops and priests, have been under pressure to resign after Trump, a staunch supporter of traditional marriage, said during the presidential campaign that “we should be punishing” the church for its opposition to same-sex marriage.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court in Washington, DC.
Trump has denied that he ever said anything that would threaten the Catholic church’s missions.
The church has said it has never been forced to dissolve or change its teachings on the issue.
The lawsuits come as the Trump administration seeks to pass a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s tax code that would dramatically cut taxes for corporations and the wealthiest Americans while giving them a bigger break on their taxes.
Trump said in a speech Wednesday night that the new legislation would be a “game changer.”
“We have to go further than that, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Trump said.
“It will not only save the taxpayers money, it will also help the middle class.
And that’s the great thing about our tax code, is that if you make it smaller and more efficient, it’ll also make it possible for the middle classes to get ahead and take care of themselves.”
The administration also plans to cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% and cut taxes on dividends and capital gains, which benefit businesses and individuals.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
The bishops have argued that they have a right to sue in court, which would be the first such legal challenge to a president since the church took a similar tack during the Reagan administration in the 1980s.
The suits are separate from the $50 million civil lawsuit the White House filed against Trump last year, which also accused him of defrauding the church of tens of millions of tax dollars.
The case is expected to be heard next month.
Barber said he was confident the church would prevail in the lawsuit, which is the first federal court challenge to the Trump tax cuts.
“The fact is, the Catholic hierarchy has always been very consistent in its stance on the doctrine of the Eucharist,” Barber said.
The Vatican and the church have said they do not plan to join the lawsuit.
“We don’t intend to participate in this case,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Vatican’s former top court official, said Thursday.
The Trump administration has defended the tax cuts by saying they will increase economic growth.
In a statement, the White Star Line, a rail company based in Ohio, said in November that the tax reforms will create millions of jobs and help the economy recover from the recession.
The president has repeatedly cited the economic benefits of the tax relief, including boosting wages and boosting businesses’ profits.
The tax cuts have been opposed by the Republican-controlled Congress and some Democrats.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, called the lawsuit “unprecedented.”
“This lawsuit demonstrates once again that we need a president who believes in the power of free enterprise and who respects our country’s religious freedom,” Alexander said in an email.
The churches legal team is also represented by lawyers for the National Football League.