Press Wrong: No New Letter from Archdiocese
Over the weekend the Cincinnati Enquirer, CityBeat, and the Dayton Daily News published stories saying that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati had told pastors to include a letter about guidelines on political literature and activity as a bulletin insert on Sunday. The letter, the articles said, was due to meetings between a “newly formed group, Parishes Without Politics,” with the Chancellor’s Office over concerns about political activity.
There was no letter.
The articles drew heavily on a press release sent out Thursday by Parishes Without Politics, and Archdiocesan officials say they are inaccurate. The Archdiocese, they say, did not “lay down the law” (as the Cincinnati Enquirer put it) by writing a letter for pastors to include in this week’s bulletin, and did not knowingly meet with anyone from the organization.
Fr. Steven Angi, the Chancellor, did send a brief note (see the text below) reminding pastors of the Archdiocese’s existing policy toward political activity. The note included one attachment: a longer explanatory letter from the Chancellor’s office, dated Oct. 24 but repeating information sent to all pastors at the beginning of the campaign season in March.
According to Social Action Office Director Tony Steiritz, the note was the third one sent to pastors this election season because of many phone calls, letters and meetings asking for clarification. It did not tell pastors to include the texts in their bulletins, but instead resent them to use in any way they wished.
Steiritz says he and Fr. Angi know nothing about Parishes without Politics. “Fr. Steve and I met with four individuals who did not identify themselves as being involved with any specific group,” he says. “The first we heard about it was in the press release that we saw on Friday.” Steiritz says he and Fr. Angi do not know which, if any, of the people they met with were part of the organization.
In an interview with the Dayton Daily News, however, the group’s spokesperson Deborah Rose-Milavec said that the Chancellor had met with her group and was “very receptive to our concerns.”
The web site for Parishes Without Pastors includes photographs of political materials overlaid with the words “not approved” in red ink, including the Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics put out by the well-known lay apostolate Catholic Answers, and a pro-life voting guide. PWP included these photos in its press release, and the Dayton Daily News reporter mistakenly thought they had come from the Archdiocese and would be included in the non-existent bulletin insert.
The Archdiocese, they say, did not “lay down the law” (as the Cincinnati Enquirer put it) by writing a letter for pastors to include in this week’s bulletin, and did not knowingly meet with anyone from the organization.
So who is Parishes Without Politics? The website and press release from do not identify any members of the group except Ms. Rose-Milavec, or provide any other information about its membership. The press release (posted the PWP the site) claims that the Archdiocese, “has reaffirmed in no uncertain terms that there is no place for partisan politics in Catholic parishes.” It also quotes from Fr. Angi’s seven-month-old letter and the Archdiocese’s three-year-old political activity guidelines.
“Catholics should feel free to vote their own consciences without being bombarded by partisan political messages from the pulpits, on parish websites, in parish bulletins, in the vestibules or anywhere else on parish property,” says the web site. “These partisan messages create a discordant climate in our parishes and that is unacceptable.”
Yet the site also tells Catholics to report their pastors, parishes, and fellow parishioners to them for “violations.”
“If you believe you have witnessed a violation of any of these rules, you may report this violation to [the PWP email address,]” the web page titled “Rules” says, and its contact page consists only of the words: “Report violations to [the email address].”
Ms. Rose-Milavec did not return calls or emails from The Catholic Beat. She is an associate of the Sisters of Charity and has a Lay Pastoral Ministry degree from the Atheaneum of Ohio and a Master’s degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton. She and author and former seminary teacher Dr. Aaron Milavec are Joint Vice Presidents of Catherine of Siena Virtual College, which provides online classes in gender and women’s studies “that empower women to unmask the roots of gender discrimination in their personal lives, in society and religion,” according to the school’s web site. She also runs the Housetop Center for Women’s Ministries, the US branch of the International Campaign for the Ordination of Women in the Roman Catholic Church.
The names of Dr. and Ms. Rose-Milavec also appear on a full-page ad in Sunday’s Cincinnati Enquirer from “faithful, practicing Catholics” promoting President Obama’s candidacy.
Many area Catholics, particularly those involved in the pro-life movement, would prefer that their parishes and pastors speak out more strongly on election issues. Steve Koob, founder of Dayton-based One More Soul, says he thinks that American bishops and priests should be bolder in preaching Catholic teachings, particularly non-negotiable teachings such as those on abortion and contraception. “Our Lord said be not afraid, and sometimes I think we are afraid,” he says.
Bryan Kemper, founder of Stand True Prolife Outreach and Youth Outreach Coordinator of Priests for Life, a resident of Troy, says, “Our Priests should not only teach us about God, but should also be teaching us about how our faith needs to be put into action in social and political circles as well. I believe that the pulpit and the message of the Church cannot be separated from social, political or any issues that face us as Catholics and citizens. We cannot pretend that our spiritual life and life outside the Church walls do not intertwine with each other, if fact I believe is is our obligation to bring the Gospel message outside to the world.”
The Archdiocese does not intend for parishes to be politics-free zones, Steiritz says, and the guidelines against partisanship are not meant to silence priests on political issues. They are simply meant to keep parishes from endorsing particular candidates and parties. “We would rather have ‘Parishes Without Partisanship’ than ‘Parishes Without Politics,’” he says. “The vocation we have as Catholics is to shape our culture and our politics around Catholic Social Teaching every day of the year. Election season is a good thing if it commits us to that larger effort.”
Here is the complete text of the note that went out to pastors (provided by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati):
Attached is a letter concerning political activity in our parishes that may be circulated to parishioners as a bulletin insert, etc., reminding all of us of our responsibility to remain nonpartisan in this election time. Thanks for all you do.
The attachment, dated Oct. 24, was the same reminder sent out to parishes in March.
The Catholic Beat is not linking to the Parishes Without Politics web site because it encourages people to report “violations” to an unknown group for an unknown purpose.