UPDATE: ‘Catholic’ newspapers appearing in more states; bishops deny Church backing

Metric Media The Oct. 10-16, 2022 edition of the Michigan Catholic Tribune. | Courtesy of the Diocese of Grand Rapids

In recent days, residents of at least five U.S. states have received newspapers in the mail bearing variations of the name “Catholic Tribune” and featuring mostly pro-Republican articles along with quotes from U.S. bishops, among other Catholic-oriented content.

“[Democratic Sen. Mark] Kelly Co-Sponsored Bill Bishops Call ‘Most Unjust and Extreme…Ever Seen’” reads one recent headline from the Arizona Catholic Tribune.

Their names and Catholic-focused content suggest the papers are locally published — and possibly affiliated with the Catholic Church. But that's not the case.  

Bishops in the states where the newspapers have appeared have stressed that the papers are not affiliated with the Church, and have reiterated that Catholics should vote based on their own well-formed consciences, and not necessarily for or against any particular person or political party. 

In addition to Arizona and Michigan, the papers have also shown up recently in mailboxes in Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. A similar newspaper was mailed to residents of Wisconsin in 2020 just two weeks before the presidential election. Catholic Tribune sites for Minnesota and Florida both exist online, too, although it’s not yet clear if physical newspapers have been mailed in those states. Dioceses in several states say they have received questions from Catholics about the papers.

The Diocese of Phoenix said in a Nov. 1 statement that it is “in no way affiliated with or supportive of the ‘Arizona Catholic Tribune’ publication that many have received in the mail or may have seen online in recent days.”

The statement continued: “Catholic organizations and ministries in the Diocese of Phoenix do not engage in partisan politics and do not endorse candidates or parties during any election. The Diocese of Phoenix does encourage voters to prayerfully inform themselves about the issues on the ballot this November, form their consciences well, and vote accordingly.”

In Michigan, the Diocese of Grand Rapids said it had been notified that the Michigan Catholic Tribune, “a newspaper purporting itself to be Catholic,” is being mailed to parishioners within the diocese and that the paper made use of a quote from Bishop David Walkowiak.

“This publication and its accompanying website are not endorsed by nor are they affiliated with the Diocese of Grand Rapids or the Catholic Church,” a statement from the diocese reads. 

The bishops of Iowa addressed the papers on their website, at the bottom of a page discussing the U.S. bishops’ guide on forming consciences for faithful citizenship.

“The Iowa Catholic Conference has received several questions about an ‘Iowa Catholic Tribune’ newspaper showing up in some people’s mailboxes in Central Iowa. The newspaper in question is not a publication of the Catholic bishops of Iowa or the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines,” the page on the website of the Iowa Catholic Conference says

The Diocese of Scranton released a statement Nov. 3 saying that “numerous parishioners” have received a publication in their mailbox called the “Pennsylvania Catholic Tribune.”

“Purporting itself to be Catholic, the newspaper features politically related content among its many articles. The publication also has accompanying websites, pacatholictribune and/or americancatholictribune, which appear to mention several dioceses in Pennsylvania, including the Diocese of Scranton. It is important for all people to know that this publication and its accompanying website are neither endorsed by, nor are they affiliated with, the Diocese of Scranton or the Catholic Church,” the diocesan statement says. 

The papers have begun showing up in Nevada, too. The Diocese of Reno told local outlet Fox11 on Thursday that they are aware of the “Nevada Catholic Tribune” being distributed in the Reno-Sparks metro area, and that it is not an official publication of the Church.

It’s not clear if similar papers are being mailed in Wisconsin this election season, but in 2020 Father John Girotti, vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Green Bay, said that to his knowledge, “the Wisconsin Catholic Tribune has no direct connection to any diocese or bishop in the Church.”

The Catholic bishops of Arizona issued a more general warning Oct. 31 about groups calling themselves Catholic while openly advocating for political candidates. The bishops noted that Canon 216 of the Code of Canon Law states that no initiative can lay claim to the title “Catholic” without the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority. 

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“We must stress that the Catholic Church is always politically non-partisan. Moreover, it is worth recalling that the Catholic Church has a long tradition of our beliefs influencing our personal politics — not our personal politics trying to influence our faith. When we reverse those two, we place ourselves outside the tradition and teachings of the Catholic Church.”

The Arizona bishops’ conference statement did not explicitly name any of the political groups calling themselves Catholic that the faithful should watch out for, but a spokesman for the conference told CNA that the statement was a response to confusion and media inquiries related to the Arizona Catholic Tribune newspaper.

Who is the publisher?

The Catholic Tribune papers appear to be similar in design across the several states where they have been mailed. They contain full-color photos and articles — with much of the material repackaged from other sources — about local politicians and political races. The papers all sport the same slogan on the front page: “Real data. Real value. Real news.”

The papers cite various news and commentary sources and pro-life groups while drawing on content from diocesan or parish social media feeds and bulletins, including information about Mass intentions.

An article on the front page of the Arizona Catholic Tribune, for example, discusses the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ opposition to the Women’s Health Protection Act — which would have codified a right to abortion into federal law — and notes that Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, was a co-sponsor of the legislation. The Pennsylvania Catholic Tribune featured a front-page story on Mark Houck, a Catholic father of seven who was recently arrested and federally charged after allegedly pushing an abortion clinic escort to the ground.

While the papers themselves do not list a publisher, investigations by the New York Times and the Columbia Journalism Review found that the various “Catholic Tribune” sites across the country are owned by Metric Media, an organization that operates more than 1,000 websites that aim to fill a void in local news coverage. 

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According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Metric Media launched the network of seven Catholic Tribune sites in early 2020: six were state-centric and one was national, the American Catholic Tribune, which says on its website that it was created in 2019 “to provide more robust news reporting on parish life and issues affecting Catholics.”

Many of the articles on Metric Media’s sites have a conservative bent, and officers at the company have links to think tanks and political action committees funded by libertarian businessman Charles Koch and allied donors, the Columbia Journalism Review says.

CNA was unable to reach a Metric Media representative for comment. 

Kevin J. Jones contributed to this story.

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