Tallahassee, Fla., Nov 4, 2016 / 14:40 pm
A group that has been tied to the idea of a “Catholic Spring” revolution in leaked emails may have tried to intimidate pastors at Catholic Churches in Florida during the last presidential election.
Ahead of the 2012 elections, the group Catholics United sent a letter to Florida pastors saying it was monitoring for reputed illegal political activity in Catholic churches – which state Catholic leaders saw as an effort to silence the Church.
An internal message to Catholic pastors from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops said the letter was inaccurate and appeared to be “an attempt to silence pastors on issues that are of concern to the Church this election season.”
James Salt, then-executive director of the group Catholics United, had sent the Oct. 22, 2012 letter to priests in Florida, claiming to have recruited “a network of local volunteers to monitor parishes and document the nature of all partisan activity taking place there.”
Catholics United is back in the news with the publication of a February 2012 email exchange involving John Podesta, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s present campaign manager.
Podesta indicated that the groups Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good had been created for moments of controversy involving Catholic bishops, like the religious freedom controversy over federally mandated contraceptive coverage in health plans. He said the two groups lacked leadership for such a role.
Using a phrase of his interlocutor, progressive leader Sandy Newman, Podesta suggested a “Catholic Spring” could be organized within the Church. The phrase invokes the imagery of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings.
Salt’s letter later that year claimed there had been “numerous IRS violations” in Florida Catholic parishes such as partisan references during homilies, political endorsements printed in church bulletins, and the distribution of partisan literature in church parking lots. He told pastors that Catholics United had retained a law firm to help protect them and their parish community from losing tax exempt status.