Ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections, Arizona's Catholic bishops alerted voters to "unapproved political efforts" they said are being carried out by a number of organizations and publications claiming to represent the Catholic Church on a variety of issues on the ballot.
In a joint statement released Oct. 31 by the Arizona Catholic Conference in Phoenix, the prelates said these entities are "calling themselves 'catholic'" but they "do not represent the Catholic Church."
They "cover various ends of the political spectrum and often engage in partisan political endeavors," the statement added.
Canon 216 of the Code of Canon Law "stresses that no initiative can lay claim to the title 'catholic' without the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority," the bishops said. "The use of the name 'catholic' implies that the initiative in some way represents the Catholic Church."
"Hence the competent authority -- in most instances the local bishop -- must give permission for any entity, endeavor or movement to call itself 'catholic,'" they added. "Those who do so without permission are in violation of church teaching and law."
"We must stress that the Catholic Church is always politically nonpartisan," the bishops continued. "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 bishops pointed Catholics to a YouTube video with further reflections from them on the matter at https://bit.ly/3DqIjST.
The statement was signed by Bishop John P. Dolan of Phoenix; Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, New Mexico, whose diocese includes a portion of Arizona; Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson; and retired Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, who is apostolic administrator of Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy.
To help U.S. Catholics sort through ballot issues and their choices for public offices, the U.S. bishops offer guidance in their quadrennial election document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility."
It does not tell Catholics how to vote but how to "form their consciences, apply a consistent moral framework to issues facing the nation and world, and shape their choices in elections in the light of Catholic social teaching."
The document has been offered as a guide to Catholic voters every presidential election year since 1976. It has been updated and revised at four-year intervals to reflect changes in the issues confronting the country since it first appeared.
A PDF of the document in English and Spanish is posted on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' website at faithfulcitizenship.org, along with additional resources.
On the USCCB's YouTube channel at bit.ly/31DHDGN are five videos in four languages -- English, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese -- that explore various aspects of Catholic social teaching while reflecting the teaching of Pope Francis.
One example of bogus publications the Arizona bishops alerted Catholic voters about is the Arizona Catholic Tribune, which was the subject of a Nov. 1 story in the Green Valley News, a secular news outlet based in Green Valley, Arizona.
"The truth? It's a fake newspaper," said the headline. "'Paper' in your mailbox isn't from Catholic Church."
A reader alerted reporter Mary Glen Hatcher to the fake paper. Hatcher confirmed with the Phoenix Diocese that it was not an official Catholic publication.
The reader, Linda Houck, highlighted some headlines she said she found offensive: "One positions Sen. Mark Kelly next to the words 'Most Unjust and Extreme ... Ever Seen," Hatcher wrote. "While another full-page spread seems to connect Arizona's public school teachers with 'child sexualization.'"
Houck told the Green Valley News that she was "just very offended by this paper" and that it would be sent to her "like they know who I am."
"All I know is that people are going to believe what they're reading," she said, "and it's very sad when people start believing stuff like this and don't even question it -- they might just think if the Catholic Church believes it, then it must be true."
The Tribune paper in Arizona is reminiscent of a similarly named unofficial Catholic publication that was circulated during the general election in 2020, particularly in Wisconsin.
On Oct. 22, 2020, less than two weeks before Election Day, Catholics in the Diocese of Green Bay began receiving the Wisconsin Catholic Tribune, an eight-page broadsheet published and owned by Franklin Archer Publishing in Chicago.
Some months earlier, The Compass, Green Bay's official diocesan newspaper, had published a report about the Tribune, which was not affiliated with any official Catholic entity.
The June 12, 2020, story, "Website uses Compass content in violation of copyright law," revealed the Tribune was taking stories from The Compass and other diocesan newspaper websites and using them on its own website.
After the story was published, the Tribune stopped the practice and instead began using information from parish bulletins and websites. The paper also included a listing for contacts in each of Wisconsin's five dioceses, with the names and email addresses of each diocesan bishop.
The list, under the heading of "Contact your local diocese," gave the newspaper more credibility, said a Compass reader who alerted the diocesan newspaper to the Tribune hitting homes a couple weeks before the election that year.