The Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting an invitation to Pope Francis from Mayor Jim Schmitt to visit Green Bay, Wis., for the express non-secular purpose of making a Virgin Mary pilgrimage.
Schmitt's letter inviting the pope to "make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help" was written in his official capacity as mayor on City of Green Bay letter. Schmitt signed his worshipful letter "Your servant in Christ."
"You were not elected bishop of Green Bay," noted FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor in a March 10 letter to Schmitt. The pair told Schmitt his action is a "shocking breach of your civil and secular duties as mayor." They note a government official cannot constitutionally promote one religion over another, or religion over non-religion.
Schmitt's missive to the pope extols in excited tones "the events, apparitions and locutions" occurring in 1859 that "exhibit the substance of supernatural character," involving "the first and only Blessed Virgin Mary apparition approved by the Catholic Church in the United States."
While noting Schmitt is "welcome to personally believe" in the supernatural sighting of the Virgin Mary a century and a half ago, he is "not free to use your civic office to promote your personal (and highly embarrassing) religious beliefs." FFRF noted that most Green Bay citizens are either non-Catholic or non-believing, and would not "consider it the business of the mayor to promote a 'pilgrimage' to a Catholic shrine."
Schmitt compounded the violation, FFRF says, in starting a petition, "Pope to Green Bay," at a website registered under his name.
They warned that the invitation is "fiscally reckless, given the exorbitant costs of hosting a pope, costs which invariably end up being borne by taxpayers," citing riots and rallies against public funding of recent pope visits in U.K., Spain and Brazil.
"It's bad enough to put up with the Catholic church's harmful and antediluvian doctrines — against safe and legal abortion, contraception, gay rights, same sex marriage, the equal rights and ordination of women as priests — without U.S. citizens having to literally pay to put up the pope," FFRF added.
"The shameful and unremitting scandal of sexual abuse of minors within the ranks of the Catholic clergy and even more scandalous covers-up by its highest ranking officials have tarnished dioceses through the state of Wisconsin, and left a devastated trail of victims and their families."
FFRF prevailed, after filing a federal lawsuit, in forcing Mayor Schmitt and the City of Green Bay to stop placing a nativity scene atop the entrance to City Hall in 2008.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott also made an open records request asking for city documents and communications about the proposed visit.