Group calls mayor's invitation to Pope "grossly inappropriate"

GREEN BAY (WITI) -- A Madison-based group is calling out Green Bay's mayor for inviting the leader of the Catholic Church to visit Green Bay. The Pope is expected to come to the states next year.

The group says Mayor Jim Schmitt overstepped his bounds as an elected official, but Schmitt disagrees.

The invitation to the Pope was printed on city letterhead. The Freedom From Religion Foundation says that is "grossly inappropriate."

Mayor Schmitt, who is Catholic, says he is doing his job to lift up the area both economically and spiritually.

The effort to bring Pope Francis to Green Bay has a website:

An online petition for the effort has already garnered about two-thousand signatures.

But it's the signature on Mayor Jim Schmitt's letter to Pope Francis that Freedom From Religion Foundation has an issue with.

"Mayor Schmitt need to be reminded that his job is civil and secular - and that he is the mayor - not just of Catholics - but of all citizens of Green Bay," Annie Laurie Gaylor with the Freedom From Religion Foundation said.

Mayor Schmitt says the invitation is not intended to promote one religion.

"Maybe it was a little heavy on the religious side. But then again, that's who I am. I'm not going to hide that," Schmitt said.

The invitation also includes visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in nearby Champion.

It's the site of the only Catholic Church-recognized appearance of the Virgin Mary in the U.S.

"It's not appropriate for him to, to promote Catholicism and it's embarrassing to have him promote this ridiculous shrine," Gaylor said.

The group says Schmitt wasn't elected the bishop of Green Bay, but mayor. Schmitt says it's just part of his duty to bring a head of state to the area.

"The Pope is going to be invited by many, many mayors, and many communities throughout the U.S. We want to be on the short list. That was my goal," Schmitt said.

Schmitt says a visit could boost the regional economy, despite the cost of security running upwards of $1 million a day.

"I wasn't asking him to come here and say Mass in the council chambers and convert people. I'm asking him to come here and I understand that when the Pope shows up, there's a huge economic impact. Sure, there's expense to that. It won't be at the taxpayers expense," Schmitt said.

The group also filed an open records request. It wants to know if city time or money went into planning the possible visit.

The mayor says he's mayor 24-seven and bought the website with his personal credit card. He says an outside committee is handling the invitation follow-up.

The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay says it will wait to see how the Vatican responds to the request.