Bishop: Sheriff played politics at church

By Lisa Bell, Anchor, lbell@clickorlando.com
Published On: Oct 31 2012 12:05:31 AM EDT
Updated On: Oct 31 2012 12:37:37 AM EDT

The Bishop of the Diocese in Orlando sent a blistering letter to Sheriff Jerry Demings, saying his visit to mass seemed more like a political move

ORLANDO -

A controversy with the Catholic Diocese of Orlando and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings is brewing this election season.

Local 6 got a hold of a blistering letter sent by the Bishop of the Diocese to Sheriff Demings.

In the letter, Bishop John Noonan, accused Sheriff Demings of visiting St. John Vianney Catholic Church, "for no apparent reason than your own political motivation."

The sheriff arrived for mass at the church, in a pro-Obama bus on October 7 with Orange County School Board member Kathleen Gordon and members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

"If this is true, you disrespected the Lord's house," wrote Noonan. "You owe an apology to the parishioners...you owe an apology to the Lord."

In a letter to the Bishop, Sheriff Demings defended his actions, saying the group asked for permission and "heard no opposition."

During mass, when visitors were asked to introduce themselves Demings said, "I only stated my name and office without any reference to political candidacy."

But the sheriff admits members of the painters union brought up the Obama-Biden campaign during their introduction.

"I understand how some of your parishioners may have viewed the visit," Demings wrote. "For that, I am sorry."

It is unclear if Bishop Noonan sent similar letters to Orange County School Board member Kathleen Gordon or the painter's union. Local 6 made several calls to the Orlando Diocese, but they have not returned our calls.

In a phone conversation, Sheriff Demings told Local 6, his Republican rival John Tegg, may be trying to make this a political issue. He also told Local 6, the whole thing is a misunderstanding and the Bishop may have been misinformed about what really happened.

Local 6 also learned from FDLE officials that they are looking into complaints Sheriff Demings under reported the number of crimes. They said they received the complaint Tuesday.

While FDLE wouldn't say who filed the complaint, just last week Tegg claimed newly released records proved Demings and others at the sheriff's office falsified crime reports to make it seem like the county had a lower crime rate.

Sheriff Demings maintains the allegations are totally false., and that the FDLE already reviewed the issue once and confirmed the sheriff's office did nothing wrong.

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