Men's conference drops controversy and wins back Cincinnati's Catholic leaders

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When the National Men’s Conference returns to Cincinnati Saturday, it will arrive with a speakers’ lineup featuring an assortment of Christian TV stars, athletes and spiritual leaders.

What it won’t bring to town is the political controversy that last year prompted the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to withdraw its sponsorship of the event.

The archdiocese is back this year and so is Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, who will preside at the Mass that opens the conference at 7:30 a.m. at Xavier University’s Cintas Center.

“We don’t have any concerns about any of the speakers that are lined up this year,” said Mike Schafer, an archdiocese spokesman.

He said conference organizers worked with church officials this year to find speakers who didn’t carry the political baggage that Schafer said kept the archdiocese away last year.

Jonathan Roumie as Jesus in "The Chosen."
Jonathan Roumie as Jesus in "The Chosen."

The headliner Saturday is Jonathan Roumie, a Catholic actor who plays Jesus in the popular series "The Chosen", a crowd-funded phenomenon that delves into the lives and relationships of Christ and his disciples. He also stars in the new movie "Jesus Revolution." Other speakers include Bengals offensive lineman Ted Karras, motivational speaker Jeff Schiefelbein and Archduke Christian Habsburg-Lorraine of Austria.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here in Cincinnati,” said Joe Condit, who runs the conference.

Condit said he consulted regularly with the archdiocese this year to ensure the speakers were acceptable to the archbishop. Last year, they were not.

The keynote speakers in 2022 included Raymond Arroyo, a Fox News contributor who has been critical of Pope Francis, and actor Jim Caviezel, the “Passion of the Christ” star who has embraced far-right politics and a baseless QAnon conspiracy about the harvesting of a chemical compound from the blood of tortured children.

Archdiocese officials last year did not mention Arroyo and Caviezel by name, but Schafer wrote a letter citing the primary speakers as the reason for the decision to “disassociate the archdiocese” with the event.

At the time, Condit said the conference had been “hamstrung” by the archdiocese’s decision to pull out. While the church does not provide direct financial support to the conference, which is led by Catholics and features Catholic speakers, it has traditionally promoted the event and sent church leaders, such as Schnurr, to address the crowd.

Schafer said church officials had no concerns this year about the speakers and have been encouraging men in the archdiocese to attend. “The men’s conference organizers were very upfront in sharing with us who they were recruiting as speakers,” he said.

Condit said the focus this year is on prayer and “helping men become better guys.” He said he’s hoping for a crowd of about 5,000 Saturday.

“Really, it was just a matter of miscommunication last year,” he said. “We’re moving forward.”

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati men's conference: Less controversy wins back top Catholics