On June 6, 2023, claims began to spread on social media platforms that Kentucky's Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear had once posed in a photograph with an "anti-Catholic" hate group. The claim spread as the governor was running for reelection against Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
"The fact that @AndyBeshearKY would host an anti-Christian hate group that makes fun of people of faith is disqualifying," Cameron said in a Twitter post on June 6, 2023. "This November, he's going to have plenty of free time to hang out with those people, but it won't be in the state capitol." Attached to the tweet was a Fox News article about the photograph.
The fact that @AndyBeshearKY would host an anti-Christian hate group that makes fun of people of faith is disqualifying. This November, he's going to have plenty of free time to hang out with those people, but it won't be in the state capitol. https://t.co/6PEfGPHsnx
— Daniel Cameron (@DanielCameronAG) June 6, 2023
On Twitter, the Republican Party of Kentucky also posted about the claim on June 8, 2023:
Andy Beshear does NOT align with Kentucky values.
If you need a reminder, Andy Beshear gladly posed with an Anti-Catholic group; a group that mocks religion. Does that sound like a governor who is in touch with the values of our state? pic.twitter.com/qncjtXiSmo
— Republican Party of Kentucky (@KYGOP) June 8, 2023
The photograph is real. It was taken in February 2020, during a statewide LGBTQ+ rally that Beshear spoke at. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported the governor took the picture with the Kentucky chapter of the Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, which the article described as a "charitable group focused on helping marginalized people within the LGBTQ+ community."
Members of the group have explicitly denied that it is anti-Catholic, according to the Los Angeles Times:
"We are not anti-Catholic," said Sister Unity, a founding member of the Los Angeles Order, who was to be honored at Dodger Stadium. "Being anti-Catholic would be anti-people, and that's not what we do."
Rather, the order draws inspiration from Catholic nuns — alongside religious sisters of many other faiths — serving the needy who are neglected by others because of their sexuality or gender expression, according to the Sisters and scholars and acolytes of the group.
In the photograph, one drag queen wore a KFC bucket meant to look like a nun's habit. Two of the other members in the picture wore horns.
In the Lexington Herald-Leader article about the photograph, former Beshear spokesman Sebastian Kitchen said:
Every single Kentuckian is welcome at the Capitol, and attacking the governor for taking a photo with a Kentucky citizen is shameful. Gov. Beshear is working every day to end the hateful and divisive politics that try to pit people against each other instead of focusing on what we have in common.
In May 2023, the Los Angeles Times reported followers of the conservative advocacy group CatholicVote "flooded" the Los Angeles Dodgers with "outraged messages" about plans the team had to honor the L.A. chapter with the Community Heroes Award at the team's 2023 Pride Night. After uninviting the chapter following the original backlash, the team reversed course when the American Civil Liberties Union and L.A. County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath threatened to pull out of the event altogether.
The order was characterized as an "anti-Catholic group" by conservatives and religious leaders. CatholicVote President Brian Burch described The Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as "an anti-Catholic hate group." Catholic media figure Bishop Robert Barron tweeted the order "can only be described as an anti-Catholic hate group" on May 25, 2023. Former Vice President Mike Pence also called the order "anti-Catholic bigots" in a tweet posted on May 31, 2023.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which identifies and monitors hate groups, does not list the Order as a hate group.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence describes itself on its website as follows:
We believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty. Since our first appearance in San Francisco on Easter Sunday, 1979, the Sisters have devoted ourselves to community service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment. We use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.
A May 2023 article for the Catholic magazine America Magazine said some members of the group were former Catholics who were angry at the church for its condemnation of homosexuality.