NJ gubernatorial candidate said Catholics ‘in bondage to their religion’ in 2011 video

New Jersey Elections

Pastor Phil Rizzo, Republican primary candidate for Governor of New Jersey (Photo: Jersey Rizzo)

NEW YORK — One of the first major flashpoints in the race for the GOP nomination for governor of New Jersey in 2021 dealt with religion.

One of the nominees, Phil Rizzo, is a pastor who owns and operates City Baptist Church in Hoboken. A video was recently unearthed of him making comments critical of Roman Catholics.

“It’s a very strong Catholic stronghold here. In a one-square mile town there’s seven Catholic churches,” Rizzo said in a 2011 promotional video first reported by the conservative website SaveJersey.com. “I don’t know if these people have ever heard the gospel. Not only are they in bondage to their sin but they’re in bondage to religion.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 34% of New Jerseyans are Catholic, making it the Garden State’s most popular religion. Both the current and previous governors of New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Chris Christie, are Catholics.

The comment was jumped on by Rizzo’s main opponent, former New Jersey Assemblyman and 2017 primary candidate Jack Ciattarelli, who himself attended and was an adjunct professor at the Catholic Seton Hall University in West Orange.

“Any candidate for any office who disparages and demeans Catholics’ faith or anyone else’s faith needs to rethink their candidacy,” Ciattarelli said via a spokesperson. “We need leadership that brings us together, not divides us along the lines of race, creed, color or religion.”

A Rizzo campaign spokesperson, in a statement, said that Ciattarelli was just playing politics.

“These are the attacks we expect from a professional politician like Jack Ciattarelli,” the statement said. “New Jerseyans want their lives back plain and simple. It’s been pretty clear from the growing momentum of Rizzo’s campaign over the past several weeks that New Jerseyans don’t want more of the status quo.”

While not denying the comments were Rizzo’s current beliefs, the campaign said that they were irrelevant to his ability to win the Garden State in November.

“In addition to being a successful business owner, Phil Rizzo is a pastor and was making a theological statement in this 10-year old video, not a political or governing statement. Rizzo will be the governor for all New Jerseyans and he is speaking directly to the problems they are facing daily. Jack Ciattarelli’s need to comment makes clear our message is resonating with New Jerseyans and he and the establishment are feeling threatened.”

PIX11 News’ attempts to contact the campaign of Hirsh Singh, a 2020 U.S. Senate primary candidate who is also running for the gubernatorial nomination in 2021, were unsuccessful.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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