(Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego denounced one of its parishes on Friday after its worshippers were told that voting for Democrats is a “mortal sin” that could lead to an eternity in hell.
The Diocese said the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in the neighborhood of Old Town made the statement in an insert to a weekly leaflet given to churchgoers on Oct. 16, calling abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia and other political issues “non-negotiables.”
“It is a mortal sin to vote Democrat,” the insert read, with the words underlined and bolded. “If your bishop, priest, deacon or other parishioners tell you to do so, you must walk away from them. Your immortal soul and your salvation are at stake.”
On Tuesday, voters will pick the next president after an often bitter contest that polls suggest has tightened considerably in the last week. While several states are too close to call, polls have shown Democrat Hillary Clinton leading over Republican Donald Trump for some time in California where the parish is located.
Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy said in a statement that the parish, which will also serve as a polling place, violated its religious duties with the political comments.
“It is contrary to Catholic teaching to state that voting for a Democrat or Republican automatically condemns the voter to hell,” the statement said. “The Catholic Church does not endorse specific candidates, use parish media or bulletins to favor candidates or parties or engage in partisan political activity of any kind.”
The parish’s pastor, Richard Perozich, did not respond to calls and an email on Friday.
The Diocese also took issue with a column in the parish’s Oct. 30 bulletin that railed against abortion and constraints on tax-exempt organizations from certain political activity, and blames elected officials for allowing U.S. society to be “enslaved” to sin.
“Satan has deceived many Christians to convert to worldly values from Christian ones,” the bulletin reads. “The devil does this through the tactics outlined by Saul Alinsky with the outcome as Hillary Clinton has stated, ‘And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed,’ to draw us away from God’s teachings.”
Alinsky was a pioneer in community organizing in Chicago known for confrontational, though nonviolent, tactics to achieve social change.
Clinton has been a lifelong Methodist, attending first as child with her parents and later attending a Methodist church as first lady. Trump on the other hand has been backed by religious conservatives and evangelicals.
Richard Schmalbeck, a professor at Duke University School of Law with expertise in non-profits, said the statements appear to violate requirements for tax-exempt organizations around political activity.
“Anything that clearly disparages a candidate is intervention in opposition to a candidate, and I think saying the devil operates through a person would count as disparagement,” he said.
Schmalbeck said it seems unlikely, however, that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service would aggressively pursue revoking the church’s tax-exempt status given its recent history of not going after churches that have made similar comments.
Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Lisa Shumaker