SAN DIEGO — The Sunday bulletin of San Diego’s Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Oct. 16 wasn’t very different from all the others.
Seven pages. A welcome to newcomers. A Mass schedule.
But there, between the prayers of healing for the ill and the deployed and a reminder about a parent-child chastity luncheon for ages 11 and up, was an extra flier.
On it was printed a memo, written in Spanish and English, and titled, in part, “How to vote like a Catholic.”
“It is a mortal sin to vote Democrat . . . immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell,” the flier said, as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The flier listed five political topics that will guarantee damnation for anyone who endorses them, the newspaper reported.
What are those mortal issues? Abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research.
Warnings from the church, which is in Old Town, the city’s historic district, escalated Oct. 30.
The message that day specifically mentioned Hillary Clinton, linking her to the famed late community organizer Saul David Alinsky, whom it described as a tool of “Satan” and “the devil.”
The Alinsky-Hillary Clinton-Satan connection (as a student at Wellesley, she wrote a thesis on Alinsky, who had a following of young activists in the 1960s and ’70s) is an old conservative rap on Clinton, most recently resurrected by Ben Carson at the Republican National Convention.
That Sunday’s bulletin, which was printed on page 3 and not inserted as a flier, listed 10 key issues through which elected officials “impose sin upon us.”
On that expanded list: accepting immigrants whose “religious values are to eradicate every belief except those of their own prophet and god,” supporting immigrants monetarily while the national debt grows, “playing policeman for the world” and supporting gun control.
A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego told the Union-Tribune that the pastor didn’t approve the initial flier.
“For all I know someone thought that they were doing a service” by inserting the message into the bulletin, diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery said. “The pastor said it was not something he had reviewed or approved.”
Eckery said the messages in the flier and bulletin were wrong.
“It’s not a mortal sin to vote for Democrats, number one. And number two, the church doesn’t take positions on this, and we’re not going to.”
In a statement published by NBC San Diego, Bishop Robert McElroy said the church needs to stay out of partisan politics:
Let me stress again that while we have a moral role to play in explaining how Catholic teaching relates to certain public policy issues, we must not and will not endorse specific candidates, use parish media or bulletins to favor candidates or parties through veiled language about selectively chosen issues, or engage in partisan political activity of any kind.
As a condition of their tax-exempt status, churches are forbidden from participating in partisan politics.
Thursday the story was picked up by the Associated Press and other outlets. Reaction on social media was swift and fierce.
“Start paying taxes for all the money you grub…then maybe your political opinion will matter,” a woman wrote on the church’s Facebook page. “How DARE you prey on the fears of your congregation! ‘Religious people’ like you are the reason I and many others no longer attend your false house of worship.”
“Uh-oh! Someone was caught making political statements when they are not suppose too! Maybe you should pay taxes in order to have your say! Keep your book of fairy tales out of Government!!!” wrote another.
“White clergy telling their non white parishioners they will go to hell if they don’t vote for the white raging racist? How nice. Disgusting,” wrote someone with the username Lu Vil.
Dennis M. Clausen of Escondido, Calif., wrote to the Union-Tribune with this thought: “Hell is starting to look a lot better if heaven is populated by people like the one who wrote this church bulletin.”
Roxana Popescu is a San Diego-based freelance writer.
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