Plenty of people on both sides of the political aisle have described the stakes of the upcoming presidential election in biblical terms.
But at least one person in a San Diego Catholic church took things a step further in recent weeks. In an insert to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church’s weekly bulletin on Oct. 16, a flier told parishioners that “it is a mortal sin to vote Democrat,” according to NBC 7.
In the Catholic Church, a mortal sin is one that would condemn a soul to hell unless the person confesses and repents. The flier reminded readers of this fact in graphic terms, telling them they are at risk of “descending into Hell” and “eternal damnation,” if they support Democratic nominees for office, per NBC 7.
The basis of this claim, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports, were five issues where the flier's writer said the Democratic party violated Church doctrine: abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.
Then, on Oct. 30, an article within the bulletin compared a statement by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to Satan, according to the Union-Tribune.
“The devil does this through tactics outlined by Saul Alinsky with the outcome as Hillary Clinton stated ‘And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed,’ to draw us away from God’s teachings regarding the sanctity of life to those of the world and its prince,” the bulletin said.
The article also included a veiled reference to a politically charged statement made by Clinton when she said half of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s supporters could be put in a “basket of deplorables.”
“We are called by politicians such as Hillary Clinton, deplorables,” the article said of Catholics who oppose same-sex marriage or accepting refugees from the Middle East. The article went on to express support for the Second Amendment and criticized immigrants while “Americans ... sit home and not work,” according to the Union-Tribune.
Immaculate Conception will serve as a voting site on Nov. 8, according to the Associated Press.
In response, the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego condemned both pieces, saying the Church does not tell members how to vote in elections and emphasizing that those who vote for Democrats are not automatically damned.
“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,” diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery told the Union-Tribune.
The diocese also said the Oct. 16 insert was not approved by the parish or any of its priests.
“For all I know someone thought that they were doing a service,” Eckery said. “The pastor said it was not something he had reviewed or approved.”
As for the Oct. 30 article, Eckery told the Union-Tribune it was unclear who wrote it and who gave the clearance for it to be printed in the bulletin.
The church’s publications didn’t just offend parishioners, who called them a “disgrace” and a “shame,” but they also potentially violated tax law. Specifically, the “Johnson Amendment,” proposed by Lyndon B. Johnson as a senator, prohibits tax-exempt charities, or section 501(c)(3) organizations, from participating in any political campaign for an elective office, according to The Washington Post.
Trump has advocated abolishing the rule, and he has benefited from the support of numerous evangelical pastors and preachers. The Union-Tribune, citing legal scholars, said that while the earlier flier may have been permissible because it did not mention any candidate for office, the article’s direct reference to Clinton made it a “blatant” violation of the tax law.
Under California law, it is also illegal to display information for or against a candidate within 100 feet of a polling place, though this law would not affect the parish until Election Day.
The Catholic vote has long been considered a pivotal swing vote in presidential elections. In the last three elections, Catholics have favored the winning candidate, including twice supporting Barack Obama, per the Pew Research Center.
But both Clinton’s and Trump’s relationship with the Catholic Church has been decidedly fraught. In emails sent to Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, released by WikiLeaks, a Clinton staffer appeared to mock Catholics and evangelical Christians, while Trump has publicly clashed with the hugely popular Pope Francis, after the Church leader said, “A person who thinks only about building walls — wherever they may be — and not building bridges, is not Christian.” Trump called the pope’s comments “disgraceful,” according to The Washington Post.
In recent polls, sharply contrasting views emerged of how Catholics plan to vote this election. According to a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute released Wednesday, Catholics support Clinton over Trump by a margin of 51 to 40 percent, but according to the IBD/TIPP Presidential Election Tracking Poll also released Wednesday, Trump leads Clinton, 50 to 37 percent.