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Priestly guidance on voting is dividing the Catholic church in America

CAN A CATHOLIC vote for Joe Biden and avoid damnation? Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, a diocese covering 33 counties in east Texas, doesn’t think so. Last month he endorsed a video made by a priest in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, which urged Catholic Democrats to “repent of your support of that party...or face the fires of hell”. In a tweet, Bishop Strickland thanked the priest for his courage and urged his followers to “HEED THIS MESSAGE”.

America’s political polarisation is reflected in the leadership of the Catholic church, which constitutes the country’s biggest single religious voting group. But the nomination of a Catholic as the Democratic candidate has accelerated the process. Although the church says clergy should not tell the faithful how they should or should not vote—such activity also imperils churches’ exemption from certain taxes—several prominent priests have castigated Mr Biden, claiming his pro-choice position on abortion means he is no Catholic. When Mr Biden announced his running mate, Kamala Harris, Thomas Tobin, the bishop of Providence tweeted: “First time in a while that the Democratic ticket hasn’t had a Catholic on it. Sad.”

In so doing they echo President Donald Trump’s efforts to play down his rival’s faith. The president has described Mr Biden, a practising Catholic, as following “the radical-...

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