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US parish church sued for priest's 'hell prediction'

A New Mexico family is suing its local Catholic church over a funeral Mass at which the priest allegedly said their relative was going straight to hell.

The family of Ben Martinez, 80, allege that Fr Scott Mansfield (pictured) said he was "living in sin", "lukewarm in his faith", and that "the Lord vomited people like Ben out of his mouth to hell".

Around 200 people attended the funeral of Mr Martinez - a local town councillor - at St Patrick's Parish in Chama, north of Santa Fe, last month.

Nine members of the Martinez family are seeking punitive and compensatory damages for severe emotional and physical suffering.

They say Mr Martinez had been a practising Catholic all his life, but was too ill to attend church in his last year.

"These people are profoundly hurt," said lawyer Kathleen Kentish-Lucero, representing the Martinez family.

"If you are Catholic and a representative of your church says your father is going to hell, that's perhaps the most devastating thing someone can say to you."

One of the plaintiffs allegedly said people in the town "are staring at her, thinking her father is in hell."

But church officials have denied the family's claims.

"We deny the allegations and Fr Mansfield denies the plaintiff's allegations," said Celine Baca Radigan, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

She said that Fr Mansfield has been moved to another parish on a routine transfer.


Family sues over prediction of hell (Sydney Morning Herald)
Priest proves no comfort in shadow of death (ABC)
Family sues over funeral hell prediction (Reuters)
Archdiocese of Santa Fe
St. Patrick Catholic Church, Chama, New Mexico
N.M. priest endorses pro-life candidate from pulpit (AP 31/10/02)

18 Jul 2003