Court can't say whether people are in hell, says judge
One of the oddest religion cases in recent years won't be settled in a court of law, now that New Mexico District Court judge Stephen Pfeffer has dismissed the suit against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and priest Scott Mansfield.
Nine relatives of former town councilman Ben Martinez had sued, saying that in the funeral eulogy, Mansfield called Martinez "lukewarm in his faith," and that "the Lord vomited people like Ben out of his mouth to Hell." As The New York Times columnist Peter Steinfels noted, the case had far-reaching implications.
Mansfield admitted quoting Revelation 3:16, but said his intent was to reproach the Martinez family for avoiding church—not to condemn the politician to hell.
"Sue Jesus Christ—he said it," Mansfield had told The Washington Post. "Sue the Scriptures."
Nobody's suing anybody over this, Judge Pfeffer ruled January 23. Courts don't have the authority to adjudicate matters of church, such as who's in hell, he said. "For thousands of years, churches have been making judgments against people," Pfeffer said (his comments don't appear to be at the court's web site, and the status page for the case hasn't been updated). "Dante's Inferno has been talking about sending people to hell for many a year. People aren't shocked by it."
Mansfield didn't comment, but his attorney expressed pleasure with the decision. "The court would have had to determine whether Ben Martinez was a sinner in order to decide the case," she said.
Joanne Martinez, who seems to have led the case against Mansfield, is still outraged. "It's sad that a priest can say whatever he wants," she told the Associated Press. "There will come a day when he is judged by the true judge."
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