The former bishop of Maine today released a statement saying that any Catholic who votes in favour of equal marriage “is unfaithful to Catholic doctrine.”

Richard J Malone, now head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, New York, who had previously said equal marriage was “dangerous”, released a statement today urging Maine Catholics to “vote your faith on Nov. 6.” It read:

“A Catholic whose conscience has been properly formed by scripture and church teaching cannot justify a vote for a candidate or referendum question that opposes the teachings of the church.”

Bangor Daily News reported that he said Catholic pro-marriage equality group, Catholics for Marriage Equality, did not speak on behalf of the Catholic Church:

“Any Catholic who supports a redefinition of marriage — or so-called ‘same-sex marriage’ — is unfaithful to Catholic doctrine,” he said.

“The group calling itself ‘Catholics for Marriage Equality’ does not speak for the Catholic Church, any more than does ‘Catholics for a Free Choice’, another dissident group that promotes so-called ‘abortion rights.’ Faithful Catholics will give no credence to either.”

Frank O’Hara, a spokesperson for Catholics for Marriage Equality, released a statement in response to what Bishop Malone had said:

“Emotionally, I have to say I’m disappointed and embarrassed a little bit that he would put out a statement like this,”

“In some respect, I think the bishop is overstepping the bounds of church teaching by telling Catholics how we should vote on an issue.”

The pro-equality group today announced that it is running a series of newspaper adverts in Sunday’s papers in Maine, in order to urge people to vote in favour of marriage equality on 6 November.

Dave Guthro, a spokesperson for the diocese, clarified the Bishop’s statement, after the response:

“The Diocese was surprised to learn of the interpretation that some readers held in response to the statement from Bishop Malone,”

“It is important to realize that since the time of the apostles, a bishop holds the responsibility of teaching authoritatively to his diocese about the Catholic Faith.

“Conversely, groups such as Catholics for Marriage Equality and Catholics for Free Choice are expressing opinions, which is their right, but these groups do not speak on behalf of the church and are, in fact, purposely choosing to oppose the true teachings of the church,” he continued.

“However, even if individuals express opinions that are contrary to these true teachings, the church always holds her arms open in reconciliation.”

Anne Underwood, an attorney, and a co-founder of the pro-equality group, had said earlier that more Catholics supported equal marriage than opposed it. She said:

“We are shocked when we read the language and examples used by our bishops to incite fear in our Catholic brothers and sisters if Referendum 74 passes. The message of Jesus is love and compassion, not fear.”

Mr O’Hara had said that he, and other equality-supporting Catholics in the state would vote using their consciences on election day.

Maine, Washington and Maryland states will all be voting on marriage equality on 6 November. At the same time, voters in Minnesota will choose whether to make a constitutional amendment which would define marriage as only between one man and one woman.