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A political mailer sent by the Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party depicting the body of a priest wearing a button that says "Ignore the Poor" is an attempt to exploit anti-Catholic sentiment for political gain, the Catholic League said Wednesday.
The DFL insists the image is part of an effort to criticize a particular Republican candidate, not Catholics. A spokesman said the mailer is directed at Dan Hall, a Protestant minister and CEO of non-profit Midwest Chaplains, who is running for state Senate against DFL Sen. John Doll.
"Dan Hall is willing to enlist God and religion in his campaign when it helps him, but in fact, his views hurt the poorest and sickest among us, and this mailing holds him accountable for those views," DFL spokesman Donald McFarland told Fox News.
But Catholic League President Bill Donohue says the DFL would never have dismissed the criticism if it had used an image of an imam.
"The DFL deliberately exploited Catholic imagery to make a political point," Donohue said. "If the DFL wants to paint Hall as anti-poor, then do it. But don't do it by hijacking Catholic imagery."
The mailer, which is one of two, went out under the DFL banner, and is an independent expenditure not endorsed by Doll. The second mailer has an image of an angel holding a scroll that says "Blessed are the Rich."
The tagline reads: "Preacher Dan Hall: Pushing Politics from the Pulpit."
Doll issued a statement Wednesday saying his campaign had "nothing to do" with the mailing, calling the imagery "unfortunate."
"I have run a positive campaign based on my record of accomplishment for the district and have asked the DFL to refrain from sending any future mailings of this nature into my district. I call on all third parties engaged in negative campaigning, whether in my district or elsewhere, to cease these activities for the benefit of Minnesota voters," he said.
But McFarland said the two-piece mailer aims to highlight Hall's decision not to criticize Gov. Tim Pawlenty and state Republican lawmakers who cut funding to a state health care program in order to balance the budget.
The funding cut resulted in moving thousands of low-income recipients from one program to another that isn't on-budget, but critics say the alternative offers fewer services and costs medical providers more.
"Some Republican bloggers have taken one image from the first piece, and claimed that the mail is somehow anti-Catholic. But the text explicitly criticizes Preacher Hall for distancing himself from policy views that have been taken by the Catholic Archdiocese, by the Lutheran Synod and other leaders in Minnesota's faith community," McFarland said.
Hall, who called the mailer a slight against Catholicism, said he was surprised by the "extreme" imagery. He also questioned the point of using a priest in the depiction.
"I've never worn a collar so that is way out of line," he said.
Hall added that he's spent 30 years ministering to the poor.
"I think it's really terrible that we have all of this negative campaigning but this one is really below the belt. I think it affects a lot of people, churchgoing people," Hall said. "They just don't like that I've got a religious background."