The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland has written to churchgoers urging them not to vote for parties whose policies clash with its doctrine.
Faith schools is one of the issues the Church supports
The letter, signed by seven members of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, said Catholics must consider how each party addresses issues such as faith schools, abortion and contraception.
It does not instruct Catholics to vote for or against particular parties in the Holyrood elections on 1 May.
But a church spokesman admitted that it could prompt a crisis of conscience for Catholic supporters of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).
The SSP is pledging to abolish
denominational schools in its manifesto.
It is also campaigning for the morning-after pill to be made available free of
charge from pharmacists.
In the letter, which will go out to parishes in the next two weeks, Scotland's
bishops urge their congregations "to recognise the necessity of responsible
participation in political life".
They add: "Exercising the right to vote is an integral part of such
participation and must be done in accord with one's conscience formed by the
teachings of the Church."
Church spokesman John Deighan said that this meant Catholics thinking for
themselves about which box to cross on 1 May.
The SSP in quite a few areas do clash quite strongly with Catholic
"We want people to take on the responsibility of getting involved and if we
start to tell them to vote for or against candidates, they are not doing that,"
He admitted that the letter placed potential Catholic SSP voters in a
"The SSP in quite a few areas do clash quite strongly with Catholic
preachings," he said.
Letter to congregations
"If a party is against Catholic schools or in favour of abortion, it would be
very difficult for voters for them.
"But the bishops have not gone as far as to say there are parties you cannot
vote for because people have to decide for themselves."
The Bishops Conference of Scotland sends out a similar letter to congregations
before every election in Scotland.
Mr Deighan said this year's communiqué drew particular attention to faith
schools because of the controversy the issue has attracted in recent months.
'Poverty and inequality'
SSP leader Tommy Sheridan, who was raised as a Catholic, hit out at the Catholic Church over
"The fundamental message of the SSP is to wipe out poverty and inequality
which is at the very core of the Catholic Church's message," he said.
"I would have thought that, in relation to philosophy and message, the SSP is
closer to the Catholic Church than any other political party.
"I would urge Catholics to vote against poverty and for the redistribution of
Scotland's wealth - that's the essence of Christianity."