'You weren't to know' are the soothing words Father Francis O'Donnell finds himself uttering twenty times a day to guilt-ridden parishioners confessing to having helped to put Nick Clegg into office.
Despite this reassurance, 'They blame themselves so much,' he tells me. 'These are fundamentally decent people who have just made a grievous mistake through no fault of their own. But they ask themselves, "Why didn't I read between the lines of the Manifesto more carefully?" Or they search their motives, torturing themselves with thoughts such as "Maybe I wanted my cousin Joe to lose his job because he beat me at tennis", or "Maybe I wanted my kids' school to close down because Cheryl makes jokes about my bald spot and I had to return that Mars Bar that Benny stole from the newsagents."
'And they're so ashamed,' he continues, 'that it's difficult for them even to describe this particular offence. They'll own up to all kinds of sins of omission and commission, such as not answering that childhood friend who sent a card last Christmas, spending an hour a day looking oneself up on Google, thinking up gruesome tortures to inflict on the boss, or using the Bag for Life to clean up after the dog. But then there'll be a pause, and an indrawn breath - and I know what's coming.
'At that point I encourage them, saying "It's all right, you can tell me. Remember, God's mercy is vast." And finally come the broken words, "I - I - God help me, I voted Liberal Democrat!"'
'But surely,' I object, 'you can't impose a penance on someone for exercising his democratic right to vote!'
'I must,' insists the good Father, 'in order to ease their minds. The usual penance is ten Hail Marys and a substantial donation to Shelter. I also have some words of warning to try to prevent them and anyone they know from suffering the same spiritual fate. Namely, remember that, because of man's fallen condition, any politician, however apparently principled, liberal, and humane when out of power, once having attained it becomes a shit on wheels - for, whatever the state of the economy, the Devil always pays a good price.'
Thinking that that sounds pretty negative for a priest, I ask, 'So what is the conscientious citizen supposed to do at election time?'
'It's quite simple. Just vote for a party that has no chance of being elected. And wait for the Kingdom of God. Or,' it occurred to him, 'if you're an atheist, just smoke dope.'
After making a note of all this, I just had one more question: 'What about Tory voters? Do you get a lot of them in the confessional?'
'Not at all,' said Father O'Donnell sadly. 'But on reflection, it's just as well, because I'm afraid that for them there's no hope at all.'