So it was no small matter when Green Bay's influential Bishop David A. Zubik issued a note in church bulletins this week urging Catholics to vote in the presidential election and to base their vote foremost on opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
Although he emphasized that he was not endorsing a candidate, Zubik dismissed the distinction that Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry -- and many other liberal Catholic leaders -- has drawn between his Catholic faith and his public life.
"Some political figures in this election have asserted that there is a natural divide between their religious beliefs and their political views," Zubik wrote in a column also published in the Compass, the diocesan newspaper. "I argue that [this] is patently false. [It] goes against the fabric of what it means to be a person of faith."
President Bush opposes abortion and favors a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage.
"When you go to your local polls, don't leave God outside," Zubik wrote. "Remember that God created marriage. It's not a lifestyle choice that seeks to make marriage by law something God never intended marriage to be."
Antiabortion Catholic activists in Green Bay, such as banker Robert B. Atwell, say abortion eclipses the war in Iraq and poverty as an election issue. "They say all we care about is abortion. Well, it speaks volumes about Kerry's views," Atwell said.
Other Catholics in Green Bay, however, bridled at the intrusion of politics. "I really like the bishop, but I wish he'd keep politics out of the church literature," said Barbara Brandtner, a schoolteacher in Green Bay. A priest in a large church here who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to anger his bishop said he has declined to let presidential politics enter his church. "The community is divided enough," he said.