Kate Hicks
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In a rather blunt and significant letter to parishoners, the Bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin urged Catholics to vote for candidates in line with Catholic doctrine on life and family issues. While Bishop David Ricken didn't name names, his letter clearly indicated a party preference merely on the basis of the positions he urged Catholics to support. What's more, he noted that the consequences of voting the other way are dire:

Ricken’s letter, dated Oct. 24, notes that the church has a responsibility to “speak out regarding moral issues, especially on those issues that impact the ‘common good.’” It goes on to note principles to keep in mind in the voting booth on Nov. 6, including abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and gay marriage.

“A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program that contradicts fundamental contents of faith and morals,” Ricken said in the letter. “Some candidates and one party have even chosen some of these as their party’s or their personal political platform. To vote for someone in favor of these positions means that you could be morally ‘complicit’ with these choices which are intrinsically evil. This could put your own soul in jeopardy.

Ricken’s guidance on these issues carry a lot of weight in this region — the diocese has 304,614 members in 16 counties. Across the state, Catholics make up more than 25 percent of the population, or 1.5 million people, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies’ 2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study.

The full letter is here -- if nothing else, it's an interesting indication of the growing difference in the different schools of Catholic political thought, the more conservative "life" wing, and the more liberal "peace and justice" wing.

Given that Wisconsin is a state in play this election, and the important role Catholics play in the electorate there, this is an interesting and potentially powerful development. Catholics are generally a swing bloc, and if a major cleric is imparting some rather direct and forceful advice about what to consider when voting, some very well may vote that way.

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Kate Hicks

Kate Hicks is one of Townhall.com's web editors. You can follow her on Twitter @KateBHicks.