NEW YORK (CNN) - The official motto of Pope Benedict XVI's April 15-20 visit to the United States, the first of his papacy, is "Christ our Hope." Based on the frequency with which papal spokespersons have struck a different note, however, its unofficial motto might well be, "This is not a political event."
Here's a typical example from early April: "The pope is not coming to get mixed up in the local political process," said Italian Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the pope's ambassador to America, in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter. "His presence is about something more universal and, at the same time, more personal."
Fear that Benedict's visit might be read through the lens of party politics reflects a key fact of electoral life in America: The "Catholic vote" matters. To take the most obvious example, if a few heavily Catholic counties in Ohio had gone the other way in 2004, pundits would today be handicapping the re-election of President John Kerry.