And its possible impact on the politics in this presidential election year, is looked at in this excerpt from an excellent article from the “National Catholic Reporter

Many are curious about Vatican’s take on ’08 presidential race
Posted on Feb 21, 2008 21:45pm CST.

Next week, the annual “Catholic Social Ministry Gathering” will take place in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by 19 Catholic organizations, it’s an important annual get-together for Catholics who, in one way or another, are involved in social action and political advocacy on behalf of human life, justice and peace.

The theme is “Faithful Citizenship: Promoting Life and Dignity, Justice and Peace,” a reference to the U.S. bishops’ recent document on Catholics and the ’08 elections. I’ll be on the scene covering the event for NCR, both our Web site and the print edition. (I will also, by the way, be standing in for David Brooks on a panel with Mark Shields towards the end of the agenda.)

Inevitably, the elections and the question of the “Catholic vote” will be much in the air. It’s likely, too, that talk around the edges will focus on how Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming April 15-20 visit to the United States might be read in terms of the dynamics of an election year.

I can certainly guarantee that the question of political fallout from the pope’s visit will be much on the minds of journalists covering it, having already taken part in several meetings and conference calls with TV producers gearing up for Benedict’s arrival. (Not everyone is focused on politics, however; one producer from the Los Angeles market asked me if she could expect any “celebrity presence” during the pope’s stay, obviously construing Benedict’s agenda by way of comparison with the Dali Lama and Richard Gere. I patiently tried to explain that Robert De Niro or Al Pacino would not be introducing the Holy Father at gala fundraisers.)

I spoke at the lovely Cathedral of St. Francis in Metuchen, New Jersey, Tuesday night, and I also sensed curiosity about the political dimension of the pope’s trip at the Catholic grass roots.

Because neither of the presidential candidates in ’08 is likely to be Catholic, Benedict at least will not have to face questions about whether he would give communion to John McCain, Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton. Pundits and news producers will, however, be scouring the pope’s commentary to see if it seems to cut in one direction or another. If he delivers a strong pro-life message, that might be spun as favoring the Republicans; if he accents the church’s stands against the war, that might be seen as a boon for the Democrats among Catholic voters.

If, as is likely, he makes all of these points in some form, the picture will obviously be more muddled.