The NY Times tiptoes up to the question of whether, and how, the newly elected Pope intervened in the last Presidential election. However, they don't actually present either key evidence or a clear conclusion. Their strongest statement is this:
Catholic voters, long overwhelmingly Democratic, have become a critical swing vote...
At the same time, some American bishops have become more assertive in urging their congregations to vote in accord with Catholic teachings on those issues - and in moving to chastise Catholic officials who disagree, in a few cases by threatening to deny them Communion. The bishops acted with the support and encouragement of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the new pope, who at the time headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
This standoff has pitted church leaders against some of the leading Democrats in the country, and came to a boil last year around the presidential candidacy of Senator John Kerry. He is a Catholic who supports abortion rights, and argued that he could not impose "my article of faith" on others who did not share it.
Well. As noted in this post, there were Catholic hardliners who thought that, although he provided a bit of early "support and encouragement" to hardline Bishops, Cardinal Ratzinger eventually pulled the rug out from under them.
This WaPo story certainly suggests that, since it reports Archbishop Burke of St. Louis backing down from his position that proper Catholics could not vote for a pro-choice candidate. (Although views differ.)
So which is it - did Ratzinger encourage the hardliners, or hold them back? (Or both?) The Times may never know, and never tell.
There is certainly plenty to mock about the press coverage of this - per the WaPo story, Ratzinger wrote a key letter in June, the full text of which was reported in an Italian newspaper. However, it was not until September that some bright light in the media found a paisano who could translate some of the critical paragraphs.
That said, the Catholic News Service seemed to capture the key issues on July 8, 2004:
In a recent memorandum, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger laid out the principles under which bishops or other ministers may deny Communion to Catholic politicians who consistently promote legal abortion.
At the same time, he said it is not necessarily sinful for Catholics to vote for politicians who support abortion, as long as they are voting for that candidate for other reasons.
... Cardinal Ratzinger's comments on Catholic voters -- in private communication briefly outlining principles for consideration rather than exploring them in depth -- came at the end of the memorandum. It touched on an evolving issue that is important to many Catholics during the 2004 presidential election campaign: The presumptive Democratic candidate, John Kerry, is a Catholic who supports legal abortion.
Two U.S. bishops -- Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis and Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs -- recently said that Catholics who knowingly vote for pro-abortion politicians would be committing a grave sin.
Cardinal Ratzinger's note underlined the principles involved for the Catholic voter. (Ed. Note: As described above)
Well, that sounds like Ratzinger reined in the hardliners. Don't tell the Times.
UPDATE: Good job by Benedict, who sorts through a bait-and-switch by one of the American bishops. But was Ratzinger playing the fool, or playing along?