Is Archbishop Charles Chaput giving a back-door endorsement to a Republican Senate candidate in Colorado? Denver Post columnist Diane Carman thinks so. She noted in her column today that Chaput's recent message in the Denver Catholic Register sure seemed to steer Catholic voters toward candidate Peter Coors. Coors, chairman of the Coors beer company and founder of the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing Washington-based advocacy group, recently announced his decision to seek the Senate seat being vacated by Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Coors not only founded one of the nation's wealthiest right-wing political groups, but has sunk plenty of money into fighting reproductive rights, as well any legislation beneficial to gays. His Democratic opponent is likely to be the state's two-term attorney general, Ken Salazar. Salazar, Carman notes, is Catholic like Coors, but does support "women's right to choose."

"It didn't take a magic decoder ring to figure out" who Archbishop Chaput was endorsing for the Senate seat, wrote Carman.

Declared Chaput in his April 14 column, "Catholic lawmakers who do not vigorously seek to protect human dignity and the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death are not serving democracy. They are betraying it."

Chaput's essay, headlined "How to tell a duck from a fox," concluded by warning his readers that candidates for public office "may try to look Catholic and sound Catholic, but unless they act Catholic in their public service and political choices, they're really a very different creature," and that "real Catholics should vote accordingly." Observed the prelate, "If it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck. A fox can claim to be a duck all day long. But he's still a fox."

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told the Denver Post's Carman that the archbishop's column "looks and feels like it crosses the line." Tax law prohibits non-profits, including churches, from endorsing candidates or otherwise helping to get them elected to public office. Lynn said churches must refrain from political activity, which would be "an inappropriate role and an illegal role."

"I don't mind the smell of incense in a church, but I don't like the smell of cigar smoke coming out of the basement where they're having a PAC meeting," he said.

Mary Ann Cunningham, a member of the Sisters of Loretto for more than 50 years, also disagreed with the archbishop. She told Carman that pronouncements from Vatican II regarding the role of conscience defend the rights of Catholics to think for themselves. And, she added,"While religious leaders have a full right to express their views and lobby on any subject in our society, we believe that spiritual coercion not only undermines the separation of church and state but also weakens the authority of those leaders who rely on it."

Polls show that the vast majority of American Catholics oppose political endorsements by the clergy.