The personal tone of the response stems mostly from the high stakes involved in the presidential election. But also stems from a feud between the two publications. Crisis is the magazine of politically conservative Catholics. National Catholic Reporter is read by liberals. The two publications are both politically wired and well-known to Catholic (and non-Catholic) movers and shakers.

NCR's explosive story had its genesis in an action taken by Hudson last spring: After learning that a low level employee at the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for African-American Catholics hosted a "Catholics for Kerry" Internet forum, Hudson wrote in his widely distributed email newsletter that the employee, Ono Ekeh, shouldn't work for the bishops' conference because Kerry is pro-choice. Ekeh was soon forced to resign.

"If you're going to play in the sandbox," Hudson told NCR last spring, "then you have to take the consequences of your public utterances and your public actions."

Reporter Joe Feuerherd said he decided to write a profile of Hudson partly as a result of Ekeh's firing, reasoning that Hudson had "successfully placed himself at the center of things both Catholic and political in the nation's capitol."

While Feuerherd researched his story during the spring, Hudson friend Bill Donohue of the Catholic League learned that the Kerry campaign had hired Mara Vanderslice as its director of religious outreach-and complained that, among other actions, she had spoke at rallies held by ACT-UP, the AIDS activism group that disrupted Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1989 by spitting the Eucharist on the floor. As a result, the Kerry campaign deep-sixed Vanderslice, who hasn't been heard from since June. Last month, after the Democratic National Committee hired the Rev. Brenda Bartella Peterson as its senior religion adviser, Donohue surfaced again, pointing out that Peterson had sided with atheist Michael Newdow in a Supreme Court case seeking to censor the words `under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance. Peterson immediately resigned.

Hudson believes he was "outed" by NCR because of the paper's anger at conservatives' power. NCR editor Tom Roberts responded, in a signed note that ran alongside Feuerherd's story: "All of us, as Hudson put it, have done things in our lives that we regret. But not everyone is a public figure, seeking the spotlight and rubbing elbows regularly with the most powerful in the land. Most of us don't regularly publicly denounce those whose personal behavior we think deficient; fewer still have the power to get someone fired for maintaining a political Web site because we disagree with its content; or to claim with some validity that we are responsible for getting like-minded Catholics appointed to positions of power at the highest levels of government."

Today, with days to go before the Republican National Convention and then a few short weeks before the Nov. 2 election, it's impossible to know who will win the White House. But both political parties know this: there are 64 million Catholics in the United States, or about 25% of the population. Recent polling has shown Catholics with a slight preference for John Kerry, the first Catholic candidate since 1960, over President Bush. Catholics who attend church infrequently support Kerry by a wide margin. However, among Mass-attending Catholics, Bush leads Kerry. These are the voters Hudson has helped the Bush campaign capture.

Meanwhile, combined data from Gallup's two most recent polls, conducted July 19-21 and July 30-Aug. 1, show that Catholic registered voters who attend church weekly support Bush over Kerry, 52% to 42%. They represent about one-third of all Catholic registered voters. Among Catholic registered voters who attend church nearly every week or monthly, Kerry leads Bush, 50% to 45%. This group represents about 27% of all Catholic registered voters. Among Catholic registered voters who rarely or never attend church, Kerry leads, 57% to 39%. This group represents about 38% of all U.S. Catholic registered voters.

Donohue told the New York Times that Hudson's resignation would hurt the Bush campaign's efforts with Catholic voters. "He was the ultimate networker," Donohue said. "I think it will be hurt because of the ties that Deal had."

Hudson clearly knew the stakes in the spring. "This election is nothing less than a test for the Catholic Church in the United States," Hudson told Beliefnet in a May interview.

And now, perhaps, more so.

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