Deal Hudson publishes a small-circulation Catholic magazine called Crisis and volunteers as a Bush-Cheney campaign adviser on Catholic matters. This week he announced he would step down from his volunteer position, after the National Catholic Reporter, another Catholic publication, published the details of a decade-old sexual harassment case involving Hudson and an 18-year-old college student.

Somehow, this Catholic inside-baseball story has turned huge. It was carried by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, network television, and countless blogs. It even made it onto a Chinese wire service.

So why do people care about Deal Hudson? Because Hudson, 54, is far more than a religious magazine publisher, or even a Bush campaign adviser. Hudson is the most important point man in the Administration's effort to court Catholic voters. A confidante of White House political director Karl Rove since 1998, he is part of an exclusive weekly Republican National Committee strategy meeting about outreach to Catholics.

And he's not just behind the scenes. At the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandals, Hudson took on Bill Clinton. "Those who are not willing to bear the burden of these higher standards should not seek office," he wrote. "After we have stripped away all idealism from offices that bind our culture together -- president, father, husband--what will be left for us to aspire to? Who will want to sacrifice personal desires for public responsibilities?" In May he told the Washington Post that Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry should be denounced from the pulpit "whenever and wherever he campaigns as a Catholic."

A frequent visitor to the White House, Hudson was the person on whom the Bush campaign pinned its success with Catholics.

And that success is critical, because most political observers believe the winner of the Catholic vote this year will win the election, which is a dead heat according to various national polls. Only about 5 percent of voters nationwide are now undecided, according to Zogby International. Ordinarily, about 20 percent of voters are undecided in the summer before a presidential election. And most critically, a large number of those undecideds are Catholics living in the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, according to religion and politics expert John Green.

Hudson--a 1982 convert to Catholicism who grew up Southern Baptist in Texas--was the man who told Republican leaders how to connect to Catholic voters. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, told the New York Times that Hudson played an almost indispensable role for the White House. "He had become the point man,'' Donohue said. "If you wanted to get something to the top inner circles of the White House from a Catholic perspective, you could contact Deal Hudson and it was delivered."

Political analyst Green told Beliefnet on Friday that "Hudson's resignation may matter in terms of the effort to get conservative Catholics to turnout and vote for Bush in large numbers." On the other hand, Green said, "the groundwork may well have been prepared sufficiently already."

Contacted for comment on Friday, Hudson declined, saying in a statement through his spokeswoman that he "deeply regrets the incident that happened while he was at Fordham University. However, he is still bound by his confidentiality agreement regarding the matter."

According to a story published Aug. 19 in the National Catholic Reporter, Hudson surrendered his tenure as a philosophy professor at Fordham in 1994, following allegations of an inappropriate sexual relationship with a freshman female student. He also paid a settlement of $30,000 to terminate a lawsuit that the student brought against him on the basis of the allegations.

Hudson wrote in the National Review Online this week that he believes the allegations are "being dug up ...for political reasons in an attempt to undermine the causes I have fought for: the defense of Church teachings on life, the priesthood, the authority of the pope, and the need for faithful Catholic participation in politics."

Donohue agreed, releasing a statement on Friday full of sarcasm and pique: "The Catholic League has a new requirement for all future employees: all candidates must show proof of being immaculately conceived, that is, they must demonstrate that they were conceived without sin..In light of the revelation that the National Catholic Reporter decided to expose a sexual harassment charge against Deal Hudson-one that was made almost a decade ago by a drunken female he met in a bar-we at the Catholic League are not prepared to take any chances."