What will Cardinal Dolan's role be in the run-up to November elections?

Although the Democratic Party does not include Timothy Cardinal Dolan???s benediction on its official convention website this week, the powerful closing prayer from Charlotte Thursday has sent out powerful political shockwaves.

In closing the Democratic National Convention, the prayer of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York had a not-so-subtle appeal for the sanctity of life and for traditional marriage. In so doing, Cardinal Dolan directly challenged the Democratic Party???s platform planks — not to mention many prime-time speakers during the week — supporting ???a woman???s right to choose??? and, for the first time, gay marriage.

Now the questions start. Will His Eminence actually speak out in favor of the Romney-Ryan ticket in the fall? Will Cardinal Dolan follow the advice of a petition drive by many Roman Catholics and uninvite President Obama to the Alfred E. Smith banquet in New York this October, the largest event for Catholic charity in the nation?

In a benediction quite similar to that with which he closed the Republican National Convention in Tampa a week earlier, Cardinal Dolan said before Democrats in Charlotte Thursday: ???Thus do we praise you for the gift of life. Grant us to defend it. Life, without which no other rights are secure. We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected.???

In an obvious reference to traditional marriage, Dolan went on to say in his benediction: ???Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Empower us with your grace, so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.???

Following the news that Cardinal Dolan would deliver the closing prayer at the Republican National Convention, His Eminence came under criticism from such outlets as the liberal Catholic publication America for appearing to favor one party over another. Dolan promptly announced he would be in Charlotte to deliver the benediction right after President Obama???s acceptance speech.

But the involvement of leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in U.S. politics is not new. New York???s Cardinal John O???Connor requested President Bill Clinton not attend the Alfred E. Smith dinner in 1996, as did Cardinal Edward Egan of New York with Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004. In both cases, the reason for the ???please don???t come??? signal was the pro-abortion stands of the Democratic nominees.

In 1988, Archbishop John F. Whealon of Hartford, Conn. announced he was ending his lifelong affiliation with the Democratic Party over the abortion issue and voting for Republican George H.W. Bush over Democrat Michael Dukakis.

Just what Cardinal Dolan will do next and how far he will go in what is shaping up as a clash between the White House and the Roman Catholic Church will be one of the most intriguing side stories of the 2012 campaign.