Pope Impacts Presidential Politics From Afar

Pope Benedict has a history of being provocative.

Before he was the pontiff, when he was a cardinal, he said critical and controversial things about homosexuality, Islam, Buddhism, even rock 'n' roll.

As pope, he continues to make waves.

At a Thursday night rally where the pope spoke, the crowd shouted, "No to abortion. Yes to life."

Just a day earlier, Benedict appeared to say that he supported excommunication for politicians who supported abortion rights.

"The killing of an innocent life is simply not compatible with the communion taken in Christ's name," he said.

His spokesman later clarified that the pope didn't want politicians who supported abortion rights to be excommunicated, but that they shouldn't take communion.

Nonetheless, the comment will likely be taken to heart by many.

"Both by Catholic politicians who may have some fear in their hearts now, by some American bishops, and some Catholics who may say, 'Oh this is not a good sign. This means the church is going to be dictating our political life,'" said Chester Gillis, a professor of theology at Georgetown University.

The pope's comments shine a brighter light on a thorny and difficult issue for Catholic Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, a supporter of abortion rights.

"I do not get into debates with the pope," Giuliani has said. "That is not a good idea, and not just because I am a Catholic."

Giuliani's not the only Republican candidate wrestling with the abortion issue.

Mitt Romney was greeted Thursday by demonstrators in flip-flops, protesting the fact that he only decided to oppose abortion in 2004.

Even though the pope doesn't vote and doesn't live in the United States, he can have a very big impact on the race.

"The pope can certainly elevate the debate and force presidential aspirants to grapple with these issues," said Kellyanne Conway, a political analyst and president of the Polling Company.

Pope-watchers say we should expect even more pointed comments in the future.

"He is certainly not afraid of controversy," Gillis said. "He is quite firm in what the church teaches, and he is not about to back down from any confrontation if he thinks that the church is right."