Archbishop John Nienstedt welcomed a contingent of RNC delegates to the St. Paul Cathedral on Sunday afternoon, urging them to "enjoy our Minnesota hospitality" but then wasting no time making it clear that the Roman Catholic Church doesn't intend to take sides in the upcoming election.

"This is a critical election that goes beyond party politics to a question of who we are as a nation and who we want to be seen as by the rest of the world," he said in leading a mass to which the delegates and their families had been invited.

Rather than taking stands on particular issues, he said, it is the church's role to help with the "formation of conscience" that goes into decisionmaking. An ardent opponent of the fighting in Iraq, he did not mention the war. But he did speak strongly in support of right-to-life issues, including abortion.

About 150 people attended a reception for the delegates after the service. Because not all of them wore convention credentials, it was hard to tell how many were delegates and how many were spouses, but most appeared to be delegates.

They warmly received Nienstedt's message.

"The archbishop did a great job," said Kirk Overbey, a delegate from Texas. "He got it right on the head. It's the church's job to lay down the principles, but it's up to the voters to put them into practice."

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392