MILLIONS of American Catholics, beginning Sunday, will be asked to inundate Congress with a postcard blizzard demanding an override of President Clinton's veto of partial-birth abortions.
It is part of a spreading national campaign to galvanize the Catholic population into opposing the veto, which Catholic bishops have condemned as "shameful."
Because the principal target is an incumbent president up for reelection, the anti Clinton blitz could have wide electoral repercussions.
Catholics form the largest single religious voting bloc in the United States - and the most fluid. Electoral experts believe the Catholic swing vote could determine the presidential election in November.
In the last presidential contest in 1992, Clinton captured a decisive majority of Catholic votes. Representing 27 percent of the turnout, they gave Clinton 44 percent of their vote, President Bush 35 percent, and Ross Perot 20 percent.
But this year, the Catholic hierarchy is united in voice and fury at the Clinton abortion veto and Catholic politicians who voted for it.
In April, the nation's eight cardinals sent Clinton an unprecedented letter of protest, charging him with promoting infanticide and warning him that "in the weeks and months ahead," they would do everything possible to have his veto over-ridden.
Separately, Boston's Bernard Cardinal Law recently told Catholic politicians that if they could not resolve their conflict between "the demands of faithful discipleship and public service," they should resign.
"If the price of election is to deny what is true and good. then that price is too high for any faithful disciple to pay." Cardinal Law said.
Put all this together and it amounts to war. That it falls in a presidential election year is coincidental, but never have the Catholic bishops inserted themselves so dramatically in a presidential year.
One of the most active -- and influential men in the campaign is Rev. Frank Pavone, a former Staten Island priest who now heads the organization Priests for Life.
John Cardinal O'Connor turned him loose three years ago.
A tireless traveler, broadcaster, writer and preacher, Father Pavone's mission is to rouse the nation's 50,000 Catholic priests into an active pro-life ministry. That translates into a potential voter audience of millions.
He has taken his cause directly to the White House, where he met with John Hart, who among other things is Clinton's liaison to the Catholic community. Pavone has met with many prominent politicians, including Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde, Christopher Smith, Bob Dornan and Michael Forbes.
But most of all, he's tapping into the grass roots. Last week, he addressed 500 priests at a conference in Steubenville, Ohio. He already has 110 other meetings and conferences scheduled around the nation for the next few months.
"I give them all the pertinent facts they need to know about partial-birth abortions to counteract the myths out there.' Father Pavone said.
'All told, we reach about 40,000 priests with our newsletter. More and more priests are speaking out on abortion from the pulpit with new confidence and courage."
Father Pavone is a repeated guest on Mother Angelica's EWTN cable TV show. He has a seven-hour video tape series on abortion. Mother Teresa drew him to India to address the clergy on pro-life issues. Morality and theology are Father Pavone's special interests, but today, more than ever, those subjects brush hard against politics.
"As I go around the country, Catholics ask me why priests don't do more about the upcoming elections, while priests think they can do less because of the restrictions [separating church and state]," Pavone said.
"We're trying to bring both to an accurate understanding of what is possible. The church doesn't set up voting booths, but Catholics don't cease to be members of the church when they go into those booths.
"We think it's an obligation to vote and to get informed on the issues. A Vatican Council document addressed the obligation to vote, and it's within our realm to preach on it as a moral obligation."
Clinton is under severe siege on partial-birth abortions, the most barbaric of all such procedures.
The Senate and House both voted to ban them. Nearly 80 percent of the people want them banned. Southern Baptists have assailed the president's stand. Now the Catholic hierarchy is conducting an unprecedented campaign to have the veto overturned.
The battle has been joined and it will affect the presidential election. How much so is anybody's guess.