PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 17, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - As the November general election approaches, America’s Catholic bishops have been walking a fine line as they strive to avoid appearances of partisanship while at the same time they wage a high-profile battle against the Obama administration over religious freedom.

Earlier this month, one of the leading lights in the U.S. episcopate insisted he “certainly” could not vote for Obama, while not specifically endorsing his Republic opponent Mitt Romney.

Asked whether a Catholic could vote for Obama in good faith, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia replied: “I can only speak in terms of my own personal views. I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion.”

In a wide-ranging interview with John Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter, published Friday, the archbishop drew a sharp distinction between a candidate’s “prudential judgments” about how we care for the poor, and his position on an intrinsic evil like abortion.

Responding to concerns over the budget proposed by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, which some Catholic bishops and other critics had called immoral because it cut programs to the poor, the archbishop pointed out that people of good faith can legitimately disagree over the role of government in providing aid to the poor.

“Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell,” he insisted. “But Jesus didn’t say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them. Those are prudential judgments.”

“You can’t say that somebody’s not Christian because they want to limit taxation,” he continued. “To say that it’s somehow intrinsically evil like abortion doesn’t make any sense at all.”

The archbishop, while noting he is a registered independent, said he has “deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom.”

Chaput also said the bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign in the summer was a success in raising greater awareness among Catholics about the grave threat to religious freedom facing America.

“The history of the world demonstrates that if we aren’t always on guard about religious freedom, we’ll lose it. It happens everywhere, and it could happen in the United States,” he observed.

“I would never have thought, even ten years ago, that we would be dealing with it so quickly,” he added.

On the HHS mandate, Chaput said he “can’t imagine” the courts would not overturn it. “If we don’t win, I’ll be astonished, and I’ll be even more worried about the future of religious freedom in our country,” he said.

“Those who oppose us on the mandates are very insistent. I thought they would back down by now, but they haven’t,” he continued. “We have to fight as vigorously in opposing them as they are in imposing them. Who’s going to win? I don’t know. It will be whoever fights the hardest and wins the hearts and minds of the people.”

Read the full interview at the National Catholic Reporter.