While priests are expected to take stands on nonpartisan political issues, the Vatican draws a sharp line on how politically involved its priests can become.

The Roman Catholic Church forbids its clergy from running for public office. But priests who do speak out on political issues should do so with some humility and should not attempt to point fingers at individuals or groups or pass judgment on anyone. Priests have no authority to tell lay people how they should vote. They have a legal right to take their own political positions but they ought not attempt to influence others by taking them to the pulpit.

The ban on priest running for public office comes from the Vatican, not by law. Priest had been free to serve as political leaders throughout history until the 20th century, when secular governments collapsed during the Dark Ages and the Church preserved culture and society. But from the time of World War 1 through World War 2, the Vatican was ''embarrassed'' by priests elected to leadership in corrupt governments.

While there are no constitutional, legal or civil restrictions on priests running for office, the Vatican has been very vehement in forbidding it. The Catholic Church after centuries of experience decided this was not the way to go. The Vatican's policy barring priests from public office was reinforced in 1980 when Pope John Paul 2 ordered all Catholic priests to withdraw from electoral politics. At that time a Catholic priest had joined the Cabinet of Nicaragua's Sandinista government.

In july1993, Pope John Paul 2 said ''Priests do not have a political mission and must renounce involvement in political activity, especially by not taking sides'. Are our priests conforming to the instructions of the Pope? It is for you to decide.

DA Corriette