By Eric Marrapodi and Brianna Keilar, CNN
(CNN)–After years of bridge building with the Catholic Church, the Obama administration may have damaged some of the good will it built up with the nation's 70 million Catholics, which could have steep consequences at the polls in November.
Some rank and file Catholics are beginning to express the same frustrations as clergy about a new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services policy requiring all employers, including religious ones, to pay for FDA-approved contraceptives, such as the birth control pill and Plan B, through health insurance plans. Churches are exempt but hospitals and schools with religious affiliations must comply. The new policy goes into effect August 1, 2012, but religious groups who oppose contraception have been given a yearlong extension to enforce the policy.
"What's offensive is that we're being told, our Catholic institutions which serve this nation well, are being told you who find these things offensive, you should pay for them, in fact you must pay for them," Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, told CNN.
Catholic teaching opposes the use of contraceptives. Wuerl acknowledged the clergy and the faithful have been at odds over the teachings on contraceptive use. But on this policy he said both are in lockstep over what is being perceived as a violation of religious liberties.
"This time around what people are seeing this isn't a question of one moral teaching or another, it's being able to teach at all. Our freedom, and everyone has a stake in freedom in this country, and I think that's why this resonates across the board," he said.
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Wuerl is calling his congregants to action, asking them to call congress and the White House to express their displeasure.
"We're beginning to say to our people this is what the issue is, it's wrong, we've never experienced this in the history of our country before, this is a violation of the basic rights of conscience and religious liberty. So you need to know that and you need to speak up," he said.
The timing of the administration's announcement has drawn criticism for being tone deaf, coming just three days before tens of thousands of protesters, many of them Catholics who oppose abortion rights, came to Washington for the annual March for Life on the anniversary of Roe vs Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.
"In my estimation it's a huge misstep politically," said Stephen Schneck a political scientist from Catholic University who has consulted with the administration on Catholic issues. In 2009, Schneck also worked with pro-abortion rights Democrats in Congress on the president’s signature health care reform measure to find language that ensured government funds did not pay for abortions.
"The way in which the narrative is being developed is that the administration is at odds with the Catholic Church fundamentally. What I'm seeing in the pews is something of a waking up, a Catholic solidarity. That I think could very well carry over into their political activities" Schneck said. "There's nothing like having a sense of opposition to you to rally the troops and I suspect that's going to happen here."
Schneck pointed particularly to states with large Catholic populations where this new solidarity could have a far-reaching political impact.
"If you look at where those Catholics are, they're in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Florida, which are of course critical states for anyone who wants to become president of the United States," he said.
In 2008, President Obama won 54% of the Catholic vote, according to the Pew Research Center. Early on in his presidency, Obama reached out to Catholics. He appointed prominent Catholics to several cabinet positions and ambassadorships.
In May 2009, the president delivered the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame, where he spoke of working together on abortion.
"Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women. Those are things we can do," the president said to rousing applause from the crowd in South Bend, Indiana.
In shaping the new Health and Human Services policy, the administration reached out to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the public policy arm of the church in the United States, and other Catholic leaders in November to seek their input in the process. Many of the same Catholic leaders received a heads up on January 20 several hours before the administration announced the policy.
"This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty. I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the statement about the policy.
On Tuesday in the White House briefing room, Press Secretary Jay Carney again defended the administration's decision when pressed by reporters.
"After very careful consideration the administration believes that this strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing access to important preventive services. We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concern," Carney said.
The administration is extremely concerned this will affect Catholic voters’ support.
As the opposition grew this week, the administration noted to reporters there were Catholics in and out of government who support the measure, as well as interfaith groups.
Late Wednesday night the White House launched the first part of an information campaign to spell out what the policy change does and does not do.
An administration official also pointed to nearly $2 billion in federal grants that have gone to Catholic-related charities since the beginning of the administration as a sign of the willingness to work together.
James Salt, executive director of Catholics United, which hasn't taken a position on the HHS policy, said there could be a silver lining for both Catholics and the administration on this issue. He said with more women able to access contraceptives there could be a reduction in abortions stemming from unplanned pregnancies as a result of the policy.
"More needs to be done on both sides. It's not just a question for the administration, it's a question for the pro-life community and the pro-choice community to put aside their heated rhetoric and find common ground," Salt said.
Abortion should be mandatory
Please take your ignorant excreta elsewhere. We're trying to have an (reasonably) intelligent discussion.
Obama would probably agree. As state senator, he heard a nurse testify that babies born alive after late abortions were left to die. He voted to deny those babies any medical care. he said it would defeat the purpose of the abortion and cause legal issues for doctors. the nurse said he was cold as ice. heartless. grim.
The problem, you moron, is that you don't have a clue how abortions are actually performed. Your other problem is that you pass along idiotic Urban Legends like they were fact.
The Obama mandate is an affront to religious liberties. It should be weighed carefully by all no matter your position on contraception or practice of faith.
I agree. Would Obama mandate that U.S. Muslim schools serve Bacon-Lettuce-Tomato sandwiches in their lunch programs? Of course he wouldn't...
Something tells me that the REAL problem you have with Obama has more do do with his skin color than the fact that random strangers you'll never meet might be able to get a minor discount on their birth control pills.
Actually, Martoon, it would be more like Jehovah Witnesses being able to prevent their employees from getting blood transfusions. You dimwit.
U.S. Muslim schools would be private schools, would they not? Private schools receive no tax money for operations. The catholic hospitals in question should stop accepting Medicare/Medicaid payments and grants from HCFA and HRSA. "Problem" solved!
No provate hospital should be forced to provide abortions. Muslims also don't believe in abortion and if it were Muslims, Obama would be "pretecting their rights" and pandering for their votes.
He has offended every other group in America except Muslims actually
Mavent, how dare you? I voted for President Obama and have absolutely no issue with his race. Why have you chosen to interject such a thoughtless and hurtful comment?
@prezhussein, you need to be introduced to snopes... Stop repeating rumors.
Nonsense. This is discrimination against women, plain and simple. It's sad to see a woman so brainwashed that she would defend this. If you think this is an issue of church and state you are grossly mistaken and should do your homework rather than regurgitate the views of a defunct set of impotent men.
WST, your last line says it all about where you stand. No sense having a dialogue with you about religious liberty.
Have a pleasant afternoon!
Last time I looked, there was separation between church and state in this country. I'm sick of the media pumping one religious group against another in an attempt to create controversy. If the Catholics decide not to support the current administration and join with the fundies, they'll only be supporting a losing proposition and regressing back to the 'minority' function they held in the 50's.
Lets take a look at morals. If for some reason you bend your morals for what others think is right, how far will you bend them. They will eventually break. If you are looking for Birth Control then go somewhere that provides it. It's not that tough, or make the Catholic Health Care business refer you there. To Mr Blasphemy, Don't tell me this is a black, yellow, white or what ever issue. It's not. If you had a heart attack would you go to a Podiatrists? Go the the Health Care Provider that will treat what you want/need. I for one don't want big brother telling Catholic, Protestant, or Muslum Health care businesses what they have to do that is against their faith. Lets take a giant leap and say, Big Brother said don't treat anyone over the age of 60. Sorry I'm prolife. I respect anyone that is prochoice. It is their right. All I ask it the same respect. I'm really confused why anyone would go to a Catholic Health Care business and want birth control. If the Doctor works there I would only assume he holds the same views as the administration. I'll leave with one last question. Is there anyone out there that has had a problem with it?
You sound a little confused. Catholic health care business do not have to provide birth control.
I will say I am anti-Catholic. My grandparents were Catholic. They donated so much money to their church it was ridiculous. Then when my grandfather got deathly ill with cancer, they only ever came to visit him once. That was to get the money so they could give him his last rites.
Then my dad (who was not religious) was on his death bed with cancer. His mom's (different grandmother of mine and a different church) priest told her that if he didn't give him the $75 for last rites that he was going to heII and would suffer God's wrath. What a great thing to tell someone who is about to lose their son!
I was not raised Catholic. Though I was raised in another faith (which I also detest for many reasons), I see the Catholic church for what it really is. A money-making scheme. That's all they care about. Money, money, money. Your salvation is based upon money apparently.
I dare say that that $75 fee is an outright lie.
It is too bad you feel that way. It sounds as if you are basing your hate of the Catholic Church based on secondhand information, and don't really( know anything about the religion. I assure, having been a Catholic all of my life, and descended from a line of Catholics, that they are not all about money. Do you know who started many of the hospitals, schools, nursing homes and social service organizations in this country? Yup, the Catholics. Do you know that the message sent is NOT one of bigotry or a quest for money, but rather one of tolerance and love? Don't go by me; go down to your local Catholic Church and discover for yourself.
Too bad so many deluded people believe that hocus-pocus crap isn't it.
How is it secondhand information? It happened to my family! I experienced it!
The $75 fee is not a lie. He was charging a fee to make the visit in the hospital to administer the last rites.
Oh and Mary, my "local Catholic Church" is the one that refused to visit my dying grandfather, despite numerous requests by my grandmother.
Oh Mary, and how did I forget to mention that when they came to administer the last rites, they also asked my grandmother to donate money that she would have given into the collection plate since she missed church the last few weeks before my grandfather died.
Those hospitals and schools you speak of? They make plenty of money through those, I assure you. Just look at how much it costs to send your kid to Catholic school.
I have found the opposite to be true. I once told a priest friend at one point in time that I did not have much money to give the Church and he said that was perfectly fine. Now I am in a better financial situation and give more gladly.
The Catholic Church does not require you to pledge money to join the congregation as do many other religions (some Protestant and Jewish) faiths do. They are not all about money!
If they aren't all about money, they should have the government remove their tax exempt status. If you only knew how many piles of money the Catholic church is sitting on, it would make your head spin.
"What about the 'seperation' of Church and State that the Liberals are always crying about?"
Since when is the First Amendment a liberal issue?
Bingo. Hit the nail on the head. Its a First Amendment issue.
Who cares what the catholic leaders say, american Catholics really don't care. They just go to church, kneel, stand up, take communion, say the "Our Father" and leave. They just go through the motions without even thinking about it since that is what they have always done. No one really pays attention or listens to what the priest or cardinals are saying, no one cares.
That's not true. There are many devout Catholics who take their faith quite seriously. Can you provide some imperical evidence for what you just said, or are you just on an anti-Catholic rant and have no basis for this accusation?
I have been to a few Catholic masses, and I have noticed this as well.
First hand experience for 18 years of my life.
As a Catholic who uses contraception I can attest that there are some of us who disagree with the church's stance on this. However, it does peeve me (to the point of vote switching) to have the state ordering the leadership of my faith to compromise their values. This is a blatant violation of the 1st amendment.
Well Elliott, you certainly don't speak for everyone. Sounds like your just an idiot that wasted an hour of your time every week for 18 years.
Robert, it was a complete waste of time. So was going to class twice a week in the evenings to be confirmed. I'm not an idiot, just a good son that did what his parents wanted him to do, when I turned 18 I decided it didn't have to humor my parents any longer by pretending to care.
And Robert, before you start calling people idiots you should learn the difference between "your" and "you're".
My wife and I are strong supporters of President Obama and will vote for him again this election cycle, however, we both very much disagree with this decision. This is an issue of conscience thatthe Catholic Church should be allowed to decide itself and not have a governmental decree forced upon it. She is Catholic and I am Episcopal and we use birth control, so that isn't the issue. She very much disagrees with the Catholic Chruch's stance on birthcontrol (as do I,but fortunately, the Episcopal Church has no such policy), but we also respect the right to conscience by Churches and individuals.
You claim you totally support the right of conscience for religion and individuals – yet blindly support a President that is against it. Kind of makes on wonder what you really believe.
The only thing left is for Catholic Charities to shut down all the Catholic hospitals and clinics. Many of these provide free medical service to the poor – so the government can now take over. With all the other places a women can go for abortions and contraceptives – why on earth force this on religious clinics and hosptials that don't believe in it? What about the seperation of Church and State that the Liberals are always crying about? What is seperate about the government telling a religious group clinic or hospital what medicial services they must provide?
They do not have to provide those services. Nowhere in this bill does it say that a Catholic organization must perform abortion or give out birth control. They just have to provide the same health plan as everyone else for their employees.
Yep I know I will not be able to donate money to those hospitals anymore. And those pretending to be Catholics are not donating anything because they are too cheap.
For standardization and consistency, you idiot!
Further, Catholic hospitals/clinics are, in fact, businesses... why should they be allowed to play the "religious" card?
All hospitols receive public funding. If receiving public funding follow the rules ro just turn down the public funding and go independent!. It seems they like to reap the benefits, but don't like playing by the rules.
Being forced to pay for a health plan that must provide abortions and contraceptives is exactly the same as actually performing abortions or giving out contrceptives. What you pay for is what you are providing. Not everyone can live with the excuse "the government made me do it" if it goes against what they actually believe in.
Separation of church and state. I think the cardinal has no bearing on politics and should stop speaking on those terms. I'm sure the IRS would like a piece of his action, but are not allowed to seize them. Therefore, he needs to keep silent on political issues.
Furthermore, I don't see church leaders raising all of these unwanted children. Perhaps they should put their TAX-FREE money where their collective mouth is.
There is also freedom of speech and the Cardinal, just like any other citizen, has the right to speak and give his opinion. What now – you only support selective freedom of speech?
Separation of church and state cuts both ways. Does seem to run counter to the spirit of "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;". This is no longer a contraceptoin issue but a majority rule v minority rights issue. What outcry would there be from the ACLU if the federal government forced an Islamic or Jewish soup kitchen to serve pork rinds?
They are both supported by the First Amendment, and appear to be in conflict.
Just a question...do Catholics want to pay for all of the LIFE care for all the unwanted children produced by unprotected reproduction and conceived fetuses brought to term and born to parents who don't want them? If so, then fine. Make no one pay for contraception and bring all fetuses to term. Let the Catholics line up to take on the burdensome expenses of all these unwanted children. Don't make me pay for the mistakes of others. If it's God's plan to have them born, let the Catholics pay for them. They believe in God and must want to pay for them. It costs over $100,000 not including college to raise a child today. Personally, I would love it if all people would wait to have reproductive relations until they themselves are ready and able and willing to support the consequences. Catholics don't seem to have figured out how to ensure this is the case, and neither has anybody else. Until then, let's utilize laws that protect us from the mistakes of others not just pray for some Utopian village that doesn't exist in reality.
That would be taxation for the prison system, would it not?
A private hospital should have the right to NOT do abortions. Since when does the White House force everyone to do as Obama demands?
There is no Catholic voting block. Those who identify as Catholic are usually very independent and most American Catholics have learned to love tradition and message but ignore antiquated pronouncements from Rome.
The American worker is not going to vote for comrade obama and his creation of a welfare state
You need to open your eyes. Bush, his Daddy and Uncle Ronnie destroyed this nation's economy. When you allow Big Business to run roughshod over the country's populace, you destroy them.
As long as the republicans keep giving me crappier alternatives, I'll vote for him even if I don't like him. I'll pick the lesser of two evils everytime, no matter what side they're on.
President Obama is an exemplory religious person and respects his faith 100%. He is a good christian, good husband, good father, and a very good president. Anyone who critizises his faith or his opinion of Evangelical faith should, excuse me, shut up and see things as they are. He has respect for all faiths and tries very hard to please all of the American Christians and working towards bringing them together.
Maybe some of these big mouth Evengelical or Catholic people look at some of themselves and their lives and see how they have lived a clean Christian life, for example Newt Gingrich.
Where is the "like" button?
Apparently you are forgetting how much Obama supported abortion "rights" during his campaign. You cannot have it both ways – you can't be a "good Christian" while condoning murder. It just doesn't work.
Obama, as state senator voted twice to make sure babies born alive after an abortion did NOT recieve meidcal care. He said nope, it would defeat the purpose of having an abortion. The nurse testifed to him that they leave the babies to die in the linen closet. She said he was "unmoved"
Most of the concerned Catholics here are not questioning the President's commitement to his faith. Rather, they are questioning the level of respect he has for our rights to faithfully practice our own.
It's sad to see the venom so many of my fellow Catholics are wiling to spew on the page here. Not a very good example of Christ or their faith. It's time Catholics recognize we don't live in the 9th century. We live in the 21st century with all its complexities and problems. And we need to adapt to the century we live in, rather than mourn days gone by. Face it - the world is overpopulated, making birth control a reality. And to be honest, I hardly know a Catholic who hasn't practiced some form of birth control. Why not curb your hatred and sanctimony and use that energy to do something more positive? No wonder Catholics often feel isolated from the other Christian religions. The walls they create are impenetrable.
I have strong opinions about nuclear weapons, but I can't tell the government that they can't use my tax money for it. It is government by all of the people; for all of the people. This is not a Catholic (or any other denomination)
Fot that reason, there should be a military tax on the rich. Poor does not have much to be protected, rich has much more to lose!
It is only fair to separate the military tax just like pay roll tax (SS Tax), but it should start where SS tax ends all the way up.
Yes, just because I do not want our bombs to kill so many people over seas, does not mean much, I still had to pay about $30K in taxes this year, some of that was used to make bombs.
The man is a liar and a socialist
Trust me you haven't seen a socialist. By sane measurements Obama's policies are center-based, if not center-right.
Too many Rush Limbaugh fans here. Doesn't MSNBC have a comment section?
-and you're a tool.
This has everything to do with 1st amendment rights of freedom to practice religion. Whether you believe contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization are morally wrong (which I do), or not. Everyone needs to be aware that this is setting a precedent allowing the government to violate the 1st amendment and let's them define which parts of your religion you can practice, and which you cannot. We're giving our freedoms and liberty away if we do not fight this decision.
The government has been doing that long before this I think.
How? How does this law affect YOUR freedom to choose religions or treatments?
This isn't the only place. CSPAN was taken off the air by Boehner's "associates" in December. Yesterday, a member of the press and his camera crew were arrested on Capitol Hill for filming a Subcommittee meeting. The First Amendment is being trampled on by the right, and no one seems to be doing anything about it.
Not your decision to decide for the women of American that what you think is wrong should be the laws governing our bodies. Get a womb and then think about it. No man has any credibility on this issue and woman-hating clery (all male, I might add), especially.
Rome has the lowest birthrate in all of Europe because of BC. 75% of US Catholics disagree with the Pope about BC. The same Catholics who voted for Obama before are going to vote for him again, despite "church leaders". After all, they were pressured not to vote for Obama in the first election.
1. where did you get you numbers?
2. Are you even a catholic?
3. I think you are DEAD wrong about Catholics changing their votes. This is not like the last election.
I agree. I find it hard to imagine that there is this large number of outraged catholics over this. If there are, there of the age where contraception should be the least of their worries anymore anyway.
Many Catholics may disagree with their preist and church doctrine about birth control. However, Many Catholics will agree with one another that the state has no right force the leaders of their faith to violate their consciences.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.