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.
This article is pure speculation. If you're going to make wild claims like "Obama is losing the Catholic vote", you have to back them up with polls of Catholics, not with a couple quotes from a bishop and a Catholic school faculty member. Those people clearly don't represent American Catholics, given how Obama won them in 2008, and given the overwhelming majority of Catholics who have used contraception.
Yes that is why it says "Is Obama Loosing the Catholic Vote?" not "Obama is Loosing the Catholic Vote", its an OpEd
Skione, who is Obama loosing the Catholics upon?
SkiOne, what that means is that there is no story here, and this article should never have existed in the first place.
Excuse me losing but yes there is a place for OpEds. So long are people recognize them for what they are.
Obama would like the Catholic vote but then he wants the rest too.
Any Catholic who actually had any "faith" in Obama should have their head examined.
In other words, you're questioning the faith of Catholics as a group, who went to Obama in 2008. As a Catholic, I'm offended.
This is a silly issue....fix the budget and pay the bills..people will do what they want irregardless of Faith...The Cathloic Church is waging an obsolete issue war....
One point everyone SHOULD be aware of, while I share in many who are opposing this. Those of us who supported Obama previously should realize that Romney required Catholic hospitals to dispense abortion pills while governor of Mass. So while I am upset I will not be switching sides just yet.
The THREE-FOUR-THREE Anyone BUT Obama Coalition of Catholics, Protestants and Jews
This November ABO volunteers needs to contact THREE friends with FOUR reminders.
1. Remind them vote.
2. Remind them to vote their religious conscience.
3. Ask them if they need a ride to the polls.
$. Ask them to contact three friends to keep this chain moving.
The pecking order is part of society some at the top , some at the bottom and the rest in the middle it will never change there will always be fewer at the top than at the bottom and God keeps it this way for a reason.
I don't know why the Democrats turned their backs on the Catholics, who used to be their solid supporters. I won't vote for Obama.
Ditto. This did it for me, and I'm a Catholic who disagrees with my church leadership on contraception. I do however take issue with the President telling my priest, and church's leadership to violate their consciences. Im not anti contraception Im pro First Amendment.
Back here in the real world, the Catholic vote has reflected the same ratio as all other American voters. Catholics voted for the Democrats in 2006 and 2008, and then voted for the Republicans by a very slim margin in 2010, JUST LIKE NON-CATHOLIC VOTERS. I fully expect the Catholic vote in 2012 to go to Obama.
Tom states above: "people will do what they want irregardless of Faith...The Cathloic Church is waging an obsolete issue war...." Tom, this is very offensive to Catholics and I do not appreciate your attempt to masquerade as one of us.
Didn't know Egg-Head ever had the Catholic vote...... I'm Catholic, and he'll never get my vote.
As long as you realize that not voting for Obama put you in the MINORITY of Catholics in 2008.
As a Catholic, I abhore this adminstrative ruling. Not a law but an administrative ruling. In this year of politics, it is obvious that Obama is pandering to the anti life brigade. His handlers must have known the outcome, did the math and figured the gains were much larger than the losses. What a morally bankrupt president we have. Whether you agree or not with abortion, he has been on both sides of this issue depending on the need for votes.
you incessant whining, your racism, your need to be ruled by a cartoon, your want to turn America into a religious prison where people are to live as you say, not as you do STINKS of vomit..you will just have to continue to cry like the little girl that you are because Obama is President for 4 MORE YEARS!!
I never thought he'd be on both sides of the First Amendment.
I think Obama has been dependably anti-life, a position that will come at a greater political cost now than it did in 2008. This is a one-term president.
Catholics by and large ignore the Church's teachings on birth control (Italy, within which is the Vatican, the seat of the Catholic Church, has one of the lowest fertility rates (1.32) in the EU). Trying to make a political issue out of a fait accompli is a sign of the growing desperation among anti-Obama types. One reason the Catholic Church is in such trouble today is because its dogma hasn't kept pace with human progress on other fronts. If you think women are supposed to be simply baby-making machines, I cordially invite you to move to Afghanistan, where you will find people of a similar mindset.
The thing is that the Catholic Church employs non-catholics. If they want to be an employer in this country they should be required to pay for all benefits that everyone else is required to provide by law. If they don't want to pay for birth control, then they should try to convert all there employees to Catholocism. Or, another option would be to use only volunteer labor? Churches need to follow the laws of the country. I am a Catholic and I will be voting for Obama because I believe that his actions and words best reflect the teachings of Jesus, hands down.
As a catholic who has–until this–voted democrat I understand your leanings toward Obama regarding socio economic issues. I do however, have to take issue with his violation of 1st amendment rights. I guess they are a "major biggie" in my book.
please explain your "violation" comment, travis.
I agree with you. This is not a first amendment attack. The Church has the freedom to their religion but not powers of enforcement over health care regardless of the morale implications.
I couldn't agree more! If the Catholic church is ok with taking fed govt money, then they HAVE to be ok with following fed govt rules! You can't have your cake and eat it too, even my 5 year old knows that! And I also agree that its much better to use contraceptives to control births instead of abortion. With contraception, you never know if you would have gotten pregnant if you didn't take it, but with abortion you know that you are killing an innocent baby. Also, if the Catholic church is really interested in saving lives, then they would offer all kinds of help to pregnant moms in order to try to get them to give their babies up for adoption vs having an abortion. However abortion must remain legal because it is every individual woman's right to decide, and that decision is between her, the baby, and God, and no one else! Until you've had the opportunity to walk a mile in their shoes you have no business making decisions for others!
I guess it is not popular to be anti socialist now days but then you do not need to tell me to grab a number and a shovel I already have em. You do not need to tell me to work either I am past the point of no return.
Note to Catholic leaders-this Catholic supports President Obama on the new health care rules. If you receive federal funds (taxpayer funds) then you follow the secular rules that come with it. If you can't accept this, then stop taking federal funding. Most Catholics in the USA do not follow church teachings on contraception because we understand that a wanted and planned pregnancy is obviously preferable to an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. The failure to understand this is unconscionable in this day and age!
I'll give you a clue.., its more than the Catholic vote, that President Barack Obama is losing. Its almost the whole nation, especially the independent vote, which is in the millions'.. However.., when it comes to push and shove, there is NO way that a Mormon is going to become the President of the United States, either. For some reason, the news media is afraid to bring up the Mormon issue and what voters really think about the LDS Church, and their doctrines and beliefs. The bible belt and independent voters that go to mainstream churches (concerning the Trinity), including the Catholic vote, will never vote for former Governor Mitt Romney (life long member and major financial supporter of the LDS Church), and you can take that to the bank or the voting booth. Mike in Montana
boy oh boy, are you going to be surprised....
Obviously, other companies should say their religion is against healthcare and then they can argue they don't have to pay for it!
Rome has the lowest birthrate in all of Europe because of BC. 75% of US Catholics disagree with the Pope about BC. Many of 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. Catholics can and do disagree with the Pope. They may not be able to change the Pope's mind, but they're human beings who are going to think what they're going to think. Catholics have been objecting to the Church's views on BC for a long time which helps explain why Church leaders are so rankled by this decision. It undermines their authority.
Obama never had the Catholic vote. This is like asking if the Republicans are losing the freerider or dependent vote...
Read the article. He won 54% of the Catholic vote in 2008.
Not true. Catholics vote about 55% dem 45% repub. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps the Hispanic vote democrats take for granted may be largely composed of Catholic voters?
I sure do wish that morons woul do a bit of research before they start spouting their "facts"... hey jason?
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Judging by the lack of commentary here, I don't think this issue is going to cause Obama much concern come November.
Obama is a cold, calculating fraud who smiles only when the audience is adoring, sings for his cronies, and lies to everyone else.
He is more suited to being an attorney for his Hollywood fans than president of the USA
conservative christians are a cold, calculating fraudulantgroup who smile only when the audience is adoring, sings for they're cronies, and lies to everyone else.
they are more suited to being attorneys for their 1% fans than president of the USA
I keep hearing liberal complaints about conservative demands it is not easy to please liberals. Catholics usually vote conservative isn't it obvious.
Actually, the Catholic vote has seesawed back and forth between the Democrats and the Republicans for the last three elections. Catholics are split at about the same ratio as the rest of the country on politics. Please don't talk when you don't know the facts.
but Obama won a majority of the Catholic vote in 2008, please explain?
"As he lay there, dying in the sun, the sand of desert all around him, Petaris spoke to the rock, not with his lips, but with his mind, and the rock wept tears of fresh water and his thirst was quenched."
"Hallowed are the Ori."
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.