January 30th, 2012
06:49 PM ET

Catholic clergymen come out swinging against HHS regulation

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Washington (CNN) - Catholics around the country got an earful on Sunday from the pulpit over a new health insurance policy by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that forces employers to cover contraception and abortion as part of preventative care regardless of religious beliefs. The use of abortion and contraceptives violates Catholic teachings.

In Green Bay, Wisconsin, Bishop David Ricken denounced the policy at Mass in St. Francis Xavier Cathedral on Sunday and received a standing ovation, CNN affiliate WLUK reported.

"If we pay for those services for people who work for us, we are in effect saying don't do it, but then giving the money to pay for it," said Ricken.

In a letter read to congregants in the Atlanta Archdiocese, Archbishop Wilton Gregory called the policy "a matter of grave moral concern."

"In so ruling, the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty," the letter continued and was read at all English and Spanish language Masses, the diocese said in a statement.

The policy goes into effect on August 1, but U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced in a statement January 20 that religious organizations that do not provide contraceptive coverage based on religious belief will have until August 1, 2013, to comply.

"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," Sebelius said in the statement.

“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan in a statement.

“To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their health care is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty," said Dolan who is also the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the public policy arm of the church in the United States.

Just before the release of Sebelius' statement, President Barack Obama called Dolan to discuss the change in policy, Dolan's spokesman told CNN. Dolan expressed his disappointment to the president and asked if the measure could be changed to include more religious exemptions, to which the president said no. Dolan's spokesman said the two had discussed the measure earlier in November before the HHS policy was set.

A White House official told CNN's Dan Lothian late on Monday that "there are Catholics who support the administration's decision." The official also noted support from other religious groups for the policy.

A spokesperson for the conference said there was no way to tell how many parishes  addressed the issue this weekend, but said after receiving multiple queries from dioceses around the country, they posted a draft letter on an internal website for churches to adapt and read to congregants.

The Conference of Bishops is also urging congregates to reach out to the White House and members of Congress to express their disagreement with the measure.

The Food and Drug Administration first approved the birth control pill in 1960.  When  oral contraceptives first entered the market, theologians across the religious spectrum wrestled with how to the deal with new medication.  Many Protestant denominations said the use of contraceptives was OK for married couples.

The Catholic Church came out against the use of any type of contraceptives in 1968.  In an encyclical letter to Catholics entitled Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI outlined the church's teaching on the matter.

"Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children," the letter reads.

The encyclical also reiterated the church's ban on sterilization for men and women, either temporary or permanent, and left no room for interpretation on the new birth control medications.

"Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means," it reads.

Birth control is the most common type of medication taken by young and middle-aged women. Women’s health advocates said the new rules would affect millions of women. Currently, 32 states require insurance plans to cover contraceptives, but 16 of them provide a “conscience exception” for religious employers, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Contraceptive coverage is one of several services that must be covered without co-pays or deductibles in the new Affordable Care Act, which critics have dubbed "Obamacare."  Other such services are annual checkups, mammograms, testing for HIV and breastfeeding support.

The Sebelius statement also said the rule won’t affect existing conscience laws, which allow doctors and hospitals to avoid providing services, such as birth control, that violate their religious beliefs.

CNN's Caleb Hellerman and Dan Gilgoff contributed to this article.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Belief • Bishops • Catholic Church • Christianity • Church and state • Health care • Mass • Politics • United States

soundoff (740 Responses)
  1. James PDX

    I'm pretty much anti-religion, however, forcing a church to break their own rules is not right. People with jobs can be responsible for their own abortions, and certainly for buying the pill or some condoms. How about instead you force them to offer a healthcare alternative like where the employee puts a certain amount aside for healthcare and the employer matches it. Then the employee can spend their money on whatever they want.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  2. Topaz

    I think the catholics will be happy if the government says that it is alright if the priests and cardinals screw young boys but it is not alright for a woman to take contraceptives...

    January 30, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • TKH

      That's about the stupidest thing I've read here. Your obvious bias and illiteracy is very clear. Yes, there has been some horrible behavior by a few priests, and the number is far less than the media would have you think, but to make a statement like yours is ridiculous. I'm not a Catholic (in fact I'm a Lutheran...you may recall that the founder of my denomination began the Reformation), but I support the Roman Catholic Church in defending the right to not have the government dictating ANYTHING that contradicts doctrine.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  3. pplr

    This is sad.

    I can get contraceptives such as condoms being preventative.

    But that just isn't the case with abortion.

    Even more you have organizations being forced to allow abortions which they view (rightly IMO) as killing another human being-that is murder. Now if it was to save a woman's life I get that, but it looks like this isn't.

    So this very bad in my opinion.

    A bit like requiring abolitionists to join a militia that is ready to round up escaped slaves.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  4. FG

    It's easy to manage things when your country is pretty isolated from everything, frozen 8 months of the year and only has 5 million people. Not so much with 300+ million and you stretch coast to coast of a continent. Your analogy is useless.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  5. Yeahright

    That why priest use little boys...no birth control so they don't violate the church's codes of ethics.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  6. Staring Horse with Tongue Sticking Out

    I close my eyes and I imagine George and those like him, infinitely ignorant but forever faithful to their absurd belief system.

    Each post, in my mind’s Eye I see them spinning downwards into the abyss of the Arcane.

    Secularism separates us from the primitive worlds of ages past, and the primitive governments of the present.

    George, and those like him, pine for a world where men are above all else and women and children are secondary, barely human. Just like the cultures in the mid-east that accept “honor killings”.

    We live in an enlightened world and we must move forward with intelligence and NO fear. The Cosmos awaits us. And if there is a God, it is wondering why we are so late to the party.

    George could most likely answer that question if he weren’t so stupid. Keep in mind also please, that when I refer to “George” I don’t mean him personally. I mean “people like George”.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  7. Leo

    There are so many things wrong about this whole mess, but there's one thing that NEEDS to be clarified:

    "Birth control pills" are NOT only prescribed for contraception. They're used to treat various hormone imbalances and disorders, the most common of which is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. In fact, many women with PCOS aren't fertile ANYWAY. The goal is to reduce the number of cysts and the amount of androgens produced, thereby reducing the symptoms of the disorder and letting the ovaries heal. That is a legitimate medical use for "birth control pills" which has NOTHING to do with contraception.

    But... the Catholic Church would call a woman a sinner for taking those pills, even if contraception wasn't her reason for it.

    I'm so glad I left the cult of Catholicism.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • George

      I've repeated this many times already today: No only the Catholic Church believes that contraception is evil. Many fundamentalists do as well.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • pplr


      That is a good answer for sone contraceptive pills. But not all of them. And it certainly is not a good explanation for most abortions.

      These days we pick on 2 groups in supposed "social issues". We pick on gay people (don't let them get treated equally) and people who haven't yet been born (still alive, with healthy mothers, but somehow their lives can be done away with).

      January 30, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • KarenDenver

      Leo, you should have done a little more research before you 'left'. The Catholic Church does NOT teach that hormonal birth control is illicit if prescribed/taken for reasons other than to avoid pregnancy.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
  8. BMW57

    Based on the article I am seeing that this ruling covers an employer providing health insurance, That employer may not force their narrow views on others, even their employees We live in a multi-cultural society not a Catholic theocracy. If a Catholic group wants to run a hospital then run a hospital, not a conversion center. You operate in this country, obey the laws of this country. You have the protected right to live your life by your rules, You DO NOT have the right to expect or demand others to do so. YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO FORCE YOUR RULES ON THOSE WHO BELIEVE DIFFERENTLY. Please respect the difference between belief and fact.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  9. ptmmac, athens, ga

    Am I correct in understanding that because Catholics take Federal Money to run their hospitals, they think that they can demand to use that money any way they want? If you don't want to follow the rules just don't take the money. You know that render unto Caesar idea? There is plenty of free choice here. Just because the Catholics don't like the options doesn't mean they don't have them. No one is forcing any Catholic to have an abortion, or use contraceptives. They are simply saying you can't take our money to pay for your hospitals and deny basic health services to people because you don't like the services. No one is forcing the Catholic organizations to do anything. Good luck with that 1st Amendment Challenge here. There is no one who is being forced to do anything other than make a choice. Give good health care or no health care at all. Anything less is a violation of the Hippocratic Oath.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • BMW57

      Thank you, well said.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • George

      "Am I correct in understanding that because Catholics take Federal Money to run their hospitals, they think that they can demand to use that money any way they want?"

      You would be wrong. It's about Obamacare mandates.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  10. C

    F*** Insurance companies. They have our whole country by the balls on EVERYTHING in their legalized theft and racketeering.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  11. Dave Mathers

    Best way to fight this is for the church to not offer the services. And then let the lawsuits begin.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  12. soca

    Now, this for once seems to make sense, at least to me. One, why should I pay for a product I don’t want; two, why pay for it when it contradicts my freedoms on at another level. Just think about it for a minute, leaving the C word out of it if you can…

    January 30, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  13. Tax them all

    All religions should be taxed. They want to try and dictate government policy they need to pay up.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • C

      You missed the whole point of the article, champ. It's about insurance regulations being forced on anyone and everyone, not taxes. Wrong thing to complain about, since they made it obvious no one gets out of having to pay for it.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • S1N

      No C, he's on the ball. If religious organizations want a say in the way our government works, they need to pay up. Pay taxes, or shut up and whine to your Spaghetti Monster.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Tax them all

      I know what I read, I also know what the bottom line is in this. The Catholic church is trying to rally up protest against political policy, therefore I say tax them all.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  14. Wake up

    Ok, first do you people realize that the unwanted pregnancy rate actually has increased with the promotion of birth control??? so had STD's??? They have not gone down. You live in naivety. Do you also realize the myth of over population? If you read any reports filed by true demographer we are in population decline and Europe is actually already in a negative birthrate. This over population LIE is simply based on numbers of living people that has risen due the advances in heath care in the last 100 years allowing people to live longer yet actual birthrates have been steadily declining. In fact you can take all the people in the entire world and not only fit them in Texas but give them 1000sqft to move around in. Put that in your Liberal pipes and smoke it. Take some responsibility and raise your own kids, teach them yourself and stop expecting the world/government to owe you anything. Dig through the brainwashing or accept the communist take over, 2 child policy forced sterilization of this country that all you liberals find so sickening in China but seem yo be praising in this articles responses....

    January 30, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • john

      Hows that kool-aid taste?

      January 30, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • RBN

      People in glass houses should not throw rocks. Your opinion is no less naive than the rest of your conspiracy theory tin-foil hat friends. Over population has to do with resources and infrastructure, not square footage. I would speak more to the article, but the moderator seems to be overly sensitive about my point of view of religion as a whole. Some people can't handle their beliefs being challenged.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • T'laryth Phalyn

      Care to give us any proof of your.... ideas? Or is it just ranting and raving?

      January 30, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Wake up

      Its not opinion its fact. There is a difference. Resources/infrastructure? come on what gas? try growing/raising your own food, or you to afraid to get your hands dirty?? Have you ever flown in a plane and looked out a window?? there is a lot of open space. Ever flown over china??? talk about empty space?? its not my fault everyone has to be 5 minutes away from a Starbucks. Try being less dependent and more dependable........and btw I moved out of Philip Johnsons house years ago...

      January 30, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Wake up

      @T'laryth Phalyn hear read a talk by Dr Janet smith for starters................

      January 30, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • Jadugara

      Wake Up is just ranting and raving, he (or she) has no idea what they're talking about... The population of the Earth is doubling every fifty two years or so, and at that rate, we will have outstripped our resources in a matter of a few more generations... The polulation has been growing at an increasing rate since the birth of agriculture, which corresponds roughly to the birth of monotheistic faith and the world-wide decline of most hunter-gatherer societies as a whole... Our agriculturalist, monotheistic societies are all on the precipice, and these religious nuts would rather just ingore the problem, pretend it's OK to keep poppin' out babies willy-nilly, and stick their heads in the sand like demented ostriches in the hopes that the compounding difficulties their beliefs generate on a daily basis will just magically go away... They have no clue...

      January 31, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • Wake up

      @ Jadugara
      Get over yourself and consumerism mentality. me me me me.......... over population my ass.......

      US Census report: U.S. fertility first dropped to less than replacement level fertility in 1972,and by 2002 had dropped to a record low.19 (Replacement level fertility is 2.1 children per woman because of infant mortality – see terms). During most of the 1970s and 1980s women gave birth to fewer than 2 children on average, a rate insufficient to replace the population.Because of population momentum, U.S. population would have increased to 255 million by 2020 and then gradually declined.

      In 2000, births increased 3% over births in 1999 – the third straight increase following nearly a decade of decline from 1990 through 1997.12 Now, the average number of children born to women over a lifetime is at 2.03 – slightly below replacement level.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • RBN

      Wakeup – put the koolaid down and back away. "Try being less dependent and more dependable". You like to talk about things you nothing about, as noted by your ramblings. Or as you like to call them, facts. Go hang out in your commune with the other hippies. Troll!

      January 31, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • Wake up

      @ RBN
      is kool aid a rebut? I quoted the United states census report. That's kool aid? I built a business from nothing, I do raise my own chickens and grow my own food. I have seen the world. I will not apologize for my success. If you want to keep watching John Stewart and praying to Kieth Oberman go ahead but give me something besides kool aid and glass rocks......You probably even had to google Philip Johnson to get my joke before... anyway you are right about one thing, I did troll this "wonderful" news site CNN, make me laugh to hope i can convert one reader to expand there fact sources......and no I dont watch fox news

      January 31, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  15. Jimbo Jones

    Although I'm not a Catholic, I agree wholeheartedly with their outrage. If you don't like (e.g. don't believe) in their theology, you shouldn't work for them, period.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  16. brotherseamus

    And the Catholic church's pilgrimage to irrelevance continues unabated . . .

    January 30, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  17. Brampt

    The Catholic Church doesnt allow contraceptives cause there losing SOO many followers...and by not allowing contraceptives the Catholic people would procreate like crazy, so they can still be millions of catholics! Were would the Vatican get there money from...??

    January 30, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • George

      Do you even understand the moral and philosophical reasoning behind the Church's stance against contraception? And I've got news for you: not only Catholics believe that contraception is immoral.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • ex-Catholic


      News flash – the vast majority of catholics DO think that contraception is moral.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • George


      Then they are out of communion with the Church.

      Look, I'm an Evangelical, and I know that contraception is evil. It divorces s.e.x from procreation.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • Craddle Catholic

      @ex-Catholic and the vast majority of Germans believed Hitler was right, Vast majority of Colonial Americans thought slavery was right.....Unfortunately there are a lot of Cafeteria Catholics in this country who support abortion/contraceptives and they are wrong.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • David

      @ex-Catholic Hilarious how an ex-Catholic has empirical evidence that the "majority" of Catholics are for contraception. Your pride and stubbornness prevent you from seeing the theology of the body, its sacred use, and its holy intent. Was happy to see that CNN referenced Humana Vitae and I hope that you go back to the hyperlink and try to open your heart and consider its intent. I'm a proud Catholic, father of 4, and am fed up with all the Catholic bashing that we get. If it were founded and at least not eccentric, then some reasonable dialogue could ensure. Not looking for ppl to agree, but respect should be the basis of any dialogue. Instead, we have baseless claims on how the *majority* of Catholics believe in contraception. Wake up – in any given group, political, religious, non-profit and even amongst liberal groups of any kind, there are those that will oppose their own doctrine, beliefs, or objectives. Lets be mature enough to realize that there's exceptions to any rule across any organized group. Yes there are Catholics that use contraceptives just like there are those that don't. It doesn't refute the Church or our faith. This issue is about subsidizing death for innocent life – life that is reserved for God to create and take away. Life is a gift, not a right.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Tax them all

      Sorry George, the imaginary god who only exists in your mind is against birth control??? I'm sure he told you personally right? Or do you just go by that famous fiction novel?

      January 30, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • Portah

      @Craddle Catholic, WHO are you to tell others what they can and cannot do to their own bodies? Freedom means you should take your CHURCH out of Government... You do what you want in the end their is only the end. The matter of the church questioning the use of contraceptive, well stop asking for money and pay taxes. It is for insurance companies, which means, why should the company care for religion within their organization? Oh wait they have tax free hospitals that charge more than the others, but have tax free. If you want a point on this pay taxes than talk...

      January 31, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Craddle Catholic

      First-your being hypocritical. Abortion is the murder of a baby there fore its the mother telling that child what to do to its body by killing it.

      Second.. Read, dont skim. I as referring to the Catholics who believe abortion is ok. If you are Catholic you can not believe in abortion or you are simply not a Catholic.....but your probably the same sort of genius who thinks killing a pregnant woman is a double homicide yet accepts abortion..........

      January 31, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • ex-Catholic

      " Hilarious how an ex-Catholic has empirical evidence that the "majority" of Catholics are for contraception. Your pride and stubbornness prevent you from seeing the theology of the body, its sacred use, and its holy intent. "

      I'm not sure how reading comprehension is hilarious, but whatever. Your pride and arrogance leads you to think that your interpretation of the bible is the only one going. Pot, or kettle?

      January 31, 2012 at 1:58 am |
  18. jdoe

    One more reason America needs single-payer universal health care, so that people don't have to depend on what their employer gives, or doesn't give, them.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Big Al

      Absolutely. But in a banana republic like the U.S., where the private sector is permitted to buy government seats and positions, this will not happen. Great idea though.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • C

      Welcome to the unemployment line, where your boss had to let 10% of staff go just to pay for the health insurance you people keep screaming about that supposedly is owed to you. Take better care of yourselves, fatties!

      January 30, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  19. Reality

    Catholics (and Mormons) do not believe in artificial birth control so why do they employ those who do? Did not the Supreme Court recently decide that religious organizations have the right to decide who they hire and fire?

    Bottom line: To reduce health insurance costs and to not be subject to Obama care regulations about supplying contraceptives, the Mormons and Catholics should simply not hire those in need of contraceptives and fire those who demand such coverage.

    There are different opinions as to what a religion really is or what a non-profit is. To be fair therefore, there should be no tax-exemptions for any group and that includes the Democratic and Republican Parties. Faith and community initiative grant monies should also be cancelled and there should also be no tax deductions for contributions made to charities and non-profits.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • George

      No tax-exempt status is just another way the secularists want to destroy all religion in this country. Christians need to fight back against secularism.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • JDinKC

      Mormons don't have anything against birth control, just against abortion. Many may choose to have large families, but that isn't because they don't believe in birth control, its simply because they like large families. (remember the LDS church has its root in pioneers and subsequently farmers, and their decendents tend to stick with the types of families they were raised in, that being large families.)

      January 30, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Keith

      IF these religious corporations accept even one penny of city, county, state, or federal tax money - they should be held to the law. IF they chose to forfeit all such funding AND relinquish the tax exempt status then, fine, they can do what they what. As a taxpayer who does NOT buy any of their religious dogma ( I really have much cruder terms to describe it), I am tired of them - ANY of "them" - not paying their share of taxes AND having their hands out for MY tax dollars.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • David

      @Reality...so apparently in your world, all Catholics and employers are white collar managerial ppl. What about the Catholics and Mormons that are blue collar workers that work in a factory. where does that fit in your 'reality'?

      also, you can keep your tax write-offs......most people who donate are doing it for tax write off of up to 500 dollars. there is a much deeper perspective when it comes to giving than that which your plan is alluding to.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • Portah

      @David The tax money is that of the church that does not pay them. That is what people are taking about.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  20. Sandra

    What do you expect from a religious body that made a saint out of a woman who committed suicide by getting pregnant even though she, her doctor and her priest *knew* it would kill her?

    January 30, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Nah

      sandra: "What do you expect from a religious body that made a saint out of a woman who committed suicide by getting pregnant even though she, her doctor and her priest *knew* it would kill her?"

      Oh, how horrible! A woman - who believed that abortion kills a human - decided that rather act selfishly and commit a moral wrong, she'd suffer the consequences instead! What an abomination! Oh horror! Oh horror of horrors!

      Please be stupid elsewhere.

      January 30, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • David

      @Nah – well said. couldn't have stated it better.

      @Sandra – see beyond the obvious Sandra and you'll find substance in the 'religious body'.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • ex-Catholic

      "decided that rather act selfishly and commit a moral wrong, she'd suffer the consequences instead!"

      It would seem that the "compassion" of the militant catholics knows no bounds. I'm glad I got out when I did.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:00 am |
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About this blog

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.