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. Yeahright

    Church having a say in government....What's the worst that could happen.w.bibliotecapleyades.net/vatican/esp_vatican29.htm#The%20Church

    January 31, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • Yeahright

      oops wrong paste.. "Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with Church dogma must be burned without pity."

      – Pope Innocent III

      January 31, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  2. Scott

    I believe the issue here is abortion. I also believe that giving catholic employers a waiver until after the election is a most cynical and chicken move by Obama. It is a new low for him. With any sort of luck Obamacare will be repealed in 2013 and all of you athiest liberals can whine about that.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • BG

      @ Scott

      Someone's finally offered up a substantially stupid , yet multifocal argument. Congrats, Scott. It's you.

      "I believe the issue here is abortion."
      Really? It's simply a liberal foil to advance abortion rights? Or is it a proactive effort to make abortion unnecessary? Think hard, Scott.

      "I also believe that giving catholic employers a waiver until after the election....."
      It's politics, and with the upcoming election, it's smart politics.

      "With any sort of luck Obamacare will be repealed in 2013 and all of you athiest liberals can whine about that."
      So, it's a bad thing to extend benefit coverage to kids? To outlaw preexisting exclusionary coverage? To afford...

      Tell, you what, Scott. If you're not a pharma stockholder or hospital / insurance exec, you're an idiot. And if you are, then you're just a bas-tard.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:49 am |
  3. Kyle

    If the Catholic church wants to protest, more power to them. It's no different than anyone else utilizing their rights to free speech. And if you are an atheist, what do you care what they do? It doesn't affect you, you don't work in a Catholic organization anyway. Frankly, I don't know why atheists don't protest the "In God We Trust" on the dollar. Why don't you utilize your free speech in some constructive way that affects YOU?

    January 31, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  4. David

    As much as I despise organized religion, and Catholicism in particular, I have a feeling that they will win this fight eventually. This rule forces them to violate a deeply-held religious belief that is not otherwise barred by other law.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • GordonHide

      A lot of people are forced by the law to pay for stuff they disapprove of. Pacifists pay for the military. Anarchists pay the cost of government. Those opposed to religion pay extra tax to subsidise religious tax free status. Those ideologically opposed to welfare still have to pay for it. Free speech allows the Catholic Church to whine about their particular hobby horse. Perhaps they would deserve to be taken seriously if they also campaigned for others who pay for things they don't approve of.

      January 31, 2012 at 4:11 am |
  5. Mark

    Read folks that are real emotional,
    with deep critical thought,
    and totally in need of an education.
    and occasionally a thoughtful statement.
    Good Luck
    & Enjoy...

    January 31, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • BG

      F'k you and the pseudo-insightful, quasi-intellectuals like you.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  6. logan5

    This is a big deal and serves as a significant step in our social evolution in this country. We are finally waking up to the fact this is the 21st century and not the Dark Ages

    January 31, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  7. ▓▓▓▓▓▓

    So the real question is why does CNN poke its head into the Catholic Church and form and gets its feelings all hurt because someone disagrees with it.

    Liberals, learn this, most of your life, everyone is going to disagree with you(because you are wrong, about everything, always, even if your right, your still wrong), and the people you find that agree with you aren't worth having around.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:17 am |
    • Observer

      Wisdom from the world-class HYPOCRITE rightwing.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • sad

      To think that you actually belive this? Or you are just a really poor troll. Ill go with incompetent troll...

      January 31, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • BG

      Just a really confused troll. I don't think he would tolerate even his own company.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  8. polycarp pio

    It is high time for Christians to obey their moral conscience and not obey any laws that are contrary to the bible. The Apostles in the book of acts stated"whether it is better to obey God or man, you decide, we can but do what we have seen. Time to take the punishment, fine,jail and ect and say the heck with this antichrist government nonsense. PP

    January 31, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • Observer

      Yep. Paul said that it's best if men didn't have s-x with women, but they should get married if they can't control their lust. Great endorsement for marriage and s-x.

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

      i agree. We should take over and get back to burning people at the stake.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • Hank Hill

      Remember to use propane.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • rick

      hank: thanks for the laugh

      January 31, 2012 at 4:59 am |
  9. Al


    So they are finally out of the closet.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  10. Reggie from LA

    Make no mistake, I understand the conflict here so please don't attempt to "school" me on this, but let me ask, "If I am insured and I go to a physician and ask for contraceptive treatment or, if making the unfortunate decision to have an abortion for whatever reason, are you telling me that I have to become Catholic (or any religion or political persuasion), persecute myself and then fight with an insurance company because of YOUR religious convictions. Uhm, I think not., Nope, not an atheist. Yep, I care about the down sides of abortion just like many of you. Nope, not ruled by you nor the Pope. If I will be paying ANY portion of any insurance claim for health services, your sorry a..es will not be present whenever I have to give up a co-payment or deduction for premiums. In other words, keep your theocratic hands off my healthcare.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • George

      Nobody's telling you that you have to become Catholic or anything else. That's silly and hyperbole. What they are saying is that an employer shouldn't not have to cover drugs/services that violate their beliefs.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  11. independent

    Heath Insurance is considered part of compensation. It is not the employers business, nor concern, how the employees use their compensation. It is no different than taking your paycheck and buying contraceptives. Can the Church fire employees who buy contraceptives? Then, they shouldn't think they can dictate how people use their health insurance.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • George

      No. The employer is mandated to violate its beliefs. If an employee takes his paycheck and buys contraception, it is the employee who is exercising his moral judgment. The sin is on the employee.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  12. bub

    Religions are nothing but fraudulent delusions. The U.S government has a reasonable duty to protect its citizens from fraud!

    January 31, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • D Gannon

      fraudulent delusions is what the goverment is all about

      January 31, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • JP

      Hello bub, It seems you are angry, perhaps for good reason, perhaps you have been hurt by the church and I am sorry. I do ask you to consider this whether you agree with Christians or not are we not still free to have our opinions and to practice our beliefs. Further, if something goes against what we firmly believe to be true are we not still allowed the freedom in this country to say no I will not participate? Just food for thought....

      January 31, 2012 at 1:36 am |
  13. bub

    The government needs to take a firm stand against religious nonsense. To allow people to practice stupidity is one thing, to condone it is something entirely different!

    January 31, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  14. Pablo

    Old, out of touch guys in the Vatican mandating how people should live their lives.
    Old, out of touch guys in Congress mandating how people should live their lives.
    And yet somehow we blame it all on one guy, Obama?
    I had hoped we as a society would be smarter than that.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  15. Larry

    Why does the author call birth control drugs "medication?" Fertility is not an illness. The drugs are not medication any more than alcohol or coffee are medications. In fact, they are the opposite of medication. Rather than curing a body that is malfunctioning, they cause a healthy woman's body to STOP working normally in order to avoid producing a child. If someone did that with any other animal, it would be considered damaging to the environment.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • bub

      What a bunch of nonsense. Graduated thrid grad yet?

      January 31, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • George

      Because it is liberal bias in the article.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • Whopper

      Birth control pills are the preferred method in the treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). They can also be used to treat women for excessively heavy periods (preventing the anemia that can result) and for acne. And we don't give animals birth control because we choose to spay and neuter our pets. Thankfully for humans birth control is reversible!

      January 31, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • BG

      @ bub

      " Graduated thrid grad yet?"


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

      As Whopper stated, birth control pills are a recognized treatment for PCOS. When used in this way they actually have the effect of helping the woman _become_ fertile by returning her reproductive system to a 'normal' state. The problem is that the church fights their use for this purpose as well. I had to argue with my own insurance over this point and eventually won.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  16. BG

    Let women decide if they want BC or not-it is their body-make it available to all of them. We have nothing to fear from granting them this most basic freedom. ALL women.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  17. Let it Be

    Those who hate God and religion simply don't want to amend their ways. Otherwise, why would you hate Him?

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

      The only people who could possibly hate God are believers. Ask believers why they hate God. Hating God has nothing to do with atheists or agnostics.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • logan5

      this has nothing to do with hatred toward your god! If you are at all capable of critical thought now is the time

      January 31, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • David

      When will you people get it? We do not 'hate' your god. How can someone 'hate' something that does not exist? You disbelieve in all gods but your own; we just disbelieve in one more than you. And even in that you are the fool, as your 10 Commandments recognizes the existence of other gods – it is just decreed that your god is to be the most favoured one.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • BG

      @ David

      Whattya' mean "you people?"

      January 31, 2012 at 12:59 am |
  18. roland

    The real outrage is who cares if their catholics then they won't use either. It would be like a cigarette. Kids offer them all the time doesn't mean you have to take it. This is the dumbest argument ever.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  19. bub

    Religionh is a joke. People need to grow up and stop giving in to religious hallucinations. You can't hide from reality, irregardless of what illusory nonsense you believe. Reality happens!

    To accept religion as something of value or deserving of any respect is to condone stupidity. It's like giving credence to someone who claims that the Earth is flat.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • BG

      @ bub

      "Religionh [sic] is a joke."

      Ahhh...such sensitivity, empathy and respect. You're just chock full of compassion and caring for you fellow man.

      Nah. It's just another sport-insult Tuesday. Here ya' go, ass hole.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  20. retphxfire

    As long as the Church uses the pulpit to discuss politics and advises congregants how to react politically, then they have muddied their own First Amendment rights. Also, how about the non-Catholics who work in a business run by a devout Catholic? Quit or be fired because of YOUR religious beliefs? How is that acceptable or not a violation of others rights? Some will say just quit, how about the business owner just pay for all medical costs out-of-pocket, makes about the same amount of sense....

    January 31, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Beadles

      Well said!

      January 31, 2012 at 12:26 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.