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. Thomas

    Viagra is covered in most health plans. Why should contraceptives...?

    January 31, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  2. Craig

    Sad. The fact that the premium includes some small sum that might be used to pay for a specific medical treatment doesn't mean anybody is endorsing that treatment. There are, however, many "good Catholics" who strongly disagree with the church's position on birth control and abortion, or at least that's what I keep reading in various polls. Assuming it's reasonably true, I think I'll side with those who want the freedom to choose. They may or may not make the same decision I might make, but that's fine with me. It's their choice, and they can choose to live with "the consequences." After all, there are people who chose to vote for Bush, and we ALL had to live with those consequences!

    January 31, 2012 at 1:18 am |
  3. ezg437

    Abortion is a hard issue to think about and make decisions about. As are the other issues that play into this version of that issue. People who so quickly think they have all the answers concern me.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:13 am |
    • Observer

      People don't have the answers. Everyone is different. That's why it's best to be pro-choice and let the mother decide for herself based on her unique situation. NO ONE likes abortions.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  4. peggy

    If so many women are willing to take the risk of having abortions, it means that churches are not doing a very good job. So instead of preaching, let us busy ourselves by helping to create conditions conducive to women choosing birth over abortion.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • Craig

      If the church had its' way, there would be many more woman "risking"abortion, since the only ones available would be the "illegal" kind. A recent study, reported on CNN, showed that abortion rates were actually higher in places where they're not legal...with the predictable outcomes of injury, infections, and deaths. Yeah, that's a great plan. Abortion was never unavailable in the US, even when it was illegal. It just wasn't safe.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:20 am |
  5. Holy Man

    OK, so we allow religion to dictate the practice of medicine. Not doctors, not healthcare professionals, but religious leaders. This is called the SLIPPERY SLOPE. Next, we'll have a hospital operated by fundamentalists that will want to refuse treatment to all non-Christians. Or a hospital run by evangelicals that will refuse to treat STDs.

    It's all well and good for religious organizations to want to operate hospitals (helping the poor, healing the sick, and all that stuff). But a religious leader dictating medical treatment makes as much sense as a second-grader running the Department of Defense. If we use the Bible as our guide to medicine, we might as well close all the hospitals, because not once does God condone any sort of non-faith-based healing.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  6. John

    What did they think about the Sandusky rule?

    January 31, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  7. Reader

    @ Observer

    I did respond with a fact. Many read, but not all understand.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • Observer


      If you read the Bible with any level of fair evaluation, you will see that based on God's actions (which speak louder than words in a case where there are no words), that God was not concerned much about fetuses.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:23 am |
  8. ThisIsNotCool

    I am very liberal, but even I recognize how wrong this is. I don't follow Catholicism, but I was raised Catholic and work for a Catholic healthcare organization. The fact that contraception is not currently covered by my employer comes at a personal expense to me, but I am okay with it since I understand what a deeply held conviction it is from the Catholic perspective. Whether you agree or not, try to understand that Catholics and many others see abortion as baby killing. The pill and other measures, because they prevent a fetilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall, are seen as no different. Contraceptive measures such as the pill are not required for good health, so where does the HHS get off requiring that they be covered?

    January 31, 2012 at 1:10 am |
    • An RC

      BCPs are used for medical reasons other than birth control, e.g. polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, amenorrhea as a result of certain conditions, acne, PMS, severe menstrual cramps, and heavy menstrual periods to name a few.

      They also are fantastic at preventing unwanted pregnancies that often lead to abortions (a horrific, preventable, procedure). Most BCPs prevent ovulation so there is NO pregnancy and therefore NO abortion.

      The Church is completed outdated, and more importantly, ineffective in this area. Many good Catholics use BCPs. Just as God gave us free will, so the archaic Church leadership needs to realize that some things are between the individual and God.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  9. PG

    "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."

    I'm missing something here.

    A Catholic wouldn't want to use contraceptive or have an abortion, regardless of it being provided through the employer's healthcare plan, right?

    January 31, 2012 at 1:04 am |
    • ThisIsNotCool

      Not everyone who works for Catholics is a Catholic.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  10. John C

    This in no way dictates what religion practices, therefore nullifying any argument against the first amendment. You still have the right to speech saying that birth control is not moral within your religion. You still have the right to practice that belief. By providing access to the service, you are in no way "forced" into believing that it is ok. While there may be the appearance of conflict, in reality, it is not the church making the decision on the whether or not it should be used, but the person that they employ. That person does not need to be of the religion in which they work. Unless all cook staff, teachers, janitors, lawn care, maintenance staff, etc. are hired using discrimination and selected based on religion.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  11. Reader

    @ Observer

    Your reasoning is specious. Reading something and UNDERSTANDING what is being read are two different things entirely.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:02 am |
    • Observer


      Why not try to respond with some facts? Tell me that the Bible EVER uses the word "abortion".

      January 31, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  12. unowhoitsme

    If all of your mother's had chosen abortion, none of you would be reading this article. It's sad when the government has to be in control when people don't control their lusts. Lack of responsibility and respect for human life.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:02 am |
    • Observer

      "If all of your mother's had chosen abortion, none of you would be reading this article"

      Sorry, but that's a pointless argument. If we were aborted, we would NEVER have had a clue in the world what we were missing.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:06 am |
  13. Justsaying

    The catholics are right about one thing. The bible flat out condemns abortions. What's ironic, though, is that Jesus flat out condemns war/violence. Even when Jesus himself was being arrested he did not condone violence. Yet through the last 1000 years the catholic church has been behind or condoned some of the most horrendous acts of violence ever committed. Today the US government spends billions of tax $ every year on war and the military, yet where are all the complaints from the archbishops about that? Is it just me, or does it seem kinda hypocritical to make a big deal about one thing in the bible yet turn a blind eye to others?

    One last note. Jesus said "Pay back caesars things to caesar..." In other words pay the gov't what they ask. If they demand taxes & decide to use it for atomic bombs or abortion pills or wild parties with russian hockey players the accountability is all on them anyways. Just saying...

    January 31, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • Justsaying

      BTW, I'm not the same "just saying" as the other "just saying"!!

      January 31, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • Eric

      Either way, no one cares.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  14. RBN

    The moderator is censoring d l c k!

    January 31, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • YBP

      Wow. How can we discuss the clergy without mentioning that word?

      January 31, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • Wake up

      Maybe then you should just stick to "kool aid" and "glass houses" until you start reading big boy books and expand your vocabulary......

      January 31, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • Who's Got the Biggest Dick?



      January 31, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  15. erussell

    Well lets see, liberals abort there children and christian families have about 2.5 kids or more depending on how well off they are. The way I see it in the next 100 yrs or so there should be no more liberals or athiests. Which I see nothing wrong with lets give them the choice to make themselves extinct . LETS GIVE DEMOCRATS ALL THE FREE ABORTIONS AND MORNING AFTER PILLS THEY CAN HANDLE.!!!!!!

    January 31, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • YBP

      That's exactly what Jesus would have said, erussell. But he's dead.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • Observer


      In 100 years, it appears no one will know how to spell then, either.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • erussell

      Your mom is showing me how to spell Oh god right now.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • Observer


      So all you have to offer is juvenile insults?

      January 31, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • erussell

      For an arrogant, anal retentive POS like you, yes.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • Observer

      "For an arrogant, anal retentive POS like you, yes."

      You can always tell when a person has lost an argument and has nothing left for facts, they resort to mindless name-calling.

      Just curious. Are you from the "religious" right with language like that?

      January 31, 2012 at 1:26 am |
    • rick

      nothing like using it to take a shot at "liberals".....bravo....pull your head out of your rectum

      January 31, 2012 at 4:40 am |
    • Joe Bauers


      Watch the movie, "Idiocracy" and see how your little scenario plays out... hilarious and terrifying at the same time.

      January 31, 2012 at 4:58 am |
  16. dc

    Outdated dogmas that are killing those alive. Over population of the Earth will kill us all. Figure this out. you have no right to doom the ret of us for your misguided belief.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  17. TR6

    If the Catholics want to be a purely religious organization bound only by the law of god then let them employ only priests, nuns and volunteers; but, if, by their own choice, they decide to become employers then they must accept being bound by the employment laws of man.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  18. MashaSobaka

    Catholics are the last group of people who should be harping about the separation of church and state. Time and time again they have supported laws that would shove religious biases down the throats of innocent people from the federal level down. Yes, they have the right to practice their faith. But they do not have the right to make other people suffer so that they can practice their faith. Their employees' right to healthcare trumps their right to cling to archaic and ill-advised dogmas regarding the health of the human race. Sorry. That's just the way the secular world works. If they want to live in a theocracy in which the religious are exempt from the law then they can move to, say, Iran.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  19. just sayin

    Abortion is a sin that results in eternity in hell. Think before you act.

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

      just sayin,

      The Bible NEVER mentions abortion and has more to support abortion than to oppose it.

      Why not read it sometime?

      January 31, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • just sayin

      The Bible tells us not to kill. Abortion is killing. Your argument is null and void.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Observer

      just sayin,

      The Bible says not to kill, followed by a long list of things to kill others for. lol.

      The Bible NEVER mentions abortion. Read it sometime.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • Peter Janeway

      just sayin: Actually it says not to *murder* – "thou shalt not kill" should be "thou shalt not murder" – in several places abortion is encouraged

      January 31, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • YBP

      So is eating shellfish and wearing polyester. But slavery is OK. Purely biblical. Evolve, man, rather than attempt to glean your values from religious lierature of the ancient middle east . Just sayin'.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • erussell

      Blah, blah, blah, your ignorance of even the basic theology of the old testament is stagering. Next time study up on old testament theo and then come back and post. Thankyou, good bye.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • YBP

      Theology = the study of the imaginary. Goodbye.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • Adriana


      Why should ANY religious organizations have a right to demand a “conscience exception” for their parishioners? There's a well known saying...ah what was it...oh yes, "the separation of Church and State." Furthermore, an exception like that will only encourage employers to hide behind the claim that it goes against their beliefs. I think that's what Obama was trying to avoid when he said no, he wasn't looking to step on anyone's right to freedom of religion.

      Besides, covering contraceptives could potentially help the country in the long run.

      Less unplanned pregnancies = less healthcare and social service cost (including things like foster care, where sometimes children are honestly better off having been aborted.)

      But, I'd be willing to see the measure overturned, if say, the Vatican, wanted to start footing the bill for these costs. You know, instead of using their funds to cover hush money agreements for molestation victims who suffered at the hands of their priests.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:46 am |
    • rick

      your hell and heaven are bad jokes. man created god in his own image, that is why petty punks find comfort in a petty punk god.

      January 31, 2012 at 4:44 am |
  20. Peter Q Wolfe

    I find it funnny how republicans are labeled Prolife when they fight everything on universal health care reform or regulations of self-regulation by negative affects of ilrational behavior by the poor that is contrary to capitalisms core beliefs. In other words, the rational of traditionalism is constantly discounted by historism Leo Straus in Two Liberties proves morality changes in time like rational as well. Moreover, what one person chooses to do is thier priviledge and in fact they themselves a lot of times are wards of t state of welfare benefits. Pick welfare support or abortion, contraception, gay marriage, gay adoption, sterilization, death penalty, drug legalization, etc or else. i don't care anymore as I've converted to agnocism myself just read Richard Dawkings that my profesor in Philosophy hasn't yet done from Yale

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

      Everyone is pro-life. It just depends if that life is the mother or fetus.

      A large number of Republicans are anti-choice.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • serious?


      "everyone is pro life just depends on mother or child?" you seriously think more then 1% of abortions are done to preserve the life of the mother??- your a m o r o n.........

      January 31, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • peggy

      You are absolutely correct.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • Observer


      The pro-life issue is whether the mother or fetus is more important to you. Saving the life of the mother isn't the major issue here, although it is MUCH SAFER for a woman to have an abortion than go through child-birth.

      "your a m o r o n........."

      Do you know English grammar and spelling AT ALL?

      January 31, 2012 at 1:11 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.