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. Gavin Ford

    Perhaps these myth-believing idiots should come and join the rest of us living in the 21st Century. i'm just sayin'.

    January 31, 2012 at 3:31 am |
  2. tom

    I miss those days when the collesium was filled with lions and we watched them hunt and eat. We need to bring those days back ASAP and the world would be a better place.

    January 31, 2012 at 3:20 am |
    • Mad Cow

      So many Christians, not enough lions.

      January 31, 2012 at 3:39 am |
  3. Manumission

    This whole "birth control" position of the Catholic church is just plain nutty. First of all, most of the Catholics that I know in the U.S. practice birth control. Second, if you want to see the effects of no birth control, go visit with poor people down in Mexico. Why is Mexico still so impoverished? Because they do not practice birth control. People beg in the streets in Mexico, with children living on blankets with their mothers, because they don't use the pill. This is far worse than protecting any mis-guided "religious" beliefs.

    January 31, 2012 at 3:20 am |
    • SPA Knight

      Manumission, as a means of compassion, why don't you adopt one of those impoverished families in Mexico and send them money every month that will help them eat and not go to bed hungry. Those are the people that Catholic Charities among many other great organizations do instead of working to destroy the dignity of human lives. Over population isn't the root cause...selfishness and greed is.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  4. tom

    Hmmmm, there are plenty of places in the bible where god commanded his people to kill everyone, including their children. Seems like he didn't value them either. Now we have a bunch of UNMARRIED MEN telling us not to practice birth control. If you don't play, you don't make the damn rules. I am sick of these nut cases purporting to tell us what a god wants us to do. Especially a god that lots of people don't believe in. MYOB.

    January 31, 2012 at 3:18 am |
    • Mirosal

      Actually, the way I see it, anyone without a uterus should have NO say in how or if a woman can have birth control. Especially "vir'ginal" men who prey on boys. If it's such a big 'sin', then tell this god of yours to come on down, and tell us in person. I suspect we'll be waiting a LONG LONG time for that to happen.

      January 31, 2012 at 3:26 am |
  5. Jimmers

    I'm amazed at the Catholic bashing...so much hate from people who must have never experienced the enormous amount of good that the church performs on a daily basis.
    This has to do with every religion, not just Catholics. This is simply about having the ability to practice your religious freedom and follow your conscience.

    January 31, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • Lewtwo

      well if the catholic church would quit trying to force its medieval dogma down everyone's throat then you might not see as much catholic bashing.

      January 31, 2012 at 3:21 am |
    • rick

      jimmers: you are free to follow you conscience

      January 31, 2012 at 4:09 am |
  6. cakebasedlifeform

    After the Obama admin's sending of thousands of guns to drug cartels who use them to kill (largely Catholic) Mexicans, and their forcing the Catholic church to pay for birth control against their beliefs, I can see why Romeny is showing up pretty strongly against Obama among Latinos in Florida.

    January 31, 2012 at 2:43 am |
    • OpenEyes

      Getting the support of Miami's infamous Cuban thugs, is not a good thing for America. This group of corrupt right wing bigots has willing expressed their hatred of every ethnic group that is NOT Cuban, ruining the Miami-Dade area's ability to show tolerance to others. They have meddled with our countries politics far too long, its time for them to be fully ignored once and for all!

      January 31, 2012 at 3:55 am |
    • Primewonk

      " and their forcing the Catholic church to pay for birth control against their beliefs"

      They aren't forcing the catholic church to pay. They are telling businesses run by the catholic church to provide coverage.

      Big difference.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  7. Elise Dupre

    I am Catholic, and I see this issue as a difficult one. First of all, from what I have read, this law does NOT require the insurance to cover abortions. No president or lawmaker in their right mind would legislate a health care law in which Federal funds pay for abortions, or anyone is required to provide health insurance that covers abortions. This would be political suicide and way too controversial.

    Secondly, I do support the right of the Catholic church to not pay for something that they believe, at the core, is sinful and morally wrong. This exemption continues for the churches themselves and their employees. On the other hand, you also have at stake the rights of many workers at Catholic hospitals and universities who are not Catholic to have equal access to important health care such as contraception and other preventive measures, particularly women. Sterilization and the "morning after" pill was also included in this requirement.

    So what is the right answer here? I honestly don't know. Even as a Catholic, I believe that the church should have softened the contraceptive prohibition years ago, especially for married couples. It just makes sense, and to my mind, relieves unnecessary hardship caused by too many children in already struggling families. Not to mention, it would help prevent abortions. What I don't like seeing is misinformation and hysteria.

    January 31, 2012 at 2:24 am |
  8. Spence

    Just another perversion of the Separation of Church and State. Instead of protecting religious freedom, the state is now dictating what religions will do. Now the perversion of this idea to protect the State from Church and anyone with religious believes. Paving the way for Atheists and other non-religious people to enslave and persecute those who choose to have faith in a God.

    January 31, 2012 at 2:18 am |
    • Observer

      Atheists, agnostics, and people of other religions help pay the taxes that Catholic churchs don't.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:19 am |
    • Spence

      Churches are non-profit organizations that provide a great deal of aid to people in need. Aid that would be wasted if the government was involved in it. And with more than 1.2 million abortions in America, there needs to be some thought to what people do instead of just the wholesale slaughter of babies. The hatred of agnostics and atheists for people that choose to believe in God, especially Christians, is nothing but persecution. It won't be long before agnostics and atheists are finding ways to put Christians into philosophical lion's dens and hang them on crosses.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • Persecution Complex Detector

      Yup, all of those atheists in congress are out to get you Spence. Oh wait.....

      There's a lot of paranoid christians on these boards, but Spence might just pull away with the Tin Foil Hat Poster of the Month award.

      Maybe you should watch out from persecution from withing, since many polls put catholic support of contraception north of 90%.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:30 am |
    • Observer


      The Bible offers more to support abortion than to oppose it, so that's not a good source for a discussion on abortion.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:30 am |
    • Rich

      Are you saying that non-believers are more powerful than your God? Why not appeal to him instead of CNN readers?

      January 31, 2012 at 2:39 am |
    • Lewtwo

      "Atheists, agnostics, and people of other religions help pay the taxes that Catholic churchs don't."
      AMEN !

      January 31, 2012 at 3:22 am |
    • rick

      spence: catholics are being enslaved? where?

      January 31, 2012 at 4:12 am |
    • bigot

      "Churches are non-profit organizations"

      Tell that to "Bishop" Eddie Long who, when preaching, owned a $250k Bentley. Hmmmm, I wonder how he can afford that?

      January 31, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  9. DebG

    Why anyone supports the Catholic church, let alone listen to them, is beyond me. If you don't support abortion, don't have one, but no one should force their beliefs on anyone else. I'd rather women have access to safe abortions rather than bleeding to death because they used some quack. The hush money paid by the Catholics was tax free charitable donations made by the faithful. I believe all non-profits should have to disclose where the money went. For non-charitable uses, such as to pay off lawsuits or influence politics should not be deductible. Only when people can write off less than 100% of a donation will the churches change. BTW, the Catholic Church is one of the biggest proponents of illegal immigration.

    January 31, 2012 at 2:09 am |
  10. mike

    They don't meed contraception, only little boys are involved

    January 31, 2012 at 1:57 am |
  11. brad

    I'm a Catholic, I don't believe in abortion.. specially with so many looking to adopt, and have to go out of the country due to red tape and beauracracy (spchck).. but I also don't believe any person, religion has a right to "tell" a woman what to do with her body.. if a woman decides to abort for whatever reason (hopefully it's not an "OOPS" or as "BIRTHCONTROL") it's her choice.. period.. as for the taking of a life, that's between her and God...and He will judge accordingly..... so make all the Catholic/religious jokes you want.. or rude comments.. but in the end.. God will have the last word.. hope it's a good one for ya.. cause you'll spend FAR more time on the OTHER side of death than this side.. better to believe in something and there be nothing and when you die you gain nothing.. than to believe in nothing, and there IS something.. and when you die you lose EVERYTHING.. Odds are that God is REAL and he's surely not happy with Abortion, women who abort and the doctors that perform them.. that's my .02 now i'm broke

    January 31, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • mike

      ah God/church also executed people at one point for saying earth revolves round the sun.....

      January 31, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • *facepalm*

      "Odds are that God is REAL"

      We'll chalk up statistics as one of the areas you're not well versed in.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:01 am |
    • tallulah13


      There is not a single shred of evidence to support the existence of your god, or any of the thousands created by humans throughout history. However, there are at least half a million children in foster care in this country. Most of them will not be adopted. By the age of 24 about 60% of the males will have been convicted of a crime. About a quarter will spend time homeless. About two thirds of the females will have children of their own. Less than half will be employed. (the info comes from a study from Chapin Hall, a policy research center at the University of Chicago).

      But I guess your fantasy is nicer that reality, so you just go ahead and keep believing.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:38 am |
    • rick

      brad: you have some gall purporting to speak for god.

      "better to believe in something and there be nothing and when you die you gain nothing.. than to believe in nothing, and there IS something.. and when you die you lose EVERYTHING".

      Pacal's wager rears it's ugly head.

      brad: what if you worship the wrong "something"?

      any "god" that would punish people for disbelief is not worth worship, but pity

      January 31, 2012 at 4:20 am |
    • bigot

      "better to believe in something and there be nothing and when you die you gain nothing.. than to believe in nothing, and there IS something.. and when you die you lose EVERYTHING.. Odds are that God is REAL and he's surely not happy with Abortion, women who abort and the doctors that perform them.. that's my .02 now i'm broke"

      look up Pascals Wager, Brad. There maybe a picture of you next to its definition. #youignant

      January 31, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Ozymandias71

      It's good to see folks who are aware of Pascal's Wager... naturally I'd bet that Brad knew nothing about it.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • SPA Knight

      Read your Cathechism brother and don't forget your commandments, especially the one that says not to kill.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  12. OpenEyes

    Lets see when it comes to force employers to pay for contraceptives, the Catholic Archdiocese's are fighting Tooth and Nail against the US Government. When it comes to turning in dangerous Pedephile Priests, the Catholic Archdiocese's gives us silence. What a bunch disgusting hypocrites, and I give them zero credibility when to moral values.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:47 am |
    • *facepalm*

      Actually, when it comes to extending limits on the statute of limitations for se.x crimes, the church is fighting tooth and nail. Who cares about the victims when the bottom line is at stake.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:02 am |
  13. Brilhaanta

    A man is just a man, not the Man. Worhsip the Message..not the man, he's a sinner like you or I.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • bigot

      considering the "message" was written by MEN, you are worshiping the messages of ancient men

      January 31, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  14. Jack Watcher

    The Catholic Church long ago surrendered any right to preach from a moral position. As far back as the Medici popes the church was mired in immorality. The recent findings of massive abuse of children throughout the world by the clergy and the lack of action on the part of the church to stop it says all you need to know of the morality of the bishops. They probably want to stop birth control so they will eventually have more children to molest.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:39 am |
  15. Brilhaanta

    We're not talking about taxes, billion.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:37 am |
  16. Judy Wood

    Coming from a group that helped Nazi's escape justice, that is a real laugh.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:36 am |
    • jon

      oh, that myth resurrected…another cnn "historian"

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

      @ jon Look up "ratlines" before you declare this fact to be false.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:04 am |
  17. billiam

    "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."

    January 31, 2012 at 1:31 am |
  18. Brilhaanta

    conscience laws?! So a doctor or hospital can refuse to provide birth control services that violate their religious beliefs, which i assume would cause the patient to seek those services from a different doctor or hospital. But an employer who has the same religious belief doesn't have the same option? I guess if it was that important the employee could just the same way find another employer who does support birth control?! What a contradiction and how bizarre a policy.

    I am Canadian, catholic and support birth control.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:30 am |
  19. CaliMafia

    So, the use of abortion and contraceptives violates Catholic teachings, huh?????? . What about molesting helpless children. Is that part of Catholic dogma? Hypocrites

    January 31, 2012 at 1:29 am |
    • Typical Response

      Yeah, right. All Catholic priests molest children. Yep, the entire church is all about molesting children. Fact is, very few priests have done this. Some others have attempted to cover it up. The vast majority of Catholics (well over 99 percent) had nothing to do with it at all. Nothing. But we have to read garbage like that all of the time because if some people were doing it, then all of us must be guilty, right?

      I'll bet we could uncover a sin that you have committed in the past. And, if we did, how would you feel if we simply stereotyped everyone into that small group that you are in? It would be pathetic. Your post is also pathetic.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • ex-Catholic

      Typical Responses, indeed! By continuing to financially support an insti.tution that has globally and for decades willingly and knowingly allowed abuses to occur while responses from leadership are luke warm at best, you implicitly allow such things to happen. If Penn State were to continually be mired in se.xual controversy, not take any definitive action to correct the behavior, not require mandatory reporting, and actively and vocally opposed extending the statute of limitations for victims, what would you say to donors who continued to give to the school?

      January 31, 2012 at 2:10 am |
    • bigot

      typical Response: Any citations to back up your assertions? Or is this just more Christian speculation?

      January 31, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  20. JP

    Catholics are standing up for the rights of the unborn child which is something every person who claims themselves to be a follower of Jesus should do. Where is this in the Bible? Simply it is found in the Ten Commandments where it proclaims, "Thou Shalt Not Kill." This healthcare law violates the rights of every Christian and every person who refuses to give in any way to the murder of an innocent child.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:25 am |
    • Observer


      The same books of the Bible that say "Thou shall not kill" also give a list of reasons to kill people. Read the Bible.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:28 am |
    • medstudent

      Go read leviticus and deuteronomy again and tell me the bible doesn't ENCOURAGE killing.

      Let's see...when should we kill? If someone:
      – eat's shrimp
      – wears linen with wool
      – cheats on their spouse
      – is a child who is disrespectful to their parents

      the list goes on....

      January 31, 2012 at 1:40 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.