February 1st, 2012
09:23 PM ET

Is Obama losing the Catholic vote?

By Eric Marrapodi and Brianna Keilar, CNN

(CNN)–After years of bridge building with the Catholic Church, the Obama administration may have damaged some of the good will it built up with the nation's 70 million Catholics, which could have steep consequences at the polls in November.

Some rank and file Catholics are beginning to express the same frustrations as clergy about a new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services policy requiring all employers, including religious ones, to pay for FDA-approved contraceptives, such as the birth control pill and Plan B, through health insurance plans. Churches are exempt but hospitals and schools with religious affiliations must comply. The new policy goes into effect August 1, 2012, but religious groups who oppose contraception have been given a yearlong extension to enforce the policy.

"What's offensive is that we're being told, our Catholic institutions which serve this nation well, are being told you who find these things offensive, you should pay for them, in fact you must pay for them," Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, told CNN.

Catholic teaching opposes the use of contraceptives.  Wuerl acknowledged the clergy and the faithful have been at odds over the teachings on contraceptive use. But on this policy he said both are in lockstep over what is being perceived as a violation of religious liberties.

"This time around what people are seeing this isn't a question of one moral teaching or another, it's being able to teach at all. Our freedom, and everyone has a stake in freedom in this country, and I think that's why this resonates across the board," he said.

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Wuerl is calling his congregants to action, asking them to call congress and the White House to express their displeasure.

"We're beginning to say to our people this is what the issue is, it's wrong, we've never experienced this in the history of our country before, this is a violation of the basic rights of conscience and religious liberty. So you need to know that and you need to speak up," he said.

The timing of the administration's announcement has drawn criticism for being tone deaf, coming just three days before tens of thousands of protesters, many of them Catholics who oppose abortion rights, came to Washington for the annual March for Life on the anniversary of Roe vs Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.

"In my estimation it's a huge misstep politically," said Stephen Schneck a political scientist from Catholic University who has consulted with the administration on Catholic issues. In 2009, Schneck also worked with pro-abortion rights Democrats in Congress on the president’s signature health care reform measure to find language that ensured government funds did not pay for abortions.

"The way in which the narrative is being developed is that the administration is at odds with the Catholic Church fundamentally. What I'm seeing in the pews is something of a waking up, a Catholic solidarity. That I think could very well carry over into their political activities" Schneck said. "There's nothing like having a sense of opposition to you to rally the troops and I suspect that's going to happen here."

Schneck pointed particularly to states with large Catholic populations where this new solidarity could have a far-reaching political impact.

"If you look at where those Catholics are, they're in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Florida, which are of course critical states for anyone who wants to become president of the United States," he said.

In 2008, President Obama won 54% of the Catholic vote, according to the Pew Research Center. Early on in his presidency, Obama reached out to Catholics. He appointed prominent Catholics to several cabinet positions and ambassadorships.

In May 2009, the president delivered the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame, where he spoke of working together on abortion.

"Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women. Those are things we can do," the president said to rousing applause from the crowd in South Bend, Indiana.

In shaping the new Health and Human Services policy, the administration reached out to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the public policy arm of the church in the United States, and other Catholic leaders in November to seek their input in the process. Many of the same Catholic leaders received a heads up on January 20 several hours before the administration announced the policy.

"This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty. I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the statement about the policy.

On Tuesday in the White House briefing room, Press Secretary Jay Carney again defended the administration's decision when pressed by reporters.

"After very careful consideration the administration believes that this strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing access to important preventive services. We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concern," Carney said.

The administration is extremely concerned this will affect Catholic voters’ support.

As the opposition grew this week, the administration noted to reporters there were Catholics in and out of government who support the measure, as well as interfaith groups.

Late Wednesday night the White House launched the first part of an information campaign to spell out what the policy change does and does not do.

An administration official also pointed to nearly $2 billion in federal grants that have gone to Catholic-related charities since the beginning of the administration as a sign of the willingness to work together.

James Salt, executive director of Catholics United, which hasn't taken a position on the HHS policy, said there could be a silver lining for both Catholics and the administration on this issue. He said with more women able to access contraceptives there could be a reduction in abortions stemming from unplanned pregnancies as a result of the policy.

"More needs to be done on both sides. It's not just a question for the administration, it's a question for the pro-life community and the pro-choice community to put aside their heated rhetoric and find common ground," Salt said.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Abortion • Barack Obama • Belief • Bishops • Catholic Church • Christianity • Church and state • Politics

soundoff (2,744 Responses)
  1. MG.

    Trying to justify the most expensive leader in mankinds history from the left always proves entertaining! You'd be surprised how conseravative these libt@rds would get if it were their $5 trillion that Obama spent in less than 3 years! Unfortunately, most Democrats don't work or pat taxes anyway! ...our inept president is losing more and more of his supporters with every minute that passes by. ...at least Obama has the race card left!

    February 2, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • bspurloc

      how is that fox fantasy world going for u? got any aspirations for a gop candidate yet?

      February 2, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • I'm The Best!

      I agree and would totally vote republican except for the fact I'm afraid one of them is going to try and create a theocracy. Take religion out of the republican party and they will gain a lot more support

      February 2, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • Al

      I am a Democrat and pay taxes. In fact, my tax dollars paid for two costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started by the Bush administration. My tax dollars paid for the bailout of Continental Illinois during the Reagan administration. My tax dollars have, in fact, paid for lots things done by people across the board. Take the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of your brother's eye.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  2. awry

    Most of these comments are by cafeteria Catholics who are basically "Obamites" creeping around the country

    February 2, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  3. ppedo

    This country was founded by people escaping religious persecution. The separation of Church and State ammendment was more to keep government out of religion than to keep religion out of government. This is the first small step of big brother entering the religious arena.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Janet32

      This is so untrue. Big reason ive left the religion.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • BRC

      No it isn't. The government isn't interfering with the church (any church). They are saying that all EMPLOYERS in The United States will provide all EMPLOYEES with comprehensive health care that covers a certain standard of care. Some of those items are objectionable to some of the employers. Too bad. People are protected by the Consttution, not organizations. IT's not a violation of the first amendment, it's an attempt at equal care for all citizens.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  4. Tylenol666

    Here's my "Fair Share" RON PAUL 2012 !

    February 2, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • I'm The Best!

      Most intelligent people will vote Ron Paul, problem is, the majority of Americans aren't that smart. I've heard people say they are going to vote republican or democrat even though they hated the candidate just because that's how they've always voted

      February 2, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      If Paul runs Independently he is guaranteeing Obama's re-election by splitting the Republican vote.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  5. Phil in KC

    There's a simple remedy for the Catholics and those other religious organizations. Stop taking federal money. Then they're not bound by those rules. If they want that money, then they have to abide by the same rules as everyone else. I see no problem with that.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • ppedo

      Not an option. Onerous financial penalties for not complying. Millions which could have helped the poor going to the government. Maybe this is part of the debt reduction plan!!

      February 2, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  6. Onevoter

    Weather you are Catholic or not. Beleive in abortion or not. The bottom line is peoples right to choose and Obama is taking thast right away. If you don't approve of the way Catholics do busnness then find another job. Obama is wrong to try to take away Americans right to choose. First this, then what. Ouur right to vote? With luck Obama and his clan of racist crooks will be thrown to the curb come election day. One example of how Obama will lie and say anything to get re elected, look at his speech at Notre Dame. He was lying through his teeth then as he is now. He will be remembered as the most UnAmerican president in history.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • SnowyowlSmorrica

      Time to take the smelling salt, Onevoter. The right to vote is under attack from the right-wingers, not the left. Or haven't you heard about voter suppression masquerading as voter ID laws in all of these red states?

      February 2, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  7. Prior

    "Fear not the Ori, fear the darkness that would conceal the knowledge of the universe. Believe in the truth of all things, and you too may find the path to enlightenment."

    "Hallowed are we; hallowed are the Ori."

    February 2, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      Just keep telling yourself, It is Only a Movie.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  8. Janet32

    Religion should not play any role in our government other than the freedom to practice personally. I used to be a devout christian but over the past 4 years Ive lost my faith reading and listening to other christians. Its disgusting and deplorable what ive read people say on their comments. I havent read a christian post that was not searing with anger, hate or ignorance. Im now a born again atheist and happy with knowing Im an animal and that we're all a part of the cosmos.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • TownC

      I feel bad for you Janet. God does love you and everyone else whatever their beliefs. Sadly there is intolerance everywhere. Sometimes religious and non religious people make bigoted comments. Unfortunately humans are fallible which leads them to say and do vicious things. This does not change God's unfailing love for his children!

      February 2, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Janet32

      After complete research and analysis of the bible and all that believe in it I think Ive come to an educated decision that Gods are not real. Gods were a mode of power over wars in the past they were used to intimidate their enemies and even they societies and humans still fool themselves into believing a book that was written close to 200 years after any of it happened in a time when there was no mode of keeping records then another man hears of one religion and makes his own spin on it making it the second popular religion on the planet. Based all on men and women's hallucinations. There are so many plants on this planet with hallucinagetic components. For crying out loud heroine was legal up into 1919. People need to get help on their logic skills.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      So you are the seed that fell among the rocks? Sorry to hear about it. Do some research on Christianity before the Reformation.
      The Church still teaches what it taught back then to anyone with an open mind. Isn't One Faith better than 700+ others who think what Jesus taught is open to personal interpretation? I don't accept the Protestant Reformation either. Try what came before it, which still exists. The Church can answer any question you have, You are not the first to question its Teaching or disbelieve. CatholicsComeHome.org is a good place to start.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Janet32

      I was born and raised in the church and on top of that my father was a pastor for an evangelical church for over 10 years so I already know of the God experience first hand. Ive had enough.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      So how about giving the other side of the Tiber a chance before giving up on God?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  9. Andrew

    Conservatives have successfully wedged away Catholic voters with issues like Abortion. Like many other religious groups, Republicans have discovered that Catholics are comprised mostly single-issue voters who are easily shepherded in line with the false promise of overturning Roe V Wade. Like the other flavors of believers, Evangelikkkals etc... they are too dumb to realize that Roe will never be overturned because the Republicans will never give up a tool of control that this issue has become.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      About half the population thinks Abortion is a Faith issue, the other half thinks it is a "Woman's Health" issue. The REAL question is should the Government be involved in the decision in any way, or should it be left up to the pregnant couple and their personal beliefs? My belief is that the Government should get out of the Abortion business. Look at all the trouble and expense it has caused in the last almost 40 years

      February 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  10. I'm The Best!

    Oh, wo NOW you complain about the separation on church and state, where is doesn't even apply mind you, bit before, you were all against it, wanting our children to pray an schools and learn about your no-fact-based theories on everything.

    What a bunch of hypocrites.

    This doesn't just go for Catholics mind you, I'm saying this as a general statement toward all religious people/organizations

    February 2, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  11. AZLumberjack

    If in fact the vast majority of voters who happen to be Catholic are single issue voters, and these Catholic voters beliefs are identical to each other concerning this single issue mentioned in the article, and most importantly, this is in fact the single issue of which they decide whom to cast their vote for, then yes, Obama risks losing a substantial amount of Catholic vote. However to assume that all Catholics vote primarily because of one particular issue, and that they all think the same way when it comes to this singular particular issue that's mentioned in the article, and would vote identically to one another based on this singular issue, is based on a seriously flawed premise. Those who identify themselves as Catholic are about as diverse with what they deem most important concerning the issues come election time, as say, you and I. They haven't nor will they all vote the same based on one issue, nor will their vote for Pres. hinge on one issue only. The percentage numbers in previous elections of the voting history of those who identify themselves as Catholic seem to prove that. Also, the belief that still an overwhelming majority of Catholics vote accordingly to the stance on issues of the Catholic church simply don't appear to be true in 2012. I read a lot of officials tied to the Church in some form or another, being asked of their opinion regarding the matter in this article, but I failed to see a single comment from someone not tied to the Church, but rather a member of the public who identifies themselves as Catholic. Most people I know who identify themselves as Catholic do practice forms of birth control that don't involve the "rhythm" method, but with condoms and the like, and yes, all of them that I know are strongly Pro-Life as well. These people are going to vote for whom they deem is more qualified for president, based on the issues that are and ideas that appeal to them, which doesn't necessarily translate to to the issues and ideas that are important to the Catholic Church. Of course we shall see in 2012, but I think the speculation in this article regarding Obama losing many votes from people of the Catholic faith are simply overblown. Thank you and may all have a good one!

    February 2, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  12. streetdude66

    No Obama isnt losing the Catholic vote but he is losing the whack job religious Jesus Crispies portion of the GOP that has assimilated into the T Party vote but who cares. These are the right wing nuts that voted in Dubya TWICE!!!! These are the loony tunes that showed up at the healthcare town hall meetings brandishing guns because they believed that somehow if healthcare were passed their guns would be taken away from them ! DUH!!!! Theyre whats wrong with the country so who cares what they think?

    February 2, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • Bruce

      Definitely. Most Roman Catholics in America basically ignore the Vatican when it comes to birth control (though they might listen to the abortion portion of that message).

      The only Catholics that Obama loses in funding most birth control (but not abortion) are the clerics who are not married and not politically relevant.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • IntlPol101

      Really? Are you Catholic? Actually it's a resounding "yes." Catholics view this federal mandate as a visible part of what Christians believe to be this Administration's "attack on Christianity." Where you got all of this GOP/Tea Party crap is beyond me- most Catholics in America today live in older cities along the Eastern seaboard, largely Dem. strongholds.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Janet32

      I hate knowing churches dont pay taxes, it shows how much religion has power over us.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • jimtanker

      Speak for yourself. You religious nutjobs have no control over this guy.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      24% of Americans claim to be Catholic. There isn't room for all of them on the Eastern Seaboard. You can find a Catholic Church within easy driving distance just about anywhere in this country.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  13. Ed

    I would hope Catholics are all smaert enough NOT to vote for Das Furher.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • streetdude66

      Dont worry ED they cant, Dubya has already been POTUS & isnt able to hold that office again according to the law.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      Franklin Roosevelt served three terms. All it takes is a 3/4 majority to repeal/adjust the 23rd Amendment. Can you guarantee it won't happen again?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  14. Brendan, Philadelphia, Pa

    The Roman Catholic Church is at odds with the teachings of Christ. Respect for human life doesn't just occur within the womb. The hierarchy has staunchly supported a party that pays lip service only to abortion and then ignores every other tenet of Jesus' teaching thereafter. The Diocese is pulling their schools from every poor neighborhood in Philadelphia and abandoning the remaining faithful to chase suburban dollars. Thankfully most Catholics ignore the edicts "from on high."

    February 2, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      Could it be there aren't enough Catholic children in those poor neighborhoods to justify an empty school in their neighborhood?
      Obama was not elected by 54% of Catholics. He was elected by 54% of the people that claim to be Catholic but clearly are not as they do not follow the teachings of the Church. You either accept the whole faith or not at all.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Brendan, Philadelphia, Pa

      Many of the schools and parishes are very well filled and have fundraising in place. What they can't typically afford is the extra check the Diocese expects to be sent downtown. Not all of the children are Catholic, but again that's no excuse. A priest-friend of mine who ministered and ran a parish school in North Philadelpha for decades said "We don't serve the community because it is Catholic. We serve the community because we are Catholic." His school is now slated to shutdown this summer.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Brendan, Philadelphia, Pa

      Regarding "accepting the whole faith or nothing at all." How does the "war-mongering, fend for yourself and die-quickly if you can't afford health insurance" GOP represent the "whole faith"? Abortions increased during the Bush years and GOP congressional majority. Funding condoms outweighs all else?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      I would reply but CNN isn't letting me.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • KMW


      CNN has not let me reply either. Are they censoring us?

      February 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Brendan, Philadelphia, Pa

      You can post that you can't reply, but can't reply? That's pretty funny.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  15. NewCatholic

    He should be losing the Catholic vote...he never should have had it in the first place.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  16. king

    The church leadership does not reflect the rest of the members of the church on birth control. A large number of Catholics support and/or use contraception regardless what the Pope's says. This is not an issue that will loose the Catholic vote as a whole.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • unhanon

      Gotta agree with King and other similar posters on this one. I am Catholic, and birth control is not nearly the issue that abortion is to most Catholics. Let's face it, Catholicism and partisan politics has been back and forth for years. Republicans tend to be anti-abortion, which theoretically attracts "Catholic voters"; but Democrats are for increasing the social support structures in our society, which theoretically attracts "Catholic voters" as well. I think if anything, the degree to which "Catholic voters" support Obama is a reflection of the changing demographics of Catholics in the US, from predominantly blue-collar workers in ethnic neighborhoods to more diverse educational and social economic backgrounds.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      You've got it backwards. The Church doesn't reflect the people's opinion, the people are supposed to reflect the Church's teaching. Your definition is called Protestantism.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  17. Bruce

    I find war morally reprehensible but I'm forced to pay for it through taxes. In any society there will be things that the government will do, out of necessity our out of some other compulsion such as political popularity (which is, let's face it, tantamount to necessity when it comes to a politician), that will be morally reprehensible to a portion of the population and nevertheless everybody must chip in and pay for it through their taxes.

    The Catholics and their moral aversion to birth control, well - suck it up. Deal with it. This is not the City of God, Mr. Augustine. This is Caesar, and you should rend unto Caesar that which is Caesar's...

    February 2, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • tkogrady

      Completely agree – if they want government grants and are taking government money – then you had better follow the law of the land. Otherwise, don't take the money!

      February 2, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Nonimus

      Is this policy only for companies that receive federal funds, or all companies?

      February 2, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      So Caesar owns morality? No thank you. The Church is not opposed to birth control, just the kind that makes a woman's body so sick it can't conceive. There are Natural ways completely approved and encouraged by the Church.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  18. Big Easy in New Orleans

    A Church that is against contraception, but protects child molesters is contradicting one's own teachings.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      There is a HUGE difference between what the Church teaches and the way some people who claim to be Catholic act. The Church is not opposed to Natural Birth Control, just chemically induced contraception. It also is not supposed to "protect" sinners but forgive them and help them repent. Where that stops, and The State's Law takes over can be difficult to define.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  19. dantheman

    What happened to separation of Church and state??? If any church (Catholic or otherwise) attempts to control and manipulate the political process then that church should lose it's favored tax-exempt status. That could go a long way in this difficult economic environment. Make them register as a formal PAC and then pay taxes on all of it's property and income!

    February 2, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      The First Amendment only prohibits Congress from supporting or restraining any Church. Everything else regarding religion is defined by the Supreme Court or an individuals mind. There is a Separation of Church and State but apparently the current Administration feels it can cross it any time it chooses.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:16 am |

    2 billion in federal grants for the church of pedophilia??? TAX THE CHURCHES!!! They should be giving more than 2 billion to the government instead of vice-versa. Where are the RICO indictments against this cabal of charlatans and child molesters? Stay the Hell out of government or pay your fair share!!

    February 2, 2012 at 8:54 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.