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. bigdoglv

    So, the Catholics own and run the hospital, but they have to furnish services that go against their beliefs. I am no fan of their beliefs, but who gives the govt the right to tell them what to do? I believe that the Catholics have done a pretty good job with their hospitals and don't need any govt intervention. Don't like it, go somewhere else. If its an emergency, thank them for saving your life.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • BRC

      Not how it works. The Hospitals don't have to provide contraceptives or perform abortions, but the do have to provide their employees with Health Care that gives them the ability to go and get contraceptives (the abortion thing may be up in the air right now). Perfectly legal.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Wondering Why

      You forgetting BRC Catholic schools and hospitals are sponsored by religious donations. Nobody is forcing anybody to work there or visit there. if you dont want you can go somewhere else. Bottom line is you can not force religion change just because you feel like it.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  2. Mark

    This isn't about one's opinion of the Church's teaching on contraception or about organized religion or about Catholicism. It is about the government forcing health care groups operated by Catholic religious orders to provide something to their employees that is directly contrary to Catholic teaching. It violates the separation of church and state.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • David from Maryland

      Thank you Mark, that is the point. This should concern all Americans.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  3. K. Owe

    I can answer this question ... HELL NO! I am a Catholic and as far as I can tell, the 'church' has enough to worry about keeping children safe from molestation within their infrastructure to be concerned with what a WOMAN wants to do with HER body. They need to read a pamphlet or something .... woman take oral contraception for a variety of reasons (and quite frankly I'd rather see women be responsible and prevent pregnancy rather than bring a life into this world and mistreat/kill it postpartum). GIVE THIS MAN A BREAK!

    I'm Kimberly Owens-Jackson and I approve this message (damnit)!

    February 2, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Wondering Why

      I doubt you are Catholic. No need to pretend. You can always belief in something more earthly like a rock or American Idol. Nobody is forcing you to be Catholic, nobody is forcing you to pretend to be Catholic.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  4. iwonder

    Father Jim was none too pleased and spent a good 20 minutes of mass letting all the people in the building that they should get up and leave if they support President Obama. I truly wonder, what percentage of those sitting in the pews felt as uncomfortable as I did. Especially after my 7 year old son asked me "Is Obama bad?"
    Aren't we supposed to go to church to get away from all of this?

    February 2, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Tim59

      Preaching like that will cost church's their tax exempt status.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • streetsmt

      Why didn't you get up and leave? Staying only enables this stuff further.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  5. David from Maryland

    A lot of Catholics got buyer's remorse two days after Obama took office, when he rescinded the Mexico City Policy. The health care bill's approach to abortion turned off many more that were paying attention. Now he is forcing a religious group to do something their beliefs disagree with, which should concern all Americans. Anybody but Obama in November.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • eddy

      The Mexico city policy ?? When he's deported more people than bush ! Your an idiot anybody but you! Must be a tea bagger

      February 2, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  6. tony

    Any candidate who espouse religion automatically loses my vote.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • ElectionTime

      HEY! He doesn't espouse religion....just the non-Muslim ones

      February 2, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  7. JerseyGeorge

    Catholicism is out of touch with the modern world. The Vatican is an outright palace which houses self-righteous, old men stuck in the past imposing ancient beliefs and theocracy rule on peoples lives, especially women. Organized religion is the root of all evil.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Joeschmo

      Are you Barack Obama?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • David from Maryland

      The modern world is out of touch with Catholicism. Keep polluting our planet with birth control chemicals. It's already affecting animals and people. I kid you not.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • streetsmt

      Maybe all the viagra they are finding in our drinking water will counter the effects of birth control 🙂

      February 2, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  8. Tired Catholic

    As a Catholic, Obama didn't lose my vote. The Catholic church lost my dollars in their collection plate, though. I'm getting old, and the older I get, the less I find favor with organized religion. I am beginning to see it as nothing more than "big business". A tax free big business, at that.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  9. us1776

    Who are we kidding here?

    Most Catholics use contraceptives defying stupid dictates coming out of Rome.


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

    The Curia are, by the nature of their positions, in lock-step with Rome. The average American Catholic is not.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  11. Wondering why

    People pretend to be Catholics. Look if you dont believe and you not prepared to protect something basic as Decalog why even pretend to be Catholic . I just don't get it. If however, you are Catholic you need to be able to stand up for whats right. You are allowed to vote and you should not be voting somebody who supports breaking the rules.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • maggie

      So then by your analogy, unless a candidate thinks as you do about one issue, they should be counted out? If so, who does that leave you with? A serial adulterer? A Mormon?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Pants987987

      Bush "supported the rules", but never did anything to stop abortion. What he DID do is lie to the American people and get thousands of soldiers killed, tens of thousands of people maimed, and hundreds of thousands of civilians murdered.

      The GOP has always been Pro-War and you can't be Pro-Life and also be Pro-War. The two don't mix. Stop voting for super villains simply because you agree with them on ONE SINGLE issue.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Wondering Why

      Nice try spinning off. If you are Catholic you should not be concern with somebody else religion. Somebody's else belief is not a sin. so Mormon does not equate to adulterer. However, those who support murder can not be supported.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • J.W

      Bush supported murder. Did you vote for him?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  12. Bruce

    Just what exactly is it about "collective shared risk" (aka insurance) that screams "freedom" and "free market" to you conservatives?

    Seriously. Expecting a really-free market approach to health insurance is as bad as "keep your government hands off my Medicare" and also "I'm against government jobs programs because I work really, really hard for my money and earn it... in the Army."

    February 2, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • tony

      They're stupid

      February 2, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  13. J.W

    When I went to the other website it says that they are not forcing them to cover abortions, so they just have to cover contraception if I am reading that right. So only Catholics should be mad about it, so that isn't a big deal.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Interested48

      Most Catholics USE birth control; it's the hierarchy that has a problem with it.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • J.W

      There are probably only a few people who are mad about this then.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • DA

      Let me get this straight. You're saying that forcing 70 million Catholics to set their faith aside and do what the government tells then to do, in violation of the first ammendment, isn't a big deal?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • J.W

      Most catholics probably don't even believe contraception is wrong. We all have to pay for things we don't believe in. They should get over it.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  14. Joe - Plant City, Florida

    The answer, as with most social issues is mixed. The Catholic Church is not a monolith, despite articles to the contrary. The leaders of the church are notoriously overbearing and demanding, but in my experience most of the congregation will generally make up their own minds on this subject. It is true that the hard core, daily mass attendees will likely support the bishops' views, but that is a relatively small proportion of the people. The real damage is in the image or perceived image that the president is trying to force the state dictates on religious practices. If that view gains traction, the president will be damaged, not only in the Catholic community, but in the population on the whole.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  15. David Marriott

    Everytime our idiot president opens his mouth he offends another group. ...Well, at least he still has the race card left!

    February 2, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Interested48

      Spoken like a true nasty Replubican't.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      And exactly what year did you graduate from Harvard?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  16. DIANA

    I'm catholic and I voted and will vote for Mr Obama. As far as I'm concerned, he's following the teachings of Jesus, watching out for our fellow citizens.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • MG.

      You're confusing Obumbles with the tax collector not Jesus! .... some catholic! ...LOL

      February 2, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Name*DJ

      Your not a true Catholic than because you're not following your faith electing pro abortion candidates that don't respect life or family, and deny Christ teachings.

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

      Diana is another imposter. She is not Catholic by even mile. I would not worry about her.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Bruce

      President Obama is not the tax collector. He's Caesar.

      Jesus said to rend unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, so pay up!

      (Note that Jesus said to do this even though the taxes collected by Caesar went in part to pay the soldiers who killed Jesus. Go figure.)

      February 2, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Mike

      Yeah MG,

      Taxes are as low as they have been in history...but I'm sure you can come up with more phantom socialist theories or so-called burdensome regulations that he has come up with that are bringing this country down. Because I'm sure waging two wars while decreasing tax revenues had nothing to do with it. And I'm pretty sure those wars wouldn't fall under the Catholic definition of just wars either.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  17. Al Alonso

    Catholic Vote? Don't Catholics follow Jesus Christ? Last time I read, Jesus maintained Neutral when it comes to World Politics, he even stated his Kingdom is not of this World. He said pay Ceasar to Ceasar, and God to God. Referring to Taxes, following laws and being a Model Chistian. You never read he was rooting for the Roman Empire or the Jewish State, did you?

    Is there another Bible that Catholics Ready?

    February 2, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The Protestant Bible has 66 books while the Catholics have 73...

      February 2, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Name*DJ

      Al, you obviously know nothing of Christ teachings, he was not netrual, he spoke the truth, and did the will of his Father in heaven. I sugest you read the scriptures. The problem is either you don't recognize the truth. Read the bible about the Passion of Christ in John. There you will find the Truth!

      February 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  18. Bill

    Obama is a worthless do nothing president. Those that voted for him in 2008 to prove you were not a racist, do us all a favor and vote for someone else in 2012 to prove your no an idiot.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Interested48

      How could anyone in good conscience vote for the candidates on the Republican ticket? You Republicans are scraping the bottom of the barrel this year.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Portland tony

      If he's such a do nothing, why are the Republicans all riled up at his policies?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Bruce

      It's one thing to not vote for President Obama in 2012. It's quite another thing to actually vote for Mitt Romney instead.

      Seriously, people. Stop letting your hatred for this President cloud your judgment and realize that a President Romney (or a President Gingrich, or a President Santorum, or a President Paul for that matter) will not be significantly different than a President Obama from the beginning of 2013 to the end of 2016.

      For example, a President Romney will still have to deal with a Senate filibuster, and that assumes that the GOP doesn't lose the House...

      February 2, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  19. Jo

    Obama's administration is at odds with the Catholic church in terms of contraceptives mandates, attacking traditional family by not defending DOMA and going against it, and abortion. Setting all this aside, it is important for Americans to be ably to have religious liberties, as this allows all people, whether religious or not, to practice what they believe, as long as it's not beyond the bounds of moral or civil principles.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  20. Dez

    Let's not confuse the clergy for its congregants. Only die hard catholics are rank and file believers in step with the clergies beliefs. However, many catholics are not opposed to contraceptives, regardless of what the offical opinion of the church is. Perhaps one day the church hierarchy will change its stance. Perhaps it wont. Besides, Catholisism is not a voting block. Most people will probably vote for the person in their political party or not at all.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Vet.Vet

      Amen!! It appears that the media and the die hards want to broad brush all Catholics in one group as thou no one but the rigid hieracy can dictate the thoughts of the majority. All closed eyes are not sleeping!!

      February 2, 2012 at 10:17 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.