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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. asdf

    I'd be surprised if 30 Million of the 70 million catholics in this country have been to church more than 5 times in the last year. Catholicism is dying, and for good reason. In another 30 years, Catholicism will be a tiny segment of the population as people jump ship in droves either for evangelicism or atheism.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Bill

      WHO CARES?

      February 2, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • RAMBLE3144

      All religion is withering since morality is not learned anywhere. Certainly not in most homes, no pubic schools.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • stateschool

      I'm an atheist with a history degree, and I've got to say that our Catholics have generally voted as Americans first and Catholics second. Many Catholics, for instance, privately support abortion rights and use contraception. They, like many of their counterparts in Europe, don't tend to just blindly follow the Pope's orders. As to their "decline," I'm too lazy to look it up (again, state school), but I'm pretty sure Catholics were a tiny minority of Americans in 1783, so this could just be a hiccup.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  2. OvbamaMarxist

    What kind of Catholic would vote for this Marxist that approves of killing babies? Obama is never going to get the catholic vote after he has shown his colors.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • kenny

      thankfully you represent 1% of ignorant moronic catholics that have now sway of the majority...

      February 2, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • RAMBLE3144

      Don't think you should ever compromise morality. Like Obama.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Patricksday

      I'am Catholic, and I will Vote for President Barrack Husein Obama. He is more Christian than anything the Greedy Republicans can put together, and he serves the needs of the poor and elderly too.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • RAMBLE3144

      He doesn't "serve the needs". He takes from human beings and re-distributes very inefficiently to the poor and elderly, while deeping the deficit and ruining the greatness of America. Don't you recall how great America was. Look at what Cuba has become with the Obama model. Many liberals don't and should move to a different country to see what it's like to live in countries with the politic they support..

      February 2, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • stateschool

      1. The Marxists were idiots, but they didn't have a collective 🙂 stance either way on murdering infants.
      2. Most of us believe that a fertilized egg becomes a baby sometime shortly after the 20th week of pregnancy. This is why so many people support abortion rights but not late-term abortion rights (except if it becomes likely the mother will die giving birth). Whatever else you may think, you aren't really surrounded by people who like killing babies.
      3. Romney's a Mormon, Santorum's wife had an abortion, and Newt is breaking in yet another wife while advocating for the swinging lifestyle. Are you going to write in the Pope's name?

      February 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  3. RAMBLE3144

    I urge my Latino friends and Catholics to follow the Church leaders on this one. I certainly will as I am pro-morality.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  4. PageForward

    I live in Chicago – large Catholic communities. Purely observational, but based on size of Catholic families I see now compared to 40-50 years ago, I suspect if Obama got all the Catholic voters who used birth control, he would get 60-70 % of their votes. The people out of touch with reality are the Catholic hierarchy (or Santorum) who do not understand the realities of 21st century in which families cannot afford that many children when they are struggling to work and the world cannot afford Catholic policies of more and more people on a limited planet.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Kathy Burklund

      so right!

      February 2, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  5. Triple A

    First President to call fellow Americans “the Enemy” when talking to Latinos Oct. 2010, telling the Latinos to rise and punish the enemy.
    First President when speaking to SEIU Feb 22 2011 “I will paint the Nation purple with SEIU.
    First President when speaking to ACORN Oct. 11 2008 telling them his friends in ACORN will shape his agenda.
    First President to belong 20 years to a church that openly hates what America stands for.
    First President to admit that Rev. Wright who preached “God damn America” was his 20 year mentor.
    First president to have at least 2 known illegal relatives, illegally freeloading off the Government
    First President to refuse to wear the U.S. Flag lapel pin
    First President to force all Americans to purchase a product from a third party
    First President to apply for college aid as a foreign student, then deny he was a foreigner
    First President to have a social security number from a state he has never lived in
    First President to refuse to show a valid birth certificate
    First President to file lawsuits against the states he swore an oath to protect (AZ, WI, OH, IN)
    First President to golf 73 separate times in his first two and a half years in office.
    First President to hide his medical, educational and travel records
    Franklin Raines, Tim Howard and Jim Johnson 3 high level CEO’s forced out of Fannie Mae for irregularities/fraud now hired by Pres. Obama

    February 2, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Windy City Al

      First President to get our guys out of Iraq and – soon – Afghanistan.
      First President to get Osama bin Laden.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Professional

      Half of your facts are made up, and the other half are misleading. Better luck next time Triple A. Work hard in the off season and give it another shot next year.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • asdf

      at least half of those things are lies. I assumed all you birthers had retreated to your caves by now.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • RAMBLE3144

      Heard Obama's mother was not shown as having been in the Hawaiian hospital at which his birth certificate says he was born at the day of birth. Curious.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • RAMBLE3144

      Windy,

      Getting out may be politically effecive. But it may blow up in Jeb Bush's face.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • RAMBLE3144

      Each and every one of those on that list are scary. He really is a devisive socialist.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Kathy Burklund

      you are out of touch also...

      February 2, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  6. Bibletruth

    Someone said: "...Look if you dont believe and you not prepared to protect something basic as Decalog why even pretend to be Catholic .." WHHAATT????? There is not a knowledgeable Catholic on the face of the earth that believes in the "Decolog" as presented in the bible. The "Decalog" is the Law of Ten Commandments. You may find it in Exodus 20. It is one of the principles of the Catholic church that she has the power to change the law of God (that is the "Decalog") and she has: the 2nd commandment (forbidding idols) is dropped, the Sabbath commandment is changed to Sunday, and the tenth commandment is divided in two, to preserve the number.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  7. Bill

    Why does the media always have to drag religion into politics? How about writing an article on Muslims, Protestants, or the Jewish faith? Why do they always stir the pot and the sheep respond with hate messages...?

    February 2, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Joe T.

      Because if you can't tell, there are a lot more Christians in the U.S. than any other religious base.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  8. Windy City Al

    If my non-Catholic daughter worked for a religious organization, the Catholic church would like to prevent her insurance coverage from covering contraceptives. If that's not a religious pressure group trying to impose its beliefs on others, then I don't know what is.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • RAMBLE3144

      Windy,

      The Catholic Church will not support immorality. Period.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Windy City Al

      Ramble,

      If birth control is immorality, then 95% of young women in the US are immoral. Which is probably what the Catholic church believes.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • stateschool

      The primary source of funding for these hospitals is the United States government, through Medicare and Medicaid (not that I see anything wrong with that – quite the contrary – since it's non-profit). Freedom numero uno makes it clear that our Catholics should be able to spend their own charitable donations however they see fit. No religion, however, should be allowed to put federal funding through a religious filter. That would violate everyone else's freedom of religion, wouldn't it?

      February 2, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  9. Patricksday

    There are two different Catholics in America, the Conservative who are in lock step with the Pope who never question authority, and you have the Liberal Catholics who always ask Questions and defend Children betrayed by the Conservatives who turn a blind eye to abuse.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • RAMBLE3144

      There is only one type. A Catholic.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  10. kenny

    this is hilarious ... faux outrage over something 98% of catholic women admit to using even though its against their faith... i love it when the 1% of crazies speak for the whole group... priceless.. and sad...

    February 2, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  11. David Johnson

    Since Obama is pro-choice, it is unlikely he would get the Catholic vote anyway.

    Ours, is a Secular Nation. Being dominated by the Pope or Evangelicals, is a sickening thought.

    We must get out and vote. Vote for Obama and the Dems. Protect your rights.

    Cheers!

    February 2, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  12. umeus

    Rank and file may grouse but 98% of catholic women used birth control at some time in their lives, it's just grousing for show, they will support policies that work for them rather the church approves or not, they have proven that already when they used BC.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  13. J. Davis

    The Catholic Church really needs to come into the modern world and change its views on contraception. Having children when they cannot possibly be taken care of properly or are not wanted is a much greater sin in my opinion. I work in a social services agency and you would not believe how many children are abused and neglected in our society. Especially in Africa where poverty and AIDS are rampant, it makes absolutely no sense for the Church to ban contraception. Why encourage more human suffering??? I am a Catholic but think the Church is wrong on the contraception issue.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • RAMBLE3144

      Good for you. Go to a different church or start your own.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  14. mm

    If I were a atheist or agnostic and employed by a hospital that receives my tax dollars, I have a right to be represented by my government.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  15. Ben

    As a Catholic I feel there taht this is a good measure. Contraceptives are not being forced on Catholics but rather are being made availible to them. Catholics can still choose if they want to use contrceptives or not but this law gives Catholics who choose to use them the same oppurtunities as ither Americans. Those who work for Catholic schools often do so for considerably less money tahn if they taught in the public school system, they make a scrifice to be in an enviroment they believe in. It is only fair that tehri health insurance provide equal oppurtunities. In Catholic school I learned that we all have free will and can make our own choices right or wrong, if the Catholic Church really believes this teaching than they should not object to this law. Blocking this law is not the way to go, teach the Church's position, serve as a moral guidpost for Catholics and then allow people to make theri own choices.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • douglas

      Ben, that is the most sane, logical response I have read in this thread or heard in any conversation I have ever had on the subject.

      Bravo, very well stated.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  16. whatsthedif

    What a joke. Obama may actually GAIN a few votes over this. I know a lot of Catholics and was brought up within that religion. Catholics, except for the minority of dogmatic Catholics - i.e., priests & nuns & fanatics - will vote how they want to vote and it does not have a heckuva a lot to do with what the Bishops or Popes say. The Church would deny that a large number of Catholics use birth control, including men having vasectomies and women tying their tubes. The horror!

    February 2, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  17. CGB

    The Catholic Church sold it' soul when it aligned with the religious right of the repub party. They use to be about fighting for social justice and the poor. The Catholic voters who will go along with them are the conservative voters. Catholics today have either left because of not wanting to be a hypocrite or they are ala cart Catholics. By that I mean they ignore the parts of the Catholic Church they don't agree with. Many do not vote the way the Church says either.

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

    What Catholics care about birth control? The Pope and that's about it. Not an issue.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  19. FEAR MONGERING

    First it was... is he losing the Hispanic vote, then is he losing the jewish vote, then is he losing the young people's vote, then is he losing the independent vote, now its is he losing the catholic vote? Every candidate gains some of the above and loses some of the above so what is you point? Obama/Biden 2012! Now get aload of that vote!

    February 2, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • RightTurnClyde

      This CNN Belief Blog is trying to be relevant. They have very little in matters of faith (since they are mostly atheist) with which to be relevant so they try to h.o.o.k "faith" into the political world and predicate religion as the determiner of political behavior. But since it is not a determiner the entire premise of their faith = politics attempt fails. Political behavior is a very complex quilt work of economics (first and foremost), upbringing (paternal home), core issues (jobs, money, conscription). Religion has not been a determining issue since Al Smith (and may not have been in that case). It was never a determining factor before Al Smith (even Wm. Jennings Bryan). If being right does not matter you could construct a correlation between elections and fishing licenses and call it the "trout" factor.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Kathy Burklund

      I was raised Catholic but will not participate in their craziness now that I know better! The priests are busy paying for their co-workers lawyer fees...they are all crazy if you ask me! I believe but not a thing of what they taught me!

      February 2, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  20. ac

    Show me a Catholic, and I shall show you a Hypocrite.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • I'm The Best!

      The same can be said about most anyone of faith

      February 2, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Patricksday

      Show me any Republican "Christian" and you will have a monster of GREED, MATERIALISTIC, SELFISH, MEAN SPIRITED and of course a Hypocrit.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • RAMBLE3144

      Spell check.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:30 am |
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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.