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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. Puzzled?

    "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."

    New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and many other Catholic Leaders were sought out by the administration and their input was used to CREATE this new policy. Why would Church Leadership help create something that goes against the very "FABRIC" or "CORE" of their beliefs and those of their fellow Cahtholics???

    February 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Formerly A Democrat Catholic-this did it

      Obama took Catholic input to win our support. After he had our support politically he used his political power to push this through. He took our input, used us, said to Hell with your input, and is now shoving this down our throats and saying F your 1st amendment rights. Yeah as a democrat Catholic I'm a little peeved.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  2. Mike in Green Bay

    Do bishops think people in their congregations AREN'T using contraception? I think they are burying their heads in the sand on the issue.

    If they are so offended by the infringement of law on religion - possibly they should stop preaching policitc from the pulpit!

    February 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • John Danger

      Agreed. I can't believe goofy stories like this that seem to believe that quotes from archbishops or Catholic-school faculty members represent the majority of Catholics, who in poll after poll dissent from the opinions expressed above in large majorities. Truly a tone-deaf piece by CNN.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  3. ajgorm

    One more thing before my freedom of speech vanishes as it slips away , God bless you all. I still can not figure out if it is better to share or make people work if we all waited around for a hand out we might starve waiting.. Just because God blessed some and not all does it mean we need to share of course it does unless God himself does not share all the time. I mean really after all this talk our forefathers seperated church from state for a reason. I think I get it !

    February 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Linda

      I don't think you get anything, but I would like to know what kind of pills you are taking.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • ajgorm

      A reality pill sweet heart one that makes you chill after awhile after chewing on wooden nickles for a life time and figuring out which ones taste the best.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  4. Muldoon in Ohio

    There are probably several different solutions to the dillema, but the Obama administration must resolve it before election time. I believe most catholics are going to side with the bishops on this one, especially if they perceive the rules violate religious freedom. If it goes to the supreme court, I believe the church organizations will prevail, as in the recent case of the Lutheran teacher who was fired.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  5. John Danger

    The real issue is that the Republicans cannot capture the Catholic vote, which throughout history has remained usually Democratic. This is because the Republicans take anti-Catholic positions on social justice, on Palestine, on the free market, and a host of other issues. This is why Obama won the Catholic vote in 2008 and will win it again in 2012.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      Parties compete. They do not own blocs of voters. Some ethnic and religious groups tend to vote one way or another based on commonalities in their cultural make up. Few (less than 1%) voters actually think about how they vote. The biggest (measured) tendency is to vote like your father (who tended to vote like his father). When someone votes differently it is generally for complex reasons (plural) and not just one thing. What politicians are competing for (therefore) is the "swing " vote (which is less than 10%).

      February 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Formerly A Democrat Catholic-this did it

      The Catholic voting bloc may not be as solid because of this. Surely if Obama ordered Jewish soup kitchens to serve pork rinds it would negatively impact Obama's relations with Jewish voters. This is a slap in the face to Catholic democrats as well as a dangerous assault on the first amendment.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  6. Jimmy

    The Catholic Church seems a little disingenuous considering they accept huge sums of public (taxpayer funds) such as medicare and medicaid for their hospitals, large government contracts to provide Charity Care. These funds come from all Americans who pay taxes. Now a simple government order for their employer based insurance programs to provide condoms and contraceptive pills (used by many Catholics) to prevent abortions seems disingenuous. The Roman Catholic Church is still reeling from its massive scandals and lawsuits due to its cover up of massive child abuse. Leaving many diocese's bankrupt and very few priests, bishops and cardinals in jail for their "cover-up". Why?
    And now the Roman Catholic Media machine is casting stones at a President who truly is attempting to help the poor, (food stamp President) provide universal health coverage, and fair immigration practices. I guess the Church thinks that it will do better with Romney, (I am not in this election to help the poor), Gingrich, (sick wives are easy targets for divorce). What ever happened to the Roman Catholic Church, that espouses such hypocrisy?

    February 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • John Danger

      The only ones lobbing bombs are a minority of busybody bishops, Catholic-school faculty, and right-wing lay activists – incidentally, those are also the only people quoted in this story about "the Catholic vote". The majority of Catholics in the United States recognize Obama's pro-Catholic positions on issues such as social justice, which is why they voted for him in 2008, not McCain.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Formerly A Democrat Catholic-this did it

      What happened (politically) is that we have poor choices. We thought Obama was a good choice, we thought wrong.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Jimmy

      Jimmy, I think you are wrong!

      April 10, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  7. craig

    I am not bailing on Obama, as we know Gingrich d=filed for divorce while his wife was bouting cancer, some morals there.
    Romney, a paid suit that will not win anyway but he does flip on everything so where does he really stand.
    I also think if If Bush had 8 years to try and get the terrorrist Osama Bin Laden and FAILED but Barrack H. Obama suceeded deserves another 4 more years, YES it was under President Obama that kept you safe from Bin Laden .

    Now are the other nominees in touch with regular Americans I think not Romney 42.6 Million in 2 years, ask yourself has he ever clipped coupons or chose what to buy for food such as name brand or brand XX NO I bet not, same with Gingrich 1.6 mill a year NOT IN TOUCH with reality folks You Blue Collar workers they are not for you yeah less regs sound good how about when the credit card companies jack up your intrest rates lets have tougher regs on stuff like that, how about medical cost think people use your brain Do not be brain washed you saw what happened before President Obama took office, a collaps of everything from the repubs.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  8. John Danger

    Another important fact: among white men, a much larger proportion of Catholics voted for Obama than Protestants. There is no evidence that Obama is "losing" the Catholic vote, and he will likely win it in 2012.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Formerly A Democrat Catholic-this did it

      I will agree with you to a point. The Catholic vote was solidly in Obama's camp (by about a 10% margin) until this. While the majority of catholics have no problem with contraception, we don't like Presidents ordering our priests to violate their concsicences. I'm not anti contraception I'm pro first amendement. While its entirely annectdotal I know Obama has lost at least one Catholic vote over this, my own.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  9. Tom

    I am a democrat who will not vote for President Obama. We should defend life from conception to natural death, but the President's policies do the opposite. If the President changed his stance on abortion, he could be the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • John Danger

      As your comments below reveal, you are neither a Democrat nor a Catholic.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Tom

      Danger is right. You can't be both a true Catholic and a Democrat.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  10. ajgorm

    Ever since I was a youngster I never trusted any of them and it turns out I am right. I do not like to point fingers but you know what I mean .

    February 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • John Danger

      Are you bigoted against black people or against Catholics? Inquiring minds want to know.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Linda

      I'm also wondering who 'them' are.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  11. Kenneth

    He shouldn't lose the Roman Catholic vote for numerous reasons, a) Obama said in 2009 that was influenced by Rome's Social Justice while a community organizer in Chicago, b) Obama, still has Rome on his mind because Rome's Social Doctrine says "Looking after the common good means making use of the new opportunities for the redistribution of wealth among the different areas of the planet... to ensure a globalization in solidarity, a globalization without marginalization."[363] and c) Obama show his love for unions because his influence (Rome) says, "unions are called to act in new ways, widening the scope of their activity of solidarity... even at the international level; to those who do not have a job, to immigrants, seasonal workers."[308] (Google "Vatican.va Social Compendium')

    February 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Bruce

      All that, and President Obama - unlike the GOP - doesn't absolutely despise the right of people to collectively bargain with their employer.

      Catholics are predominantly Democrat because of the union thing. Unless a pro-union 3rd party candidate shows up, the President keeps the Catholic vote.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Bruce

      And now that I re-read what you wrote, I'll just say that I agree and I took the opportunity to basically repeat what you said. 🙂

      February 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Formerly A Democrat Catholic-this did it

      He should because he's telling the Catholic church leadership to violate their consciences. As a Catholic who has no problems with contraception even I am extremely peeved about this. Its a clear violation of the First Amendment.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Bruce

      @Formerly: This President, as with Presidents before him, continually ask many people to violate their own consciences by demanding taxes be paid to support wars abroad when these pacifists (some notable religions in this country have pacifism as a central political stance) hold all wars as morally unconscionable.

      Making people pay for things they don't support in a moral sense is not, and never has been, a violation of the First Amendment. That has been long-established in legislation as well as Supreme Court cases over the past 200+ years.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  12. Linda

    As a non catholic who was employed by a catholic hospital for more than 30 years I have to say that I resented that my employer was able to dictate to the insurance company that my birth control pills were not a medication that they would cover. It's not the church's business if I choose to not get pregnant. Those priests need to stop worrying about women's genitalia and worry more about the souls of all their pedophiles.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Jason

      They're concerned about the slaughter of human life, not your genitalia...how self centered can you be. What about the souls of your victims?

      February 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Linda

      By 'victim' are you referring to a single fertilized cell that was unable to latch onto the wall of my uterus? Because that's how birth control pills work. There is no person involved – just a single cell. If you conservatives succeed in your agenda to control women's fertility are you next going to go after women for murder when the cell naturally fails to implant? Because mostly they don't you know. Every month untold millions of one celled organisms get flushed out every month entirely natural.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  13. Descarado

    We have heard the boots of Obama's Gestapo marching through history before:

    "First they came for the communists, and I did not speak up because I was not a communist.
    Then they cam for the Jews, and I did not speak up because I was not a jew.
    Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak up because I am a Protestant.
    Then they came for me, and they was no one left to speak up for me."

    -Pastor Martin Niemöller

    February 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • shamgar50

      Please let them come for you, and every mindless god lover like you.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Descarado

      ..and THERE was no one left to speak up for me.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Formerly A Democrat Catholic-this did it

      I used to think this sort of talk was just for talk raido types. Now I'm not so sure, hopefully its not too little too late. I'm awake now!

      February 2, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Bruce

      Right, because telling people that their health insurance policies must cover birth control is comparable to what the National Socialist party did in Germany in the 1930's and 40's...

      Right...

      February 2, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  14. DeeNYC

    I like coming to this section to read post from people who don't believe in things like science and common sense. It's like the american al jazeer, muslims are also backwards and tribal.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  15. RES

    to tom: I am a life long Catholc and the Bush adminstration was against many Catholic beliefs. The war in Iraq, violating the Geneva convention with torture, and supporting capital punishment. So, are you just picking and choosing by your party affiliation? The gop practives are against the middle class.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  16. Descarado

    The indelible signature of every dictatorship thought history is the demand upon the citizen that they disavow their conscience in favor of the state.

    Like most political fruitloops, Obama is a dictator in the works.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Formerly A Democrat Catholic-this did it

      I used to think the Fox news types we're nuts. This has made me reconsider–definitely won't vote for Obama again

      February 2, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • shamgar50

      speaking of fruit loops....................Anybody home?

      February 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Descarado

      ...every dictatorship THROUGHOUT history...

      February 2, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Big Easy in New Orleans

      Like the Iraqi War and the torture that went along with it????

      February 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  17. ajgorm

    I think I am past most of it and headed to the deluxe apt. in the sky. I do not think we ever vanish completely I think we just get absorbed into the cosmos for eternity like garbage at a dump.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  18. ajgorm

    You can live your life in denial but not me.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  19. tom

    You can not be a good Catholic (or a Christian for that matter) of any conscious and vote for the Democratic party -which not only supports Abortion but supports many other agendas contrary to Catholic belief. You might think you are a Catholic, but you are really just picking and choosing what you want to be faithful to.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • DeeNYC

      You cannot be a intelligent tolerant decent human being and vote for Republicans.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Bruce

      Tom, rend unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, even if those tax dollars ultimately go to pay the soldiers who kill your Savior.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • J.W

      Not all Christians are Catholic. In fact, most of them are not.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • shamgar50

      You cannot be a intelligent tolerant decent human being, and believe in god.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • I_want_a_moon_base

      I guess taking form the poor and giving it to the rich or spending billions on war are Catholic beliefs too.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • comeatmebro

      quite possibly the stupied comment ever posted anywhere, you should have just not typed it

      February 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • richunix

      @JW

      Of the 2.1 Billion Christian more than half are Catholics. they hold the single largest block of those that identify as being part of a denomination. BEFORE YOU POST PLEASE CHECK YOUR FACTS...simple goole search world have told you different.

      Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      February 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  20. Stiiv

    What a stupid question for a story–it should read, "Is Obama losing everyones vote, due to his failure as a leader?" And the answer is, "YES!!!"

    February 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Bruce

      What's funny is that Obama's failures as a leader are causing him to lose votes, but those votes aren't really going anywhere. I mean, Mitt Romney? Newt Gingrich? Let's be serious now.

      (Except, of course, for the "funny" part because it's not funny at all.)

      February 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • shamgar50

      How has he failed genius? What would you and the TeaBaggers have done differently, and how would that have improved things.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
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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.