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. The Donation of Constantine


    February 2, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  2. us1776

    No. He's not losing the Catholics.


    February 2, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • AnnaMaria44

      Oh come on- he's pro-abortion, pro-stem cell research (which isn't even usable on humans), really the most liberal president we've ever had. Maybe not in your parish, but most Catholics in my parish are done with him.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  3. Biotechdev

    Cnn – captured another cnesorhsip from this site. Sending to another website along with your sad email saying that sometimes GOP opinions get caught in your spam filter

    February 2, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • CNN Moderator

      Please leave the site.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  4. Benjamin

    What does the Catholic hierarchy expect when you're playing with the devil.

    February 2, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  5. Biotechdev

    Remove "Catholic" from the equation. Just think abput the feds deciding what religions must do to fit their political systems? Sound like the US? More like the USSR and Venezual? CNN moderator – will take screenshot of this post since I now know that you screen opinions you don't like

    February 2, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • AnnaMaria44

      That's what is so scary about all of this- Socialism has been slowly creeping into the system, and no one seems to have noticed...

      February 2, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • AnnaMaria44

      I lived in Europe for several years and trust me, even 15 years ago the Europeans would have completely fallen apart without the Government to take care of them. They can't function without constant babysitting

      February 2, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • sam

      God help me, I can't tell which of you is dumber or more paranoid.

      February 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  6. Pat

    What about the freedoms of the employee? They should not be bound by the religion of their employer.

    February 2, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • AnnaMaria44

      They can choose to pay for their own contraception, no one is saying that it will not be allowed

      February 2, 2012 at 5:28 pm |

    If Church wants to engage in politics they should lose the tax exemption they now enjoy.

    February 2, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • AnnaMaria44

      Please read my reply to JoeT- it explains how much Catholic volunteers contribute for free to the community, and how much work we put into running social programs for the poor.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  8. AnnaMaria44

    Ooops I meant the Congressional Budget Office, not Bernenke, is projecting unemployment to rise above 9% for the next 2 years, and growth to slow to 1%. WHY isn't this front page news???

    February 2, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  9. billy

    I'm a catholic and dont think the catholic church can say that they have served us well. They sell their property in order to pay their pedophile bills

    February 2, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • AnnaMaria44

      Aren't you involved in your local Catholic food and clothing drives, or work in the shelters, free childcare centers, or soup kitchens? My kids started volunteering in those when they were 7 or 8!

      February 2, 2012 at 5:14 pm |

      I don’t know how you feel, but I’m pretty sick of church people. You know what they ought to do with churches? Tax them! If holy people are so concerned with politics, government and public policy, let them pay the price of admission like everyone else. The Catholic Church alone could wipe out the national debt if all you did was tax their real estate.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • AnnaMaria44

      Lol!!! I wish you could see MY church- it's crumbling as we speak- I suggest you actually take a look at some of that so-called "valuable" real estate next time you are in the poor, inner-city neighborhoods!

      February 2, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  10. chiefjv

    As a catholic my feeling is that the catholic church believes life ends at birth where is the catholic church on the more pressing issues of the day. Where is the church on social security, medicare ,medicaid, healthcare for people with pre-existing conditions,unemployment insurance, food stamps and medical care for sick children. All of these programs are under attack by the party who says that it supports life. this is an unfortunate instance but I as a catholic have no intention of supporting a political party that attacks social safety net for those in need already born.

    February 2, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • AnnaMaria44

      Well then, as a Catholic you are probably involved in Catholic Charities, which runs homeless shelters and kitchens for the needy. Catholic schools and hospitals are constantly running food and clothing drives. The Catholic Church has ALWAYS looked after the needy of every community.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  11. Chuck Waggin

    Ron: you know nothing of the Bible or Christianity. You simply are taking any opportunity to spew your hatred. And you are forgiven (I know you hate that).

    February 2, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  12. Mickey

    Catholics need to handle their own business and keep their nose out of mines!

    February 2, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Newnews

      Catholics do want to mind their own business...and not pay for someone else's abortion.. That is what this is about.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Then Catholic run businesses should then not hire non-Catholics. Or pay the tax penalty. No one is putting a gun to the RCC's head

      February 2, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • AnnaMaria44

      Stevie7, no, they should be offered an "opt-out" of certain restrictions. That would only be fair.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  13. Joe T.

    Once again, I defy any of you to come up with a good reason churches should not pay any taxes.

    February 2, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Why?

      Because, no matter how much of an irrational and emotional issue you have with religion, you know that many/most of them do a lot of good for their communities, occasionally the world. Charitable organizations are tax exempt to encourage people to help people. Sad that a tax exemption is needed, but some organizations wouldn't exist if they weren't tax exempt and didn't provide people the opportunity to get tax breaks.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Joe T.

      I would agree if the Catholic church wasn't sitting on piles and piles of money. Trust me, removing their tax exempt status would not be a big deal for them.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Why?

      Local cathedrals do plenty to help their communities. Yeah, the Vatican is loaded, more than they should be even, but they also do a lot of good. Regardless of any philosophical or moral disagreements one might have with a religious organization, the good they do is not worth negating to satisfy whatever grudge you might have against them. Every dollar taxed is one less dollar that may make it's way to someone or some cause that needs it.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • AnnaMaria44

      Because most of us, from the time we were small children, have volunteered every week in our parishes, running everything from homeless shelters and soup kitchens, to free child care centers, to food and clothing drives, and free healthcare clinics. Thousands in our communities, Catholic or not, depend on us to provide those services. And the economy is so bad now that donations are way down, and many churches can't afford to pay for much-needed upkeep.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • J.W

      The money donated to churches is taxed before the church gets it. The people who donated it paid income tax on it.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  14. Smithy

    "Tim I just like rubbing your fur the wrong way."

    In other words his Lifemate came up with that one.

    February 2, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  15. ruth

    He never got my vote.he is a muslim,not even a christian!

    February 2, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Do you enjoy being willfully ignorant?

      February 2, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Try looking that up on snopes com, ruth.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • sam

      You forgot the capslock this time...

      February 2, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  16. truthseeker

    To all of you believers out there, as faithful as you may be, there is at least the tiniest part of you who questions the existence of "god". And no matter what you say and how much "faith" you claim to have, you know that the doubt is there. I implore you to embrace that doubt, as in the end, that is the one undeniable truth.

    February 2, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • great intellect my ass

      Truth is the last thing you are seeking. What you seek is confirmation of your lies to try to justify your sin.

      February 2, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Why?

      Never understood why other atheists feel the need to proselyte. The obvious response is: "You know that there is part of you that can't completely deny there might be a god, why not explore religion and find faith."

      February 2, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • truthseeker

      I have explored religion. I used to be catholic. You'll probably find that atheists have thought about these concepts far more than believers have, which is why we come to be atheists, it's the logical answer

      February 2, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • truthseeker

      Dear great intellect: I don't have any sin. Sin is religious terminology

      February 2, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Why?

      It's AN answer. Most become disillusioned with their own religion first and go no further in their inquiries. It may also be the most logical answer. Still, the question remains why so many atheists feel the need to proselyte, an activity which most atheists do not take kindly to when on the receiving end. The world isn't screwed up because someone else's worldview is different (even illogical), it's screwed up because people, atheists included, cannot tolerate worldviews that differ from their own.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • posterboy

      Why?: Just as soon as the religious right stops trying to interfere with government and get their peanut butter out of my chocolate. Thomas Jefferson would agree

      February 3, 2012 at 7:16 am |
  17. AnnaMaria44

    Oh my, Fed Reserve Chairman Bernanke predicts a 9.2 unemployment rate and growth of only 1% over the next 2 years- why isn't this on the home page??? This is HORRIBLE news...

    February 2, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  18. GMAXX

    I've been Catholic all of my 65 years but I'm not going to let any Pope, Bishop or Priest tell me how to vote! There are more than one or two issues in this election and I'm voting for the candidate that can do the most for the poor and middle class of this country and not the 1% rich and while we're at it the rich Catholic Church. President Obama will get my vote. It's too bad that so many people in the "United" State don't want to see a Black man succeed and if they want to be truthful, this is the reason he is not and has not received support in Congress and so much of the population!

    February 2, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Smithy

      Racecard? Really Maxx? I don't recall the Pope ever telling you or anyone how to vote. Probably because you aren't a Catholic.

      February 2, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  19. Look at those communists

    Communists in America again are attacking religion. Today is Christians, Yesterday was Judaism soon they will go after Islam. I am sure some of the commie talking heads on MSNNBC will make few jokes.

    February 2, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • yeahalright

      Can you get an insult other than communist? That was played out about 60 years ago. Don't you know the buzzword of the day on fox is "socialist?"

      February 2, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  20. jon

    Let's see Obama is losing Catholics, Independents, working people, legal Hispanics, pretty much most of us... what's left is the partisan nut jobs who can't admit Obama is a failure

    February 2, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Bruce

      That, and people like me who are profoundly disappointed but don't see anyone else out there as an alternative. Mitt Romney? Newt Gingrich? Give me a break.

      It's like that old joke. Put a gun to my head and tell me to choose between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and I might just tell you to pull the trigger...

      February 2, 2012 at 4:49 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.