My Take: 'Real Catholics' not opposed to birth control
There has long been a division between Catholic clergy and congregants on contraception.
February 3rd, 2012
02:06 PM ET

My Take: 'Real Catholics' not opposed to birth control

Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

(CNN) - I don’t know yet what I think of the Obama administration’s policy of requiring employers, including Catholic ones, to offer contraceptive services for free as preventive care. But I know this: It is crucial in this dispute to distinguish between the Catholic hierarchy and rank-and-file Catholics.

Catholic bishops have a clear position on contraception. Citing the encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), they contend that sex has a purpose, and that this purpose is procreation inside marriage. Therefore, any sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, as is any “unnatural” means of birth control inside marriage. So while the so-called rhythm method is acceptable, condoms and IUDs and the pill are not.

But is this the Catholic position? It depends on what you mean by Catholic.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has strongly condemned the new Department of Health and Human Services rule. “Never before in our U.S. history has the Federal Government forced citizens to directly purchase what violates our beliefs,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the group's Committee on Pro-Life Activities. “At issue here ... is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for conscience and religious liberty.”

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Yet survey after survey has shown that U.S. Catholics neither agree with official church teachings on contraception nor follow them.

According to a 2011 Guttmacher Institute survey, “only 2% of Catholic women rely on natural family planning.” A 2002 survey found that Catholic women in the United States were more likely than American women as a whole to use the birth control pill, and only slightly less likely to use a condom. In a 2000 poll that strikes even closer to the heart of this debate, 90% of American Catholic women surveyed said they wanted to see access to birth control services at community hospitals.

Turning from behaviors to beliefs, it is clear that the majority of U.S. Catholics also disagree with church teachings on contraception. According to a 2005 Harris poll, 90% of U.S. Catholics support the use of birth control.

Is Obama losing the Catholic vote?

Of course, U.S. bishops say that Catholics who think and do these things are bad Catholics. If so, the pool of "good Catholics" would seem to be shrinking to close to zero.

Are the only "real Catholics" in America the priests decrying the new Obama administration policy and the 2% of U.S. Catholic women who rely only on "natural" birth control? Who is to speak for the other 98%?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Bishops • Catholic Church • Health care • Politics • Polls • Religious liberty • United States

soundoff (467 Responses)
  1. GodIsTheWay

    Well, I look at it this way: Real Catholics actually follow the Church's lead. A nation divided will fall. A Church is the same. True Catholics, just like us true Orthodox, do not believe in the use of birth control of any kind.

    February 4, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • JohnR

      So the Catholic Church is about to fall? Kewl!

      February 4, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • GodIsTheWay

      you might want to reconsider that idea. As goes the Church, so does the society and civilization it helped to create. Remember, athiesm never created anything. There's not an athiest in the history of mankind who ever made anything positive. Think about that.

      February 4, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • periwinkle

      You might want to reconsider your statement about atheists never doing anything positive. Do a little research before you make ignorant statements. Steve jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg.... just a few recentswho contribute nothing to society
      ....oh and a little man named einstein, but I don't expect you to understand his influence on the world, since you still live in the 12th century....

      February 4, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  2. urafkntool

    like the name says.

    February 4, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  3. George R

    As a former Catholic, this much I do know: You oppose Rome, you are not a Catholic. At least, you are out of communion with the Catholic Church.

    February 4, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  4. chief

    its funny how the catholics i know view the vatican as out dated and wrong on marriage outside of the cath church, contraception, priests, etc...... but they still go...

    February 4, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  5. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    I still gotta reiterate my favorite old joke: What do you call people who only practice the Rhythym Method? Parents.

    The Catholic hierarchy like to think they are still the modern equivalent of a Baron or Count in that they can tell people what to do and expect total obediency. Guess what, boyos? It isn't going to happen anymore. The Roman Catholic heirarchy lost the moral high ground a couple of decades ago not only by the actions of the pederast priests and the bishops who protected them, but also by their own infighting over the past 30 years on should they still defend the work of Vatican II or join in its repudiation as the last two popes have done. Add to that the French Tridentine schism, and the scandals associated with Fr. Maciel's group and you have a Church without a moral compass to provide proper guidance.

    Also, since the Protestant Reformation, Catholics have found that there will always be a Church who's teachings may be closer to their personal philosophy. In closing, if the Church wants to regain their moral authority, they need to follow the old dictum: Physician, heal thyself.

    February 4, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • The moon is made of green cheese.

      In my view, the printing press was the "beginning of the end". The delusion that educated lawyers, physicians, financeers, engineers, and academics of every sort who are cultured and sophisticated about science, are going to sit in a pew and listen to unsupported drivel, by priests who can barely speak a proper sentence is mind boggling. "elitist"..maybe. Too bad.

      February 4, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  6. JiminTX

    Poor, poor sheep who follows the absolute rule of a foreign king who claims to be the speaker for an ancient Mesopotamian sky friend who grants wishes. organized religions opisthotonos a corporate scam. Your pope wants more kids to keep hos coffers full of money. Blind idiots.

    February 4, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • George R

      You must be very unhappy because you are so cynical. There is a difference between a skeptic and a cynic.

      February 4, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  7. savvy


    Your not defeating the reproductive system, but working along with it.

    February 4, 2012 at 2:48 am |
    • The moon is made of green cheese.

      To make a plan. The plan is to prevent pregnancy.

      February 4, 2012 at 3:01 am |
    • The moon is made of green cheese.

      Why are you "working with it, (at all) ? To prevent a pregnancy.

      February 4, 2012 at 3:05 am |
  8. savvy

    The moon is made of green cheese.

    The issue is the means, not the end. NFP does not affect the means. The act is still complete and unhindered. (total giving of oneself). Intent here applies to the means, not the end. NFP still leaves the means open to life, by not unnaturally blocking it.

    February 4, 2012 at 2:36 am |
    • The moon is made of green cheese.

      Wrong. It's a distinction without a difference. The INTENT is to PLAN a family, (which is why it's called ("Natural") Family PLANning, and the ONLY reason why they do it. You are MAKING A PLAN. THE PLAN is to prevent a pregnancy. The crux of a moral act is the intent, (look in your catechism). That's the same as saying "if I knew grandma is starving, it's ok to euthanize her by not feeding her, because it's "natural", or I can commit murder if I can find a "natural" way to do it. (Define "natural"). Either way, the intent is to cause her death. NOWHERE else does the church make that distinction in Moral Theology.
      Your statement "NFP does not affect the means. The act is still complete and unhindered. (total giving of oneself). Intent here applies to the means, not the end. NFP still leaves the means open to life, by not unnaturally blocking it" is false.
      a. (Your) god is not stupid. He knows what you're up to. The MEANS are hormones/barriers. THAT IS the means. Therefore your statement is false. NFP DOES affect the means.
      b. "Complete and unhindered" is meaningless. Barriers or hormones or any other method have no affect on the actual act.
      Nice try. Where did you get that ?

      February 4, 2012 at 3:00 am |
    • The moon is made of green cheese.

      The MEANS is the PLAN, (and it's components). You are deliberately, objectively, intentionally... going about trying to stop a pregnancy from beginning. Call it "natural" or any other semantic "nicety", your INTENT is clear. Your god is not stupid.

      February 4, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  9. savvy


    How many women have you actually spoken too?

    February 4, 2012 at 1:54 am |
  10. savvy


    Thanks. This post has been hijacked by atheists.

    February 4, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  11. savvy

    The moon is made of green cheese,

    First, this is about contraception, not birth control. Catholicism permits birth control and actually teaches that parents are to be responsible in procreation. Catholicism only forbids contraception.

    February 4, 2012 at 1:37 am |
  12. Amalia Sheran Sharm

    To be a good person, you have to be a bad Catholic.

    February 4, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • savvy

      What is bad about fidelity in a life-long marriage, that is open to life?

      February 4, 2012 at 2:42 am |
  13. Reality

    B16 and Condoms– http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/21/pope-benedict-edges-away-ban-condoms

    "But the statement made clear that Pope Benedict XVI was prepared to consider the use of condoms in certain, limited circ-umstances.

    The statement, and the pope's interview reported in a book to be published this week, suggested that, notwithstanding the interpretation of remarks he made last year on his visit to Africa, Benedict accepted that condoms reduced the risk of infection from Aids.

    His spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the pontiff's view was that "Aids cannot be solved only by the distribution of condoms".

    But, he added: "At the same time, the pope considered an exceptional situation in which the exercise of se-xuality represents a real risk to the lives of others. In this case, the pope does not morally justify the exercise of disordered se-xuality, but believes that the use of condoms to reduce the risk of infection is a 'first step on the road to a more human se-xuality', rather than not to use it and risking the lives of others."

    Considering the epidemics of abortion and S-TD's (including AIDs) in the USA, one concludes that the RCC approves of the use of condoms for US Catholics.

    February 3, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • savvy

      You have it wrong.


      February 4, 2012 at 1:51 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @savvy: in order to prove Reality wrong, you'd have to produce evidence from something other than a catholic site....we expect a catholic site to prove everyone who speaks out against it wrong but that does not make them right!

      February 4, 2012 at 6:50 am |
    • just sayin

      "God keep our land" from the Canadian national Anthem and prayer

      February 4, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @just spewin: shut up you stupid useless dolt!!! it is not a god damn prayer...think what you wish of your countries anthem but shut up about our's...we were a country long before that anthem was in place and given that your god does not exist, the words mean absolutely NOTHING

      February 4, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • just sayin

      Every hockey game in Canada Canadians stand up and acknowledge God in prayer ! "GOD keep our land..."

      February 4, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Re: O'Canada, not every Canadian agrees. I never sing that line and always follow it with "There are no gods!"

      February 4, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • O Canada

      I've tried to encourage people to go with the French language version.

      February 4, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  14. The moon is made of green cheese.

    Hey great news. The Susan Komen foundation has reversed it's stand, and IS giving money to Planned Parenthood ! There is a god. Well, maybe not.

    February 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • savvy


      February 4, 2012 at 2:04 am |
  15. chrism

    Real Catholics stayed in the church. Liberal opposition took ivory tower spots where they could attack the church. What a disgrace to Boston University. Please Peter Kreeft get this tool fired. To think how much people pay and take out loans to listen to people like this.

    February 3, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I need to talk to you chrism. Maybe later if we can. OK?

      February 3, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • chrism

      Tom, sorry I posted and ran last night. I would be more than glad to talk. I have a "fake" email account bobarbary at yahoo. If you want feel free to email me there though I don't check it regularly I will try to over the next few days can redirect from there to my regular email. Hope things are ok.

      February 5, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  16. savvy

    Artificial contraception is an exercise in telling lies with the human body. It's almost anti-body. And therefore anti-matter and anti-science.

    February 3, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • Axis

      There seem to be quite a few steps missing in your reasoning. Is this something you can formulate in more detail?

      February 3, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • The moon is made of green cheese.

      That is hilarious. Enough. Name one reason.

      February 3, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Axis

      Well we don't want to be anti-science.


      February 3, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  17. savvy

    The moon is made of green cheese,

    NFP respects the human body. It respects relationships as being open to both love and life. Just as good food is open to both nutrition and taste.

    February 3, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • The moon is made of green cheese.

      NFP respects the human body.
      --Please answer the question. Name one reason.
      --You are assuming that the taking of hormones, (which is done for many (good) reasons, and NOT prohibited by your church), is "disrespectful", ...which BTW you have not defined. (Chemotherapy is FAR more "disrespectful" to a body, and they don't forbid THAT. So if "respeful is the standard, THAT is also inconsistent.
      It respects relationships as being open to both love and life.
      --They forbid relationships which nurture (some) love and life and families . BOTH love and life is not the same as love OR life. They don't seem to care which.
      "Just as good food is open to both nutrition and taste".
      --Another false analogy. You HAVE to eat.

      February 3, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Axis

      I guess I don't get it. NFP is deceptive in it's own way. You are defeating the reproductive cycle by applying special knowledge to the problem. Is that at all natural, really?

      February 3, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  18. savvy


    This is not at all unusual, given that the axis of Christianity itself has shifted. There are more practising Catholics in China than in Italy.

    We have it so good here. I can imagine what we would do when faced with a situation like those in the Middle east or elsewhere, where the choice is between death or the faith.

    The irony is that the faith is thriving in places where it's being persecuted.

    February 3, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • Stevie7

      I don't find that ironic in the least. When someone is being persecuted, they need something to help them cope with the mental stress of that persecution. Religion is the crutch that helps them cope. Makes perfect sense.

      February 4, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Prayer changes lives

    February 3, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  20. savvy

    The moon is made of green cheese,

    Let's try this. The church forbids the blocking of life when there is possibility that a life may be conceived. Not when there's no such possibility, such as old age, infertile periods etc.

    Even, then a person is still open to the possibility of life, if they do nothing to block it.

    February 3, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Liz


      February 3, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • The moon is made of green cheese.

      No, then older same-se'x couples can have se'x, young unmarried people can ma'st'ur'b'a'te, etc etc. You have not answered the question. Name one reason to practice NFP, other than to intentionally block life. NFP couples INTENTIONALLY abstain when they know a pregnancy could result. The moral intent is to "plan" a family. It's a dishonest attempt at a semantic dodge.

      February 3, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • sarah

      Intentionally abstaining does sound like an attempt to "block life". Ask any woman who takes her temperature regularly and carefully monitors her fluids if it seems "natural" to her or any man who has to ignore all the tantalizing pheromones his wife's body is pouring into the air he breathes.

      February 4, 2012 at 12:55 am |
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