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.”

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

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. Mike P

    My Take: "Real Catholics" listen to what the Church says and obey it.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • lucianne

      Because the real catholics practice pedophilia, so they don't have to worry about pregnancy?

      February 6, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Gladys Kravitz

      I hear you. But there are plenty "Cafeteria Catholics" who still consider themselves Catholic.

      Jehovah's Witnesses do not accept medicines that are derived from blood products. So hemophiliacs need not apply? Where do we draw the line?

      February 9, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • J.W

      What if the Catholic church excommunicates as the cafeteria catholics? How many "real" Catholics will be left?

      February 9, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  2. Doesn't matter

    The large missing link in this whole article is that Catholicism is not just a religion of the United States – specifically Roman Catholic. While many Americans may use contraceptives and sterilization and think it is alright and call themselves Catholic, that doesn't mean it’s a Catholic thing to do. Catholicism is a religion that is spread worldwide. It is growing by leaps and bounds in Africa and China. I am a Catholic that doesn't use birth control – I am using my free will on this one. The Church teaches us what is right and wrong – we as Catholics have to choose to accept or deny it – that is our own conscience. We do not speak for the church.

    February 6, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • James

      Well put, the opinion of the "cafeteria Catholics" does not change Catholic Doctrine.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Mel

      I think the fact that it is growing in Africa, China and other parts of Asia makes this stance on birth control quite a problem. These are already parts of the world that are overpopulated, have a high percentage of families living in poverty with more children than they can feed and children being born with HIV. I spend my vacations volunteering in vaccination clinics and providing health care in these poorer parts of the world. It is easy to take this stance when one lives in a developed country but it is another thing to see the effects of these policies on the poorest of nations, many of which don't get to use "their free will" on this matter as you do. I'm sorry, I don't mean to be offensive and I respect everyone's religious choices when they have the freedom to do so. I just can't find a rational in this teaching when I see children starving and disease spreading rampant. I don't understand a church that cares about people going giving a speech in Africa about how condoms are a sin when the country is torn apart by HIV and AIDS. This leads to more children born in disease in a place where treatment isn't like it is here.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  3. American In Exile

    I often wonder why so many people opposed to God and religion are on this blog to bash. I mean it is sort of hilarious that those who seek to point out the flaws of a faith they don't even believe in are spending so much time justifying their nonbelief. As a result so little that could be accomplished here is not. There is no intelligent exchange of information.

    February 6, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • chief

      you'd be suprised how many arent opposed to God or religion..... you think that they just may be sick of the catholics thinking that they have a lock on it all.....

      February 6, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  4. chief

    so i pay taxes, the taxes go to the catholic church and they build and build more centers to help and attempt to convert people, and they want to choose what they will do with my tax money based on their beliefs..... makes a lot of sense if i were in syria

    February 6, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • J.W

      It seems like a lot of people think churches actually receive tax money from the government. When does that ever happen?

      February 6, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  5. Joseph

    There are so many ways to make money nowadays. Are you cashing in on online income sources? The rich are and they won't show you how. WE WILL!!!

    Google the terms "Cash Simple Stock" and click the very first site! Go straight to the Penny' Stock section to find out how YOU can learn what the rich already know!

    Take the two minutes to see what we have...it will be well worth it.

    February 5, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  6. Prayer is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer takes people away from actually working on real solutions to their problems.
    Prayer wears out your clothes prematurely.
    Prayer contributes to global warming through excess CO2 emissions.
    Prayer fucks up your knees and your back.
    Prayer can cause heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
    Prayer reveals how stupid you are to the world; that and wasting time are the real impact of prayer.
    Prayer exposes your backside to pervert priests.
    Prayer prevents you from getting badly needed exercise.
    Prayer makes you post really stupid shit.
    Prayer makes you hoard cats.
    Prayer makes you smell like kitty litter and leads you on to harder drugs.
    Prayer wastes time.

    February 5, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  7. GetReal

    Over one billion Catholics. Over one billion opinions. I'm a real Catholic. I'm pro-birth control, I'm pro-gay marriage, I'm a liberal Democrat, and anti-Komen. I hate abortion but realize it needs to be legal. I'm anti-capital punishment. I've known a few pervert priests. I've known a few wonderful, loving, giving priests who would never hurt a child or anyone else. I've known selfish, self-righteous Catholics and Catholics who would give their right arm to help someone in need. We're people, we're not sheep of the Vatican. We're not what other people make us up to be.

    February 5, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Oh Yeah

      Very well said! 🙂

      February 5, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Pritka

      Hmmm....my excuse used to be that I loved the Mass...then I got to thinking about the misogny I saw in the church. A priest asked me what would bring me back into the fold and I told him I would come back when they made the first female bishop....now not even that would do it. By your definition except for the misogyny issue, I am still a Catholic and I am honest enough to tell you that I am not.

      February 5, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • The moon is made of green cheese.

      Agree completely. Apart from being argumentative, (which is useful in pointing out inconsistencies), I am in the same boat. My aunt is a nun. She is one of THE most intelligent, wonderful people I know, (as are almost all of the wonderful women in her community). They live for the people they serve. Some of them believe this, and some believe that. Half of this country was educated by women who were given no thanks for their work. There is no "h'o'm'ogeneous" group of anything in the church. The business of "true" Catholic is a fallacy. They, (we ?? well, maybe not so much 😉 ), recite the creed, but it means as many things to as many people who recite it.

      February 5, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • PrimeNumber

      GetReal, thanks for the balanced, sane post. There's an old saw that says "If you add a drop of clean water to a gallon of sewage, you have a gallon of sewage. If you add a drop of sewage to a gallon of clean water, you have a gallon of sewage." Anytime human nature gets involved with something, there's the risk of producing that "gallon of sewage". Doesn't matter if the issue is religion, science, politics, parenthood, etc.
      But isn't this what you'd expect from the product of blind evolution?

      February 6, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  8. Pritka

    The Catholic church wants to hurt O'bama with this non-issue. OFFERING birth control in health insurance is not against church teachings, USING it is. Even so, most fertile Catholic couples use it and truth be known, probably want access to it in health insurance. If the church keeps giving this issue voice and the Republicans keep taking up the banner of O'bama hates religion, it may just backfire on both. O'bama's concern is health insuranceand not religion. The Catholic church needs to stick to teaching doctrine and stay out of the Catholic bedroom and for that matter, politics.

    February 5, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • The moon is made of green cheese.

      Exactly. The bishops can't and don't trust their own people to obey, (anymore).

      February 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • KeninTexas

      You claim "OFFERING birth control in health insurance is not against church teachings". I think you're wrong with that idea. But besides that, the issue isn't "offering " birth control, it's Catholic instiutions being " forced to pay" for these services even if it's against the basic tenants of the faith. It's the rough shod treatment that HHS and the Obama admistration by trying to ram this through regardless of this.

      February 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Pritka

      No, Kenin Texas, parishes and those that work directly for the church do not have to offer contraception in their health insurance policies. Catholic enterprises such as hospitals and charities who hire regardless of religious affiliation and receive funding from the government are required to provide it in their health insurance. If they take government money they must not discriminate by their religious beliefs in providing health care options. Seems pretty fair to me.

      February 5, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  9. Mike P

    "...is this the Catholic position? It depends on what you mean by Catholic....survey after survey has shown that U.S. Catholics neither agree with official church teachings on contraception nor follow them."

    So what? If it were found that 50% of Catholics didn't believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that would mean that 50% of Catholics aren't really Catholic (or even Christian), not that Jesus Christ's being the Son of God isn't a Catholic belief. In the same way, if 98% of Catholic couples disbelieve the Church's position on birth control, that just means 98% of Catholic couples are wrong and need to repent. (At least, that's the case unless and until the hierarchy who actually have the authority to say what is and is not Catholic belief change their position, as they tried to do in Vatican II but were overruled by the Pope, whose word is law when it comes to Catholic faith and morals.)

    February 5, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Mark

      I think what the guy is trying to say here speaks directly to the effectiveness of the decree condemning our government. Sure what the government did violates Catholic teaching and principle. The Church responded, but unless the church goers back it, it becomes empty rhetoric as far as the government in concerned. You're right. It is an internal problem. Leadership is being ignored by membership, and to the outside world for all express purposes it does not represent that membership. If leadership can't use to power of its membership to effect the desired change, its words become empty threats to those that don't care what they believe. Happens everywhere else.

      February 5, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • The moon is made of green cheese.

      The Roman Church wants to use the law to force it's views on society when it's convenient, (the same-se'x marriage issue), and NOT when it finds it inconvenient. No one is forcing the Roman Church to do anything. If they want to run insti'tutions THAT TAKE FEDERAL FUNDS, (Medicare and Medicaid), and accept all the benefits of this society , then they subject themselves to Civil Law.

      Why not stop taking Federal money, and give all their employees the "Catholic Test",(and keep repeating it every so often, to weed out the sinners), and there will be no problems ?

      No one is forcing them to do anything. They exist in a society. They accept all the benefits of that society. They are what they are, have what they have, and do what they do, because society has developed, and maintains the legal and other systems/structures that we have. They ARE subject to OUR Civil Law, because they choose to benefit, in thousands of ways from society. They choose to live here.

      The Roman Church's position on contraception is fundamentally inconsistent with THEIR OWN Moral Theology. In every other moral issue, they declare that "intent" is the crux of a moral choice. (There are 3 criteria in a moral choice..the object, the intent, and the circu'mstance...the "intent is the action used to achieve the object.")

      They are saying the "end", (preventing a pregnancy), is justified by the "means", (making and carrying out a PLAN...which requires specific activity..temperature taking, abstaining, calendar making).

      Clearly, objectively, deliberately, intentionally, "natural family PLANning" has as it's INTENT, the prevention of a pregnancy. There is NOTHING "passive" or "tricky" about it.

      Is (your) god stupid ? Does He not know what you're up to ?

      February 5, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Pritka

      And that is exactly the problem. The Catholic church is trying to use muscle they don't have. The Emporer is in fact, naked. They got away with it until they tried to tell everyone they were fully clothed. Since they have no women in power and don't want any, the church's weenie is showing.

      February 5, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Prayer is beautiful
    Prayer is building
    Prayer is beneficial
    Prayer changes things

    February 5, 2012 at 5:05 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      All prayer? Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, ancient Greek? Were all their prayers as effective as any to YHWH? My opinion, probably, because it's all just psychological and it matters not which gods you pray to you're still just talking things through in your own mind.

      February 5, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Nope

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.

      February 6, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • markusp

      You can pray in one hand, and crap in your other hand. When it's all done, you'll have two hands full of sh!t.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  11. Prayer is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer takes people away from actually working on real solutions to their problems.
    Prayer wears out your clothes prematurely.
    Prayer contributes to global warming through excess CO2 emissions.
    Prayer fucks up your knees and your back.
    Prayer can cause heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
    Prayer reveals how stupid you are to the world.
    Prayer exposes your backside to pervert priests.
    Prayer prevents you from getting badly needed exercise.
    Prayer makes you post really stupid shit.
    Prayer makes you hoard cats.
    Prayer makes you smell like kitty litter and leads you on to harder drugs.
    Prayer wastes time.

    February 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  12. urafkntool

    You don't HAVE any arguments lol... all you have is opinion and supposition. Nothing you have is supportable by any stretch.

    February 4, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  13. Reality

    The Catholic hierachy do not believe in artificial birth control so why do they employ those who do? Did not the Supreme Court recently decide that religious organizations have the right to decide who they hire and fire? Bottom line: To reduce health insurance costs and to not be subject to Obama care regulations about supplying contraceptives, Catholic groups should simply not hire those in need of contraceptives and fire those who demand such coverage.

    There are different opinions as to what a religion really is or what a non-profit is. To be fair therefore, there should be no tax-exemptions for any group and that includes the Democratic and Republican Parties. Faith and community initiative grant monies should also be cancelled and there should also be no tax deductions for contributions made to charities and non-profits.


    "The government must stay out of hiring and firing decisions by a religious organization, even if a minister sues for employment discrimination, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

    Religious freedom groups praised the decision, and especially the fact that it came from a unanimous court."

    February 4, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Reality

      I love it up the ass, especially from billy goats.

      February 4, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Reality

      o The last comments from Reality are not from the original Reality.

      February 4, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  14. Reality

    "Facts on Contraceptive Use" – The important information S. Prothero forgot to mention:

    January 2008


    • 62 million U.S. women (and men?) are in their childbearing years (15–44).[1]

    • 43 million women (and men) of reproductive age, or 7 in 10, are se-xually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they or their partners fail to use a con-traceptive method.[2]

    • The typical U.S. woman (man?) wants only 2 children. To achieve this goal, she (he?) must use cont-raceptives for roughly 3 decades.[3]


    • Virtually all women (98%) aged 15–44 who have ever had int-ercourse have used at least one con-traceptive method.[2](and men?)

    • Overall, 62% of the 62 million women aged 15–44 are currently using one.[2] (and men)

    • 31% of the 62 million women (and men?) do not need a method because they are infertile; are pregnant, postpartum or trying to become pregnant; have never had inte-rcourse; or are not se-xually active.[2]

    • Thus, only 7% of women aged 15–44 are at risk of unwanted pregnancy but are not using con-traceptives.[2] (and men?)

    • Among the 42 million fertile, s-exually active women who do not want to become pregnant, 89% are practicing con-traception.[2] (and men?)


    • 64% of reproductive-age women who practice con-traception use reversible methods, such as oral con-traceptives or condoms. The remaining women rely on female or male sterilization.[2]


    Percentage of women experiencing an unintended pregnancy (a few examples)

    Method ...........................Typical

    Pill (combined).................. 8.7
    Tubal sterilization.............. 0.7
    Male condom ...................17.4
    Vasectomy........................ 0.2

    Periodic abstinence ,,,,,,,,,25.3 (RCC approved)
    Calendar ......... 9.0 (RCC approved)
    Ovulation Method ......... 3.0 (RCC approved)
    Sympto-thermal .......... 2.0 (RCC approved)
    Post-ovulation ........... 1.0 (RCC approved)

    No method ................. 85.0" (RCC approved especially important for those trying to get pregnant)

    (Abstinence)......................... 0... (RCC approved)...............

    (Masturbation) .......................0

    (Wet Dreams).........................0 (RCC approved)

    More facts about contraceptives from



    Cont-raceptive method use among U.S. women who practice con-traception, 2002

    Method No. of users (in 000s) % of users
    Pill ..............11,661................ 30.6
    Male condom 6,841 ...............18.0 "

    The pill fails to protect women 8.7% during the first year of use (from the same reference previously shown).

    i.e. 0.087 (failure rate)
    x 62 million (# child bearing women)
    x 0.62 ( % of these women using contraception )
    x 0.306 ( % of these using the pill) =

    1,020,000 unplanned pregnancies
    during the first year of pill use.

    For male condoms (failure rate of 17.4 and 18% use level)

    1,200,000 unplanned pregnancies during the first year of male condom use.

    The Gut-tmacher Inst-itute (same reference) notes also that the perfect use of the pill should result in a 0.3% failure rate
    (35,000 unplanned pregnancies) and for the male condom, a 2% failure rate (138,000 unplanned pregnancies).

    o Conclusion: The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer to include combination methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.

    Added information before making your next "move": (Something else S. Prothero forgot to mention)

    from the CDC-2006

    "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'" (i.e. the Bill Clinton Syndrome)

    February 4, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Reality

      Facts on my s-e-x life:

      Male animals welcome only!

      Billy goats preferred.

      Whales are workable, so are bulls.

      February 4, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Reality

      The last comments were not from the original Reality....................................................

      February 4, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  15. David Johnson

    Well, I do know how I feel about the Obama administration’s policy of requiring employers, including Catholic ones, to offer contraceptive services for free as preventive care. I love the idea.

    I think employers, including Catholic ones, should offer abortions for free as part of a woman's health care package.

    Catholic hierarchy should focus on preventing their priests from attacking boys.

    We need to get the gods out of our bedrooms.


    February 4, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Reality

      Why did today's pope, prelates, preachers and rabbis, so focused on society's se-xual sins, lose sight of clerical se-xual sins?

      Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!
      Neither is coronation!!! e.g. Henry VIII, King David.
      Neither is marriage as 50% of those men convicted of pedophilia are married.
      Neither is being elected president of the USA!! e.g. Billy "I did not have se-x with that girl" Clinton, John "Marilyn Monroe" Kennedy"
      Neither is possessing super athletic skill!!! e.g. Tiger "I am so sorry for getting caught" Woods
      Neither is being an atheist or pagan since pedophilia is present in all walks of life

      If someone is guilty of a crime in this litany of "neithers" they should or should have been penalized as the law dictates to include jail terms for pedophiliacs (priests, rabbis, evangelicals, boy scout leaders, married men/women), divorce for adultery (Clinton, Kennedy, Woods), jail terms for obstruction of justice (Clinton, Cardinal Law) and the death penalty or life in prison for murder ("Kings David and Henry VIII).

      February 4, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things, !!!

    February 4, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things!!!

    February 4, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  18. urafkntool


    February 4, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  19. Atheist #1

    a real Atheist says look at what the church has done Africa! http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2003/10/mommie_dearest.html

    February 4, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • urafkntool

      see my name to see what you are.

      February 4, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • urafkntool

      Why should anyone give a fck about Africa? It's not like there's humans living there, just n-i-g-g-e-r-s.

      February 4, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  20. Your mother's pu$$y leaks green ooze

    @The moon is made of green cheese: You're an idiot. shut the fck up.

    February 4, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • The moon is made of green cheese.

      My my.
      Well, just because you are SO intelligent that you have now refuted everything I said, argument by argument, of course I won't say another word....NOT.
      What's wrong...too dumb to post the word fuck ?

      February 4, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • urafkntool

      Sorry I posted this in the wrong spot:

      You don't have any arguments. You have opinion and supposition, neither of which is supportable by empirical evidence. Now shut up 🙂

      February 4, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • ?????

      Who are you talkin to, ur ?

      February 4, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
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