Mixed Catholic reaction to revised White House contraception plan
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, whom President Barack Obama called Friday morning.
February 10th, 2012
12:28 PM ET

Mixed Catholic reaction to revised White House contraception plan

By Eric Marrapodi CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Washington (CNN) - As word trickled out of a White House compromise with Catholic groups on its rule around contraception coverage on Friday morning, administration officials took to the phones to sell the plan to religious leaders across the spectrum.

Catholic officials say President Obama called New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, to explain the revised policy, which exempts religiously affiliated universities and hospitals for paying for no cost contraception for their employees but requires insurers to offer such coverage for for free to women who work at such institutions.

Dolan responded to the White House plan Friday afternoon in a statement saying the move was, "a first step in the right direction."

“While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them," he added.

But other bishops were far more critical. "I think he's punting, just kicking the can down the road," Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski told CNN. "He's hasn't really addressed our concerns.  I think the only thing to do is... to take back the whole thing."

After hanging up with Obama Friday morning, Dolan quickly organized a conference call with other bishops nationwide, according to a source briefed on the calls. It's yet to be seen how the Catholic Church will greet the revised White House policy, but some conservative religious voices say they're not satisfied.

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Wenski said the Miami Archdiocese pays an insurance company to cover its 5,000 employees and argued that if the insurance company is paying for and providing contraceptives, as the new compromise lays out, the church would still be paying for it.

"They're missing the point when they say this is about contraception," he said. "This is about religious freedom.  It's a sham to say contraception aren't widely available in this country."

But some Catholic groups applauded the White House announcement. Sister Carol Keehan from the Catholic Health Association said she is"very pleased" with the White House.

"Folks were extremely grateful for this," said James Salt, who heads the progressive group Catholics United, which is close to the White House.

Salt was on a White House call to religious leaders Friday morning that was led by Joshua DuBios, director of Obama's Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

"This is a solution that can be universally celebrated," Salt said. " There were groups on the call that have a very pro-choice world view and there was no dissent... We're putting out a full-throated endorsement of this."

Stephen Schneck, a professor from Catholic University who has advised the administration in the past, is also pleased with the new HHS policy.  "There was great enthusiasm on the call, a real sense of relief," he said, referring to the conference call with DuBois.

"I think [the administration] finally got it as a result of the fire storm...the religious liberty concerns, that's what turned the policy makers," he said.  "The level of solidarity with the bishops  in seeing this as a religious liberty issue is what I think turned the day."

In recent weeks, religious leaders loudly lobbied the White House on its plan to make religious institutions offer free contraception to employees through health insurance plans. Evangelicals and conservative Jews joined with Catholics in saying the policy was an intrusion of religious liberty.

"As long as the Obama portrayed this as a contraception issue they had a chance to win the pr battle," said Richard Land, head of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention.  Despite the compromise, Land said the damage has been done.

"It'll be devastating with Catholics," he said, arguing that the president has "shown what he really believes."

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which brought three lawsuits in federal court against the policy, denounced the White House change Friday as an “accounting gimmick.”

Becket said the new compromise doesn’t address the private religious groups and others who object the policy and still view the new policy as them paying for contraceptives, albeit through an insurer.

“Hundreds, if not thousands, of religious institutions are still left out in the cold and will be forced to violate their religious convictions,” said Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel for the Becket Fund, in a statement.

An administration official said the White House will convene meetings with religious leaders in coming days and that “this policy will be developed collaboratively so that the ultimate outcome works for religious employers, their workers and the public.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Belief • Bishops • Catholic Church • Church and state • Politics

soundoff (2,082 Responses)
  1. Sh8un

    Catholic groups, they are on a thin ice. Their credebility were shattered with all those child molestations. So do NOT blame the Obama why people in USA do not trust those so called "Catholic groups ". They better go and take care of their infestations(molesters).

    February 10, 2012 at 5:04 pm |

    STOP THE FREE RIDE!!! tax the churches!

    February 10, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  3. Jesucrisco

    For centuries, child molestation was considered a perk of being a priest and they've been above the law. The Catholic Church has no moral authority on this or any other issue.

    February 10, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  4. Joe

    America needing universal Health Care is a national government policy issue, not a church matter!!!!! This sounds like some Republicans have gotten to the Church leadership to try and use religion to rock the boat in an election year!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm Catholic but this whole deal smells like some Bishops have gotten a political promise bribe if they help swing votes for Republicans.

    Any Republican with a brain knows the whole Religious right is nothing more than a front to grab independent voters!!!!!!!!! The Right wings views are not aligned with Catholic faith other than they've adopted a few court decisions so they can claim the moral high ground. It's all a sham, I'm Catholic and I say the Church should tend to their flock not get into corrupt politics!!!!! LET PEOPLE DECIDE ON CONTRACEPTIVES THEMSELVES THE ARE LEGAL SO ITS A PERSONAL CHOICE!!!!!!

    February 10, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  5. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things !

    February 10, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Jesucrisco

      Anti-birth control? Pro child molestation? Of course!

      February 10, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • BethTX

      Like what things?

      February 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Real christian Perspective

      And your point is? Are you trying to say that access to birth control is akin to atheism? The Catholic church has no sound scriptural basis for this archane teaching against contraception and as long as their colleges and hospitals take federal funds they should be required to follow federal law..

      February 10, 2012 at 5:15 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 10, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  6. Jack

    Our President is trying to be a conciliator and compromise–find middle ground but the GOP and the fanatic relgious who support them will not compromise anything. The part of NO continues to want to do nothing for anyone (other than the wealthy). This is a democracy not a theocracy. We compromise in a democracy. The President is trying to find middle ground but it hard wtih a bunch of extremists who won't budge.

    February 10, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • M1sf1ts

      Actually, America is more of an Oligarchy...We gotz Kakistocracy!

      February 10, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things!

    February 10, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  8. Annie

    Please correct the spelling of the Archbishop of Miami's name – he is Wenski Not Wenkis!

    February 10, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  9. maude

    Pray for Allah, all will be fine.

    February 10, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  10. Jesucrisco

    Of course they're against birth control. They're pro child molestation.

    February 10, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  11. TomGI

    Old Tim isn't missing too many meals. Life is good when you don't have to pay taxes on your contribution basket. Look at those pork sausage fingers. And what is with that outfit? Doily sleeves? Does he have to iron that or does he force the nuns to do his laundry?

    February 10, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • BethTX

      I guess gluttony isn't a sin for church officials.

      February 10, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  12. M1sf1ts

    The Pope is a Pedophile Pimp.

    February 10, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • maude

      Allah is proud of you

      February 10, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  13. ItSays

    In The Bible God told Adam & Eve to be fruitful and multiply - haven't they passed way a few generations ago?

    February 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  14. M1sf1ts

    There have been 47,515 drug related deaths in Mexico, not including those North of the border, since 2006.

    And Obama is worried about birth control!!??

    February 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      He's president of Mexico too? Wow.

      February 10, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • BethTX

      That's 45.515 who won't end up in front of your local Home Depot.

      February 10, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  15. Plug1


    February 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  16. John

    I remember a time when bishops actually cared about compassion for the poor.
    Those days are long gone.
    They're an interesting museum artifact, not a relevant moral voice.
    Ostensibly celibate old men in robes, blasting pomp and bluster over nothing.

    February 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  17. FRANK


    February 10, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • M1sf1ts

      Progress towards what?

      February 10, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Jared

      In this situation it is politics interfering with religion.

      February 10, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • buddhabill

      ...Because the Catholic Church is having a hard time getting the people of Italy to listen...their fertility rate is the lowest in Europe at 1.2, and something tells me that the Italians aren't swearing off gettin' jiggy, or going back door in overwhelming numbers. They are tuning their 'old man's club' out, as should we.

      February 10, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Tuscaloosan

      Um...it looks to me like government picked this fight with religion, not the other way around. There are two parts to this religious liberty thing.

      February 10, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Phillygal

      Exactly. If they want to have a PUBLIC hospital, that get PUBLIC monies, and open their doors to members of the PUBLIC, then they offer health care, not this religious nonsense. What next - different rules and procedures and health care in Muslim hospitals, Jewish hospitals, Methodist hospitals, Protestant hospitals, Mormon hospitals, etc.? IF THEY GET PUBLIC FUNDS AND OPEN THEIR DOORS TO THE PUBLIC, THEY MUST OFFER STATE OF THE ART MEDICAL CARE! Period.

      February 10, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • ggm

      or politics interfering with religion

      February 10, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  18. maude

    Mary conceived Jesus by a holy ghost while being married to Joseph. Jesus is thus a holy Bas**ard.

    February 10, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • BethTX

      He was also a zombie, having risen from the dead. Reminds me, The Walking Dead is back this Sunday.

      February 10, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  19. Jesucrisco

    Do Catholic Priests use condoms when they molest children?

    February 10, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  20. vinny

    Whats wrong with some of you people? This country was founded on freedom. Freedom of religion was a big part of that. You have the fredom to believe in anything or any God you choose to. you can choose not to believe. I personally dont care either way. But what you dont have and what this government will not be allowed to have, is the ability to disregard someones religious beliefs by forcing this.

    February 10, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • maude

      The patrotic act took away all the freedom. Now they want to probe your bum everytime you travel.

      February 10, 2012 at 5:00 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.