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. ETM

    A very reasonable compromise, which means of course that the loons of the right wing will reject it.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • maggie

      Obama could give them all gold teeth and they would reject it. You'd think that given Congress' dismal approval ratings, they haven't figured out that the public gets it already.

      February 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Minopl

      Yep, very reasonable.

      February 10, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • RevMum

      Sadly, you are so right about that!

      February 11, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  2. Real America

    Obama could be patient and not compromise at all. The Bishops and Evangelicals will have their say and the people will move away from them. There's no way for them to win this one. The statistics on people who want reproductive healthcare including contraception are just too lopsided. Oh wait. How many of the people who want such services are hypocrites? Hmmm... Now I'll worry.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • midwstrngrl

      republicans are the ones who first introduced this idea....and now just because Obama acted on it they must reverse their stance...either that or they are showing how easily they are now pandering to the religious right nutbags.


      February 10, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  3. Jacob

    again, Obama open to compromise, and it still just doesn't matter to his critics. Forge ahead, Mr. President! we're paying attention to this nonsense!

    February 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • RevMum

      Hear hear!

      February 11, 2012 at 12:41 am |
  4. saywhat

    Isn't this the same Church that had to be brought to court to get them to stop harboring and protecting pedophile priests?

    February 10, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Watson

      Now, that was another mixing of Church and State, methinks. Going by their logic, if the Church wants to molest children, it should be none of State's business, no?


      February 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  5. Takeagoodlook

    Obama, true leadership at work . . . Take a good look republicans, A true president at work!

    February 10, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • T. Storm

      You mean at pi$$poor & half a$$ed? The country is being flushed down the toilet by this idiot as we speak.

      February 10, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • photoman1

      Actually T Storm, Bush and his neo con cronies flushed us down the toilet. Its so sad that you can't see that.

      I'd love to have one of the idiots that the Regressive Part trotted out for this election win so that you can learn from your mistake, but unfortunately if one of these numb-minded candidates wins it will kill the middle class in the process. Teaching you Regressives a lesson would be like cutting off our noses to spite our face.

      February 10, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  6. KL

    They were stupid to ever fight the church, whatever the spin is, the church has been there for 2000 years, and will be there long after this president and country are gone.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • nsindiana

      Not so fast. Religious-backed organizations give up their choice as to what health services they provide as soon as they become businesses. It makes no sense to allow one business to decide what it will cover and what it will not. They all should have to adhear to the same standards. It is not the Government's job to regulate religious beliefs. Also, Greek and Roman Gods were around far longer than Christianity (some 4,000 years) and look where they are now – stacked alongside other myths and fables. The more enlightened society becomes, the less we rely on religion. Christianity, like other man-made religions will eventually go the way of Greek and Roman Mythology. The sooner, the better.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Scott

      So will the KKK by that logic, so should we not fight racism as well?

      February 10, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Wishful thinking

      Well, the church is pretty much gone as a force in Europe, & will be in 50-100 years in the U.S. Hallelujah!

      February 11, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  7. Carrie

    The American Cathiolic church needs to come into the 21st century about women's issues. Every Catholic I know personally uses or has used birth control with no guilt for doing so.
    This issue has been blown up by the GOP candidates to show how against "Christian Values" Pres Obama is , what it really shows is how out of touch and narrow minded this newer extreme right GOP has become. This is not my daddy;s republican party , this is a bunch of hateful hypocritical bigots!

    February 10, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Correct on all counts.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • TheGoat


      February 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Liv21

      I agree and I posted this a bit ago – only 2% of Catholic women reply on natural family planning and the rest are on birth control. ALL of the Catholic women I'm close friends with have taken or are taking the pill or have an IUD. ALL of them. Not one uses NFP. These MEN are either in denial or their motives are purply political and meant to make a statement at the risk to the public's health. Shame on them either way.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Vivian Nola

      Exactly! I am Catholic as are my sisters and girlfriends. I am also married, and expecting our second child. And YES, I use birth control whenever we aren't trying for a baby. (shocker!) So do all of my Catholic friends. The Church is so far behind what the majority of practicing Catholic women actually believe.

      And would the Church be willing to pay for all of the children that would be here if we weren't using birth control? Of course not!

      February 10, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Thanks!

      thanks catholic women for speaking up – please keep making your voices heard!

      February 11, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  8. Tranice

    The Catholic Church wants their cake and eat it to. This is fair. President does care about all people. This is 2012 and way is this a big issue. You go to a Catholic Church and you will see families there with 1, 2 or three children what is that saying. This was a fight for the GOP because they don't have anything else to fight. What's next GOP ?

    Obama 2012

    February 10, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  9. Christianity Sux

    Just out of curiosity, how many of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops are females?

    February 10, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • maggie


      February 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  10. spencer blair

    And the insurance companies are going to provide this for free? No premium charge? Yeah, right.

    They will charge the non-catholic insureds for the cost of providing the birth control for the whole population making the catholic employees subsidized by those who are non-catholic. This is what happens when you have a solution to a business problem made by someone who has never run anything but their mouth.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • cwj

      The will provide it free because it saves them money over the alternatives.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  11. ExRepublican313

    Doesn't the Catholic Church advocate a life of celebacy for its leadership, which by the way is "male". Perhaps that's why they don't consider contraception to be important.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  12. Patriot Awesome

    This compromise is totally fair. If they don't go along with it they're just being jerks.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Liv21

      I think you're on to something with the jerks theory.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  13. Texas Doc

    It would be totally different if Altar Boys got pregnant.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Truthtoday

      Great post. Well said. Amen. Maybe this is why we don't have Altar Girls.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • settino


      February 10, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • almostcityperson

      @truthtoday – I WAS an altar girl?

      February 10, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Alyssa

      I want to hate your post because it's so crass but I admit it...I snickered. How true this comment is! How very true!

      February 10, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • BADGUY

      No interest in altar girls.

      February 10, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  14. settino

    Why humans still beleive in organized religion is beyond comprehension!!! Feable minded followers, with no iniciative and who cannot make simle decisions are prime targets of this scam.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      The primary original purpose of religion was to explain and attempt to influence natural events in people’s lives that they could not control. As this need has become obsolete, the purpose of religion has become a means for people to rationalize hatred, intolerance, ignorance, terrorism and behavior they know is wrong. Some will argue that religion leads to good deeds, but as I am sure you know, you don’t need religion to have good deeds, charity and kindness.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • midwstrngrl

      i agree that people are looking for reasons. But i differ in the fact that people are feeling more out of control of things than ever. That is when people turn to religion. As long as we allow EXTREME concentration of wealth and poverty, it will persist. Esp now as we have become a world market economy that is just now fast-forwarding into the information age.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  15. BRC

    Okay, sto the Archbishop Wenski still doesn't like this plan, because he claims the insurance companies are going to increase the premiums on the other policies to make up for the "free " coverage of contraceptives they're now providing. Undoubtedly true, but they won't just be hiking it up on the policies provided to the church, they will likely increase premiums on ALL of their plans to make up the gap, so everyone gets to join in paying for wht the "affiliated" organizations should by all rights be paying from the start. I can get over that, it is a reasonable compromise for saving face, and as people have pointed out, women get coverage, that's the important thing.

    Now, I recommend the Church stop complaining. You got your unfair motion approved, you wriggled out of the law, now be quiet. If you keep pushing, if you say "yes, I'm not paying for it but someone else still is", people are going to start to get the impression that you never cared that you were paying for it, you just care that there are people using it at all (whether that impression is right or not, that's how it reads). Remember, women can do what they want with their bodies, now you're not directly funding it, so move on.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Hypatia

      Amen, but the boys in dresses won't be happy until their running Benedict's Drag Race in Washington.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • sarah

      They don't want anyone using BC. They don't like the fact that most of their congregation does. This is about control. Freedom of religion really feels false when most Catholics use BC. They would put a forcible stop to it if they could.

      February 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm |

    First I really don't think the catholic church has the right to tell anyone anything. It a church...not God. With that begining said if your a catholic women and you want the church to tell you what to do with your body...MORE POWER TO YOU. However, if the a catholic church isn't allowed to run around and tell insurance companies you can't offer our employees birth control....sorry....good job obama...ball in your court priest....let see how you spin this.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • LJ

      So wait? The catholic church shouldn't be able to tell anyone what to do because they are a church and they aren't god? But the government can because? ...just because they are the government doesn't give them the right to take away someones freedom of religion. And that is exactly what they are doing. Obama is taking OUR rights as citizens away little by little. It wont end with this.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Interested48

      LJ, the government CAN tell you what today because we elect people to make laws. If we don't like what they do, we can vote them out. Not so the Catholic Church. That's a dictatorship.

      February 10, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Shannon


      Explain please in full detail how making sure women have access to contraceptives takes away her freedom. This is not a blow to anyone's personal liberty, it's actually a step toward true freedom by allowing a woman (not a corrupt religious organization) to decide how to care for her own body.

      February 17, 2012 at 6:58 am |
  17. M. Edward

    A person can be against something on a personal level, i.e. gay marriage, abortion, etc., without dictating what others should do or think. That's not being a hypocrite, that's being intelligent and open minded. If for example the President holds a fundraiser at a gay couple's house, he is demonstrating that he may personally opposed gay marriage, but he recognizes that here in America, we have free will. Furthermore, he showing respect for the ability we have to disagree with some issues but agree on others.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  18. lanwayhod

    Some Catholic employers are "self-insured", meaning they are the insurance company and provide their own coverage to their employees and families. So, now they will be required to provide coverage for these services free of charge? That still goes against their religious beliefs!

    February 10, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Only if they avail themselves of these services(which of course they will not) so no harm-no foul.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • lanwayhod

      My employer is a Catholic Hospital and does not cover birth control. I would be curious to know if Obama would still require them to cover the service?

      February 10, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      The hospital would not...the insurance company would. If the 2 are the same(as you suggest) then realize that insurance is not a church service. If they object to this mandate for insurance companies to provide contraceptive services then they have no business being i the insurance business.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      I would ask if they cover medication that people must take if they are overweight. Since gluttony is a sin, they should not be covering those drugs.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  19. CT

    President Obama is finally showing that he cares more about women then the Catholic Church, Bravo you may get my vote keep it up.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  20. Truthtoday

    A great compromise. However, the leadership of the Catholic Church is out of touch with it's followers who clearly use contraceptives. Men who are not married are making decisions that impact the women and the married–Archaic. Hypocrisy at its apex.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:07 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.