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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. and...

    If the Catholic Church had put this much effort into identifying and prosecuting child molesting priests, they might have a moral edge. But they did not. So they do not.

    February 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  2. Bob

    Tax the churchs. They are a business that make nothing. Stay out of our bedrooms.

    February 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • us1776

      Hear, hear...

      February 10, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  3. Acergracer

    Obama was foolish to try to construct a compromise with the Catholic Church. They don't like him, they want him defeated and they will continue to make him look foolish. He needs to do a Roosevelt and make his case hard, strong and without fear of being ripped.

    February 10, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • mishu

      i, a cradle catholic person of color...many evangelicals are converting to the catholic church...newt gingrich being one (infamous person who sells himself on both sides of the fence...i will not espouse his "evangelical rhetoric", although many "conservative catholics do), mick santorum (first generation italian catholic), uses his daughter bella's genetic condition as a "right to life" banner. i resent even the "archbishop" and his stance when the church allowed planned parenthood to move into areas particularly in the south, to emascualte black men and sterilize black women until 2012 and nothing has been said...why is there a planned parenthood clinic in my community today?

      February 10, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  4. capiers

    I want proof that Religion has actually made this world a better place. I would be interested to see the numbers on how many people have died due to some religious belief or no-belief. I don't care if it makes you feel better about yourself, it does not make you a better person by default. Someday Religion will be considered folklore and people will look back and think "Why would anyone believe in stories that are so ridiculous"

    February 10, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  5. TCBiology

    If the churches want such a large say in the government then they should lose their tax exempt status.

    February 10, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • mishu

      a catholic of color, certified science teacher in two states...upon sending my resume (which i intended to help haitians and other people of color) to catholic charities...when i recieved a call from a mexican woman who wanted to know "what make you think, you deserve this job"...i gave to catholic charities all my years olf "catholic" awareness..however they will never get a penny form me. make awareness of father augustus tolton...a priest whose family escaped slavery, ended up in chicao...tell his story..

      February 10, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  6. Jeff

    So am I able to get free condoms right now through my health insurance?

    February 10, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • us1776

      Why? You out?

      .

      February 10, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • nightsun2k7

      I'm confused, you don't get them free allready? In Canada you can walk into any health department and get as many as you need for free. It's called preventative health care. A few condoms is a small price to pay for less aids, less std's and less unwanted births.

      February 10, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • mishu

      yes...you can also get viagra...yeh...your good.

      February 10, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  7. us1776

    The President neutered the GOP wedge issue and made it go away.

    Now the Catholics are all scratching their head going, But, but, but ...

    Obama 1
    Wingnuts 0

    .

    February 10, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Jeff

      So Catholics are "wingnuts" because they have a set of beliefs that you don't agree with?

      February 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • and...

      No Jeff, they are wingnuts because they want to deny women the right to control their pregnancies. They do not want women practicing birth control or having abortions because these unmarried, celibate men know what is best for women. So stupid.

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

      Did you hear that this company that makes these lovely rubber sandalss want him for their commercials...... yup.... the makers of Flip-Flops wants Obambam to be their poster BOY..... Baaaaahhhhahahahah..... I love when bleeding heart liberal lefties squirm.... Obambam is such a looooooser!

      February 10, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Jeff

      No once is saying they can't use contraceptives or go out and buy as many as they want with the paycheck they get from the catholic hospitals they work at, only that they don't want to have to directly pay for them because it is against the beliefs of their faith.

      February 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Jeff

      No one is saying they can't use contraceptives or go out and buy as many as they want with the paycheck they get from the catholic hospitals they work at, only that they don't want to have to directly pay for them because it is against the beliefs of their faith.

      February 10, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  8. Gonzo

    Religious freedom would mean stay out of politics and people's rights to live free and choose freely.
    TAX the Churches and TAX the business' owned by the Churches..

    February 10, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • mishu

      where have you been for the last 12-15 years? do you know nothing about faith-based iniatives?

      February 10, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  9. Alan

    Shiria law, Papal law, what's the difference?

    February 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Anne

      Not a lot....

      February 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Jeff

      Wow, ignorance must really be bliss

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

      i am angry today...and i resent this comment....think about the 50 presidents of the united states and why they want small government..all olf the rich people in every state do not want federal government influence because they want their republican governors to be the president of their states...they want federal money and jobs but they want to run things their way.

      February 10, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  10. ac

    By the way, are the bishops funny robes and ancient looking hats Dry Cleaned? Machine Washed?

    February 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      They pray them clean.

      Gotta love the Catholics and their hierarchical haberdashery.
      You can tell how close someone is to God by the size and ornateness of their hat...

      February 10, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • r-hope

      A vert relevant quesion......very relevant

      February 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • bombastinator

      Either. The designs all predate the requirement of dry cleaning, but some are made of modern materials that require it

      February 10, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  11. Michele

    @notfromtheisland...YAY! ANOTHER PERSON WITH A BRAIN! Thank you!

    February 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  12. nightsun2k7

    Helping womens health and stopping unwanted children is a sin but bending little boys over is completely fine.....WOW.

    February 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • mishu

      where was my church when my husband was drafted into viet nam, i had a miscarriage and my obgyn (a white doctor) prescribe me depoproviara...which is a pill that rendered me sterile...after 2 miscarriages...come on now...

      February 10, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  13. ralphie

    Cool! No we just need President O'Bama to reverse his decision on the Canadian pipeline and he'll be the best president ever (or at last since Clinton)!

    February 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  14. moppi

    Religion is so outdated!! Grow with the future, we have enough unwanted children in the world. Share the love but not the sperm.

    February 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  15. Will Somerset

    Of course the Catholic Church doesn't want contraceptives to be covered. It's not like you can get a 12 year old boy pregnant.

    February 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Matt

      OH SNAPPPP!

      February 10, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  16. ac

    men in funny robes and funny hats, arms raised. Take them seriously.

    February 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  17. lou50

    IHOP is missing their waffle flipper!

    February 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  18. aj

    look at obama bending over to big theocratic government.

    February 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  19. Michele

    @ HONESTLY...YOU'RE HONESTLY FRIGGIN' STUPID! The catholic church doesn't want to take it away...how the hell does one take something away that they never had to begin with? AND WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I'M CATHOLIC? I don't practice religion!!! Read my entire post, you idiot!!! It's a financial issue, NOT a religious issue, but then again, it appears that at your intelligence level, you wouldn't be able to comprehend that b/c you're so busy running off with the mouth about the catholic church, in particular, that you don't bother to listen to LOGIC! Idiots like you are the reason why this country is in the predicament it's in to begin with!

    February 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  20. Sid Prejean

    I am a lifelong practicing Roman Catholc and our local Bishop is a close personal friend. That said, when a group makes certain policy demands of the government, and gets exactly what it asks for, to have a "mixed" reaction. seems somewhat petulant.

    February 10, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
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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.