Liberal Catholics challenge bishops on Obama's contraception rule
A growing chorus of progressive Catholic activists say the American bishops, above, don't speak for all Catholics on public policy matters.
February 15th, 2012
02:17 PM ET

Liberal Catholics challenge bishops on Obama's contraception rule

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

Washington (CNN) - America’s Catholic bishops have criticized the White House’s mandate for insurers to provide free contraception coverage to employees, but plenty of other Catholic groups have endorsed the plan - some taking swipes at the bishops in the process.

“The Catholic bishops and their allies in the Republican Party are increasingly isolated,” James Salt, executive director of a liberal group called Catholics United, said in a statement over the weekend supporting the White House’s contraception rule.

“The bishops’ blanket opposition appears to the serve the interests of a political agenda, not the needs of the American people," Salt continued, e-mailing his group’s support for the White House to tens of thousands of Catholics nationwide.

Another Washington-based Catholic operative, John Gehring, e-mailed reporters over the weekend to knock the bishops for criticizing President Barack Obama, even after his administration revised its contraception rule Friday to mandate that insurers - not Catholic institutions - pay for birth control coverage.

"You have to ask why the bishops can't take yes for an answer," wrote Gehring, who works with the progressive group Faith in Public Life.

On Wednesday, Gehring helped organize a call with reporters to discuss a congressional hearing this week at which some bishops are expected to testify against the contraception rule. "I believe everything my church teaches," Nicholas Cafardi, a prominent Catholic lawyer, said on the call, voicing support for the birth control rule. " I don’t consider this as a question of dogma, but of how we apply Catholic teaching in the real world."

For the White House and Democratic Party, such expressions of Catholic support have been helpful, providing political ammunition against conservative allegations the administration and party are anti-religion and are at war with the Catholic Church.

But the support has not come easy. It reflects a years-long campaign by liberal Catholic activists to push back against the leadership of their church on controversial political matters - and years of White House bridge-building with a spectrum of Catholic groups.

In an election year in which Catholics will constitute one of the nation’s biggest swing voting blocs - and in which the bishops are likely to continue slapping the White House - the political heft of a new generation of progressive Catholic groups and the White House’s Catholic outreach efforts are about to face a huge political test.

Groups such as Catholics United and Faith in Public Life got off the ground during and just after the 2004 election when a Catholic Democratic presidential nominee - Sen. John Kerry - was hard-pressed to find Catholic support in the face of condemnations from some Catholic bishops over his support for abortion rights.

Kerry, the first Catholic presidential nominee since John F. Kennedy, wound up losing the Catholic vote to George W. Bush, who made Catholic outreach a priority.

“For too long, the far right owned the values debate and there were very few progressive and religious groups willing to speak out in specific and strategic moments to help shape that debate,” Catholics United's Salt said. “But since 2004, there’s been a turnaround.”

The emergence of progressive Catholic groups such as Catholics United helped Obama handily win the Catholic vote in 2008.

And such groups provided Catholic support for the president in 2009, when he faced conservative Catholic criticism over his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, and in 2010, when the bishops opposed Obama’s health care law, alleging that it left the door open to taxpayer-funded abortion.

Some activists from the new progressive Catholic establishment have been hired into the Obama administration, including Alexia Kelley, who started a group called Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good after the 2004 election, and John Kelly, a Catholic outreach liaison for Obama’s 2008 campaign.

“This will be a surprise to some, but this has been an extremely Catholic friendly White House,” said Stephen Schneck, a Catholic University professor involved with a handful of progressive Catholic groups. “It probably has more Catholic members than just about any presidency I can remember.

“That’s partly been the way that the administration has been able to court Catholic progressives,” he said.

Since its early days, the Obama White House has heavily courted Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities, USA and the Catholic Health Association, which voiced support for the revised contraception rule, upsetting some bishops.

That support was politically important for the White House because the administration doubted it could ever win support from the bishops, even after Friday’s revision.

“Unfortunately, the White House knew all along that there was no chance in reaching the bishops - Richard Doerflinger, John Carr and the Bishops Conference staff are far too cozy with right-wing politicians on the Hill to have any real negotiation,” says a senior Democratic official, referring to influential bishops conference staffers.

“Until a bishop shows some leadership over their own staff, it’s going to be hard to negotiate,” the official said, who would speak only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss White House negotiations.

A spokesperson for the bishops said the White House never consulted them on the contraception rule.

“When the President called Cardinal Dolan… it was merely to tell him what the White House had already decided,” the spokesperson said, referring to Timothy Dolan, president of the bishops’ conference. The spokesperson also insisted on anonymity because the bishops don’t typically speak on dealings with the White House.

“Never was there an attempt to collaborate or learn what kind of accommodation might have been acceptable,” the spokesperson said.

A survey released Tuesday from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that among Catholics who have heard about the issue, 55% support giving religious institutions that object to birth control an exemption from the federal contraceptive rule, while 39% oppose exempting those institutions.


- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Bishops • Catholic Church • Culture wars

soundoff (429 Responses)
  1. Usman Akhtar


    Challenge to catholic to deny that. Watch these videos to know the truth and to open your eyes and your mind.Watch these videos to see who your Lord, Your Savior, is truly and who take Jesus back after his Cruisifiction. I Challenge you to deny these videos and the massage in these videos. Paradise, who’s Paradise? Think about your kids and what they believe in. Listen to these creatures very carefully. These creatures are saying the name of their and every bodies Creator. May be GOD wants to give you a chance? I hope you won't call these creatures terrorist. Good Luck. I hope after finding the truth you will love the One and Only Provider, Savior, Creator and Owner of Paradise. Watch these videos to know who send Angels to heal people who ever Jesus(AHS) touched.
    Watch these videos.
    Watch where this Red car is going.
    Usman Akhtar

    February 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  2. religion is for war. jesus is for love!

    JESUS said the bible And 10 commandments are the word of man, not god AND ARE THEREFORE WRONG!!! Jesus said to get into heaven, you must follow 2 rules..
    Religion = war!
    Religion = is not godliness!
    the bible tells you to ki11 and ki11 and ki11! Jeremiah 48:10 Deuteronomy 17:12 Exodus 22:17 Leviticus 20:13 Leviticus 20:27 Exodus 21:15 Proverbs 20:20 Leviticus 20:9 Leviticus 20:10 Leviticus 21:9 Exodus 22:19 2 Chronicles 15:12-13 Zechariah 13:3 Deuteronomy 13:13-19 Deuteronomy 22:20-21 Deuteronomy 13:7-12 Deuteronomy 17:2-5 Leviticus 24:10-16 Deuteronomy 13:1-5 Deuteronomy 18:20-22 Romans 1:24-32 Numbers 1:48-51 Exodus 31:12-15 2 Kings 2:23-24 1Samuel 6:19-20 1 Kings 20:35-36 2 Samuel 6:3-7 Isaiah 14:21 Hosea 9:11-1 Ezekiel 9:5-7 Exodus 12:29-30 Jeremiah 51:20-26 Leviticus 26:21-22 Isaiah 13:15-18 Judges 15:14-15 Acts 5:1-11 1 Samuel 15:2-3 Joshua 19:47 Jeremiah 15:1-4 Ezekiel 35:7-9 Exodus 23:23 Joshua 8:1-29 Joshua 6:20-21 1 Kings 14:9-16 Judges 20:48 2 Kings 19:35 Exodus 32:26-29 Joshua 7:19-26 Numbers 25:1-9 1 Kings 18:36-40 Jeremiah 50:21-22 Judges 18:27-29 and that is just a small bit of the ki11ing! the one that gets me the most is Deuteronomy 22:23-24 D.E.A.T.H to the R.A.P.E V.I.C.T.I.M

    February 18, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  3. lastofall

    There is no such thing as a "liberal" Christian, it does not exist, except in the vanity of their minds.

    February 18, 2012 at 4:19 am |
    • religion is for war. jesus is for love!

      Jesus spoke against the bible, said it is wrong, and man's interpretations of the bible is wrong!
      This is why he stopped the villagers from stoning a prost*tute to death. and explained to the villagers that "ONLY HE WHO IS WITHOUT SIN MAY CAST STONES), that judgments as these must be left for god!
      He also said churches are not the way to pray! And that praying alone gets you closer to god!
      Jesus was angry at churches because of their greed and lack of compassion. So he walked into the temples and destroyed their money tables. And told the villagers churches are of men, not god.
      Jesus said to live by 2 rules, and all other commandments will fall into place. Here are the 2 rules Jesus said to live by..
      1). Love thy neighbors!
      2). Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!

      February 18, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Djvok

      Hi , my name is Luke Klazen . I am looking frorawd to meeting you in Canada . I am very exited and nervous at the same time . When I am big I hope I visit Canada to see you in person . Cape Town is the mother city of South Africa . I have been waiting and waiting and now it has finaly come .

      September 9, 2012 at 3:29 am |
  4. Judy

    Anybody know if the Bishops have allowed women to use a Hitachi yet?

    February 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  5. Four Jumps to Insanity

    :evil:, :cool:, :roll:, :lol:, :oops:, 😥

    February 16, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Four Jumps to Insanity

      👿 😈 😎 🙄 😆 😳 😥

      February 16, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  6. Iqbal Khan


    February 16, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  7. Four Jumps to Insanity

    Where does one get one of those REALLY cool "get ups". I gotta have me one of those beenies. A purple beenie, and a matching sash. That would be just FABULOUS.

    What do you call a group of bishops ? A prevert of bishops ? A predator of bishops ? A purple of bishops ?

    February 16, 2012 at 8:12 pm |

      You dont call them! Lose their number!

      But you can keep their fabulous headdress.

      You can pick one up at the purple bi-shops located near the boys-r-us stores!

      February 16, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Four Jumps to Insanity

      Why thank you WW. I won't be calling any time soon.
      ....maybe a "crozier" of bishops, a "mitre" of bishops.

      February 16, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  8. Iqbal Khan

    Saving Khader Adnan's Life Is Saving Our Own Soul

    By Richard Falk

    The world watches as tragedy unfolds beneath its gaze. Khader Asnan is entering his 61st day as a hunger striker in an Israeli prison, being held under an administrative detention order without trial, charges, or any indication of the evidence against him. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article30550.htm

    February 16, 2012 at 7:32 pm |

      This is exactly why we dont let religious leaders dictate our laws in America!


      February 16, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  9. intrigued

    we know you are also capt. Tooting youre own horn. If someone loved you, you wouldn't have to do that! Remember you are measured by how much you are loved. Not by how much you love!
    How lonely and pathetic you must be, and judging from your opinions im guessing youre really really old as well! When your generation is gone, America will move on, and no-one will every know you existed! Tootles noodles!

    February 16, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    February 16, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • intrigued

      Athiesm protects your children from the church leaders molesting them!

      February 16, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  11. intrigued

    Contraception stops abortions! How can religious leaders support banning contraception? Then complain about the abortion rate?

    February 16, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Brian Jordan

      Planneid Parenthood was planned genocide. Read Margaret Sangers history. Men have been blame for everything for three generations I wonder why they quit going to college? Many Women dres like Pro's I wonder how they got Pregnant.
      The Bishops Point out murder and promiscuos behavior lead to trouble and everyone should take personal resonsibilty and not act like ruttung animals. Yeah you Liberal catholics are right. Please JOIN A CHURCH WITH RULES YOU LIKE. OURS ARE CLEAR AND 2000 YEARS OLD. AS for Priest misconduct don't compare it to secular teachers you would not win there. No Priest should be allowed to violate the law w/o punishment and the Bishops handled it poorly. Here there is nothing to handle. You beleive or you don't. Written by a Sinner. The last perfect guy was crucified. Thats how you know the Bishops are right. Liberal Catholics would play Caephus in a minute.

      June 21, 2012 at 5:06 am |
  12. Tschrny Wolf

    it shows religious dogma no longer serves useful ends for humanity.

    February 16, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • message 1!

      Im with ya brother!

      February 16, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Irina

      The New MoralityBy “Mary”You didn’t make it, Unborn Child.They wouldn’t let you be.To your bud of life, they took a knife.It’s the “New Morality.”They didn’t mean to hurt you, Love!You have to rdneustand.Forgive them for what they did.Their life was so well-planned.They couldn’t take you with themup the ladder of success.Money meant more to themthan a child, heaven-blessed.Tell me, little Unborn Child,what did the Creator say?Did He wrap you in His love,and wipe your tears away?You hover on the edge of time.I see your faceless form.You laugh whenever children play,Oh, God, for you I mourn!He sent His only Precious Sonto teach us all “the Way.”Still, we kill the unborn ones.It happens every day!You didn’t make it, Unborn Child.They wouldn’t let you be.They just expelled a blob of cells.It’s the “New Morality.”VA:F [1.9.10_1130](from 0 votes)

      April 3, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  13. i rekkon!

    Religions change their rules time after time to keep the pews files.
    This is necessary to keep money flowing inward to the churches.

    February 16, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • i rekkon!

      Files = full! 😛

      February 16, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  14. Tschrny Wolf

    Wow, traditional catholic rules are so backward! NO wonder the church is splitting from the inside!

    February 16, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  15. message 1!

    Thank god religious leaders dont write our laws.
    Thank god, our forfathers already knew of the detriments of theocracy!
    Thank god, this is the land of the free!
    Lets promise to never burn innocent women for being accuse of witchery.
    Lets promise to never use the bible to support minority oppression.
    Lets promise to not hang scientist, when discoveries dont support the bible.
    Lets promise to not hold women as property, in the name of the bible, or any other reason.
    Lets promise to remain civil, live and let live, even when our theology differs!

    February 16, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      Tell it to President Santorum

      February 16, 2012 at 6:05 pm |

      Santorum will never be president! OBAMA 2012


      February 16, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • AGuest9

      President Santorum? Not even people from his home state like him. How can he assume anyone else will?

      February 18, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  16. message 1!

    Then you (like i am) should be advocating to change abor*tion laws, which is something I, as a "liberal" could support. Instead of making it entirely impossible to get in any situation. Nothing is black and white, so I turn from absolutions. There are always special circ*umstances for which an abor*tion becomes a necessity. I personally believe youre a mur*derer if you spread your l*egs (with or without precautionary contr*aceptive measures) and get preg*nant, then have an abor*tion, simply because you can't afford to raise the child you've created. Or it will limit your studies, or for whatever numb*nutt reason one may give for justifying a "mur*der". It is fundamentally wrong in my opinion to get an abor*tion simply because you think you've made a mistake, it then is without question, a mur*der

    February 16, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  17. Doc Vestibule

    Let's pretend that the American Government has to cow-tow to the demands of all the religious sects in the country.
    Psychological counselling would be outlawed because Scientologists don't believe in it.
    Blood transfusions wouldn't be covered becuase Jehovah's Witnesses oppose them.
    Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or any other ailment traced to obesity would not be covered becuase gluttony is a mortal sin.
    Same for liver/kidney transplants for alcoholics.
    Reconstructive sugery would be outlawed as wanting to look normal is vanity.
    Heck – thanks to Christian scientists, nobody would be allowed any kind of medical care other than prayer.

    February 16, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • captain america

      Who the F are you a canadian to pass judgement on Us. Kiss my ass, you butt in where you are neither needed or wanted. There's your sign

      February 16, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • chief

      thats right doc.... captain america is right, unless your a native american, then i guess your neither needed or wanted then either..... patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundral

      February 16, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • intrigued

      Why are you calling this guy a Canadian?
      Capt. You are a disgruntled turd! if you can't appreciate someone else opinion then maybe you should leave our country!
      No wonder everyone is turning away from religion. Mostly cuz its full of dumbazz's such as you!
      You're an idiot!

      February 16, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • AGuest9

      chief, you forgot "There's your sign"

      February 18, 2012 at 10:38 am |
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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.