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. Jay Dubbe

    This is sad. Progressivism is the new religion for lefties, and, according to this article, even trumps Catholicism for these "united" bishops. It's no surprise, though...we have always known that liberal progessivism has been the Democrats religion.

    February 16, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  2. bc3b

    If it wasn't for the coverage the media gives them (so it can bash the Church), no one would even be aware that Catholics United exists.

    February 16, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  3. Dad8

    The premise of this article is flawed in so many ways. To state that the bishops are right wing advocates is nothing short of a lie. Think immigration. Think Obamacare. Think minimum wage.

    February 16, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • alex chapman

      You need a hearing aid to hear anything positive about President Obama from the Catholic Clergy.

      February 16, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Dzerres

      It says right in the article that the Bishops were against Obamacare. How much plainer do you need to see it. The Bishops have their own agenda and it has nothing to do with the Catholic people nor with religion – it's just right wing propaganda. Worry about "the Bishops" covering up the buggering of little boys. That's real.

      February 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  4. Georgie

    It's not about birth control – it's about religious freedom and the First Amendment. When they're done with the Catholics, the values that you hold sacred are next. Every American loses when the government over reaches into personal liberty.

    February 16, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • BRC

      Explain to me whow a PERSON's right's are violated by this rule. Tell me how it affects the individual's free practice of religion. Until you can do that, they did not violate the First ammendment. the told businesses and organizations (which aren't protected) that they will follow the law and respetct the individual citizens right to choose by keeping alll options available to them. That is the essence of the Government PROTECTING personal freedoms. But please, tell me how that's wrong and how this law hurts some single individual.

      February 16, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • oh

      I believe in Life. If you make me pay for your abortion it violates that belief.

      February 16, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • nbrown

      Your such a loser. This administration is not trying to overstep any bounds. They want to make sure that every women in this country is covered – period. The Catholic Church doesn't want to get on board, fine, Now the insurance has to make the co-pay. The Catholic Church should be fine with the compromise – but they want to keep it going, which is stupid because many of the Catholic owned universities and hospitals were already doing it and it didn't bother them then. Why the hell is it bothering them now. Besides, the mandate didn't say anything about the churches having to provide coverage to it's employees.

      February 16, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • BRC

      Who is making you pay for abortion and how?

      February 16, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • ALPAPilot

      The diocese of Washington is self insured. They pay all of the medical expenses of their 3600 employees. If it is mandated that a Catholic School run by the diocese must pay for an abortion if one of the school employees decides to have the procedure, that money comes from those sitting in the pews.

      February 16, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • *facepalm*


      You're paying for a war. Why aren't you complaining about that?

      February 16, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • tallulah13

      ALPAPilot: Why doesn't the hospital insure itself using it's business profits? I know that every time I have used the services of the catholic-based hospital in my area, I paid just as much, if not more, than I did at my secular HMO. And the schools accept tuition and allow even non-catholics to attend. So why don't they that secular money so that those in the pews won't be tainted?

      Hospitals and private schools are businesses, subject to the laws and regulations that pertain to all businesses. If the catholic church can't handle being on a playing field that isn't tilted in their direction, then maybe they should get out of business.

      February 16, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • IreneNY

      This is another wedge issue that people see two different ways. I see the church overreaching and dictating politically what rights women will have over their own family planning decisions, regardless of their religious affiliation or non affiliation. Wo would have thought that people's fears in 1960 about the catholic church and the Pope controlling politics would become a reality. Practice your religion in private and stay out of other people's personal lives. That's the real concern about big government, religious over reach.

      February 16, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  5. lj

    The "Liberal Catholics" are free to go at any time. Word to CNN, The Bishops are in charge here.

    February 16, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • chief

      the way i see it.... at least 2 of them in the picture are peds.... and what about that getup they are wearing makes them holy? its ridiculous

      February 16, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • lj

      The way I see it , "Chief", you are a religious bigot. Find someone else to harass. Don't you have any minorirites you want to call names? That sounds like your kind of demented fun.

      February 16, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • chief

      i thought liberal catholics were not allowed communion in the all inclusive church, some knucklehead just said that your endandering your eternity if you use birth control.... wake up you white washed tombs, quit praying to the dead and worshiping men in dresses,....... hell will be full of people that allowed other men to think for them

      February 16, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • lj

      Chief, I gotta go to work. I want to suggest you get some help for all your hate. What do you have against freedom of religion? Why are you so bigoted? Who cares what you think anyway? Seriously, you are the one who needs to wake up. The teachings of the Catholic Church are beautiful. It sounds like you are an unhappy soul. Find God and find life!

      February 16, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • chief

      the teachings of the catholic church are man made, exclusive, and full of hate toward non catholics and women..... just keep counting your beads and praying to the dead.... make sure you go to mass so you can find out how to think this week

      February 16, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Primewonk

      " The teachings of the Catholic Church are beautiful. "

      Does that include the rampant misogyny and ho.mophobia?

      February 16, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • nbrown

      Chief is not a religions bigot. He makes a good point. Many pedophiles become priest because it a clear way to mess with all the children you want and having the church to support you. I wonder how many little boys the Pope has gone thru. Stop worshiping these priests, they are just men. Men who don't like women that is.

      February 16, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  6. AngryBob

    There is no good reason as to why the government should have to pander to the Catholic church on this or any other matter. The Bishops and Cardinals lost their moral authority when they chose to harbor and protect child molesters within their ranks. Screw them and their petty concerns! There is nothing in the legislation that requires anyone to take birth control. Maybe they should just try getting their "flock" to obey their rules instead of forcing government to have to cater to them.

    The fact that most Catholic women of child bearing age practice contraception speaks volumes about their "moral authority" on this issue. Nevertheless, President Obama has shown true statesmanship and diplomacy in his compromise. I applaud him for that. It's not what I would do, but I'm not the President.

    February 16, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • lj

      Angry Bob, this is angry Catholic here. Did you ever hear of FREEDOM OF RELIGION?

      February 16, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • chief

      the catholic church sold its soul during the fdr times.... buying into that whole save the world thing.... basically they backhanded themselves by putting the government ahead of the family...

      the catholics dont mind taking the money that i spend in taxes and build mini "cathiolic" business with it but it has to be their way

      February 16, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • Primewonk

      "angry catholic" – this has nothing to do with freedom of religion. Churches are exempt from this rule. Businesses are not. That is what we are discussing. Businesses, not churches. Is there a reason you folks can't wrap your heads around this?

      Plus, you'd think that these bishops and cardinals and priests could make better use of their time by focusing on the 90%+ of their flock who are using birth control.

      Hypocricy much?

      February 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • ALPAPilot

      It's not just businesses, it is catholic schools and catholic hospital. Have you not been paying attention.

      February 16, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • tallulah13

      Hospitals and private schools ARE businesses.

      February 16, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • chief

      re alpapilot.... take the beam out of your eye..... yes catholic schools.... just what i like, paying taxes to fund private education that i opposed to,,,,,

      February 16, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • IreneNY

      This is to lj – please keep your religion to yourself and stop shoving your beliefs onto the whole country. No one is taking your right to believe away from you. It's you taking other people's liberty away with your extremism.

      February 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  7. Barb

    These mini "gates of hell" that rail against the Church won't be in the Church for much longer. The measuring of the sanctuary is beginning. God is separating the sheep from the goats and the dissenters will no longer "feel welcome". Since their "feelings" take priority over truth, they will finally leave. They will not prevail over Holy Mother Church. I pray for their conversion.

    Fiat Voluntas Tua

    February 16, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • 12genamerican

      Barb have you noticed you never once said anything about Our lLord or his son Jesus in your comment. Follow the word of Christ not man

      February 16, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • chief

      and what exactly is the holy mother church? you may want to add God and Gods Son in your woe to those who dont follow men in dresses

      February 16, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  8. stefano

    The expression "useful idiots" comes to mind when these so called Catholics pretend that they are more mainstream than their bishops. Nothing new: the word "traitor" comes from the Latin "traditor", which was how someone who had given away the sacred books of Christianity to the persecutors, under the pagan Roman Empire.
    These new "traditores" think they are progressives but they are just minions of the emperor...

    February 16, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • 12genamerican

      well said

      February 16, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Sean

      "Catholics United" is a lobbying organization, not, as some people think, a charity. Although I have never seen this fact reported in the mainstream press, Catholics United has the same status under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(4)–not (c)(3)–as American liberals' bête noire, Citizens United. Among other things, this means that–like the Karl Rove-founded organization, Catholics United is not required to disclose the names of its contributors. Also, consider this from the website of Catholics United: "Because we engage in lobbying and other political activities, contributions made to Catholics United are not tax-deductible." https://www.catholics-united.org/index.php?q=civicrm%2Fcontribute%2Ftransact&reset=1&id=22. It is simply a front organization.

      February 16, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Lisa P

      "Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's; give unto God that which is God's." I forget - who said that again? Must have been some religion-hating (especially Pharisees, for some reason) big government liberal, is all I can say...

      February 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  9. followTheMoney

    These are nothing more than Soros front groups:


    CNN won't report it, but consider the source.

    February 16, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • Don L

      Gosh, can I say, well done and Amen!

      February 16, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  10. datechguy

    You've got to be kidding me.

    The entire set of Bishops representing every diocese in the county speaks against something and a "Catholic" fringe group of dissenters that consists of a PR machine for the left says they are fringe?

    Tell me what services does Catholics united provide, what soup kitchens do they run, what services for the poor do they provide, what prisoners in jail do they visit?

    Only those totally ignorant of the church or opposed to their teachings would fall for this....which explains why it's on CNN

    February 16, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  11. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things*

    February 16, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • Primewonk

      Moronic troll
      Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam!
      Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!
      Spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam.
      Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam!
      Spam spam spam spam!

      February 16, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • 12genamerican

      I am not an atheist I beleibe in God not a priest as my religion

      February 16, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • bringoutyourdead

      demon primewonk fears prayer and what prayer represents

      February 16, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  12. Reality

    The nitty-gritty of the situation:


    : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate, one million unplanned pregnancies/yr) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate, another one million unplanned pregnancies/yr) 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 co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute.

    Added information before making your next move:

    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.'" (It should be called the Bill Clinton Syndrome !!)

    Obviously, Planned Parenthood, parents and educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

    February 16, 2012 at 6:51 am |
    • ......

      hit report abuse on all reality garbage

      February 16, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • 12genamerican

      Our Lord did not say not to use birth control it was a pope.

      February 16, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  13. David in NC

    Why do people who disagree with the catholic church so much remain in the church? Atheists everywhere are amused.

    February 16, 2012 at 6:48 am |
    • nbrown

      LOLOLOLOL! I'm a Baptist and I approve this message!

      February 16, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  14. Ray E. Georgia

    I didn't know there was such a thing as a Liberal Catholic. Talk about dancing with the Devil !

    February 16, 2012 at 6:42 am |
    • elm

      Calling Henry the VIII.

      February 16, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      Didn't Henry VIII get married to the widow next door?

      February 16, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  15. clarke

    Birth control will be around long after the Bishops and women will continue to take them. These men need to move out of the cave age. I am a women of faith but I am not stupid. I however do not believe in the rules of the church, that have nothing to do with believing in GOD.

    February 16, 2012 at 6:31 am |
    • elm

      Hell will be around for eternity, If you are Catholic, you understand that using birth control is a grave evil. It's not worth your eternal salvation to mock God and His representatives on earth. In the end, you could leave the Catholic church, apostatize, but that will not save the eventual judgment, I wouldn't want to face the Creator of my body and tell Him I had a better plan than He did. Nature and it's God will not be mocked.

      February 16, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Primewonk

      @ Elm – your god – by claiming omnipotence and omniscience – is responsible for all spontaneous abortions. This amounts to up to % of all pregnancies – usually before the woman even knows she is pregnant.

      Your god's hands are bloodier than you can imagine.

      February 16, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • ScottiesRule

      And I suppose you're OK with adultery...and maybe taking things your neighbor has that you have a hankering for...and maybe that whole thing about not killing anyone is a bit too constraining for you.

      But that's not what this is about. It's about the Federal Govt trying to tell a church what to do...which is prohibited by the1st Amendment. If they can tell a church that they have to violate a primary tenet of their faith...one that isn't obviously manufactured....what can't they tell a church to do...or believe?

      February 16, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • chief

      re elm..... so your eternity can be based on your use of birth control? wow thanks for clearing that up, i thought it had to do with chanting crap over and over, or counting beads, or praying to the dead.....

      February 16, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The Church as such is still tax exempt and isn't involved in insurance anyways.
      It is EMPLOYERS who are being mandated to provide the insurance coverage.
      Do you see the distinction?

      February 16, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  16. whitmanguy

    If only every Catholic who has used birth control were a "liberal Catholic." Unfortunately, many fall into the demographic termed "hypocritical Catholics."

    February 16, 2012 at 1:46 am |
    • LibertyStolen

      Socialized Healthcare, economics, and morality police will steal your freedoms under the guise of protecting you from yourself. You'll accept it willingly and blame them for your ignorant views when the house of cards falls apart. I pity you socialists.

      February 16, 2012 at 4:53 am |
    • Ann

      I am a so called "hypocrite" – I took the pill until I finally opened my heart to the truth of the church's teachings. In my youth I foolishly allowed the "world" to form my conscience – resulting in not becoming who I was created to become. Google Humanae Vitae chapter 17. It is prophetic. God is merciful – but we are all bound to properly inform our conscience.

      February 16, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  17. Sierrajim

    I think it is terribly arrogant of the the Catholic Church to reject the Obama administration compromise concerning contraception coverage provided by an insurance company separate from the coverage the company is providing to the Church affiliate. The Church complains that the government is imposing on the Church's religious freedom in this compromise. But I say that the Church wants to impose it's contrception position on it's employees, who have the freedom (in America) to choose their own position on contraception. The Church does not have the right to force it's will on everyone who works for it simply because it is their employer. What an employee does in his private life with an organization not controlled by the Church is the Employee's business, not the Church's!

    February 16, 2012 at 1:46 am |
    • DaveD

      Funny how the liberal statement of "freedom to choose" always means making someone else chip in to subsidize their "choice".

      February 16, 2012 at 7:42 am |
    • Jaime

      The Catholic Church, or anyone else, including athiests, should not have to pay for someone else's contraceptives. Contraception is NOT healthcare. Why not mandate free hypertension medication or insulin? Cost free PSA tests? Dental exams? At what point can the government require the use of contraceptives? After all, if it can make me pay for them, it certainly has the power to make you use them.

      The choice of contraceptives as the wedge is deliberate and cynical on the part of Obama and his willing idiots who call themselves Catholics.

      February 16, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • Lisa P

      Actually, DaveD, contraception is pennies on the dollar compared to the medical costs of bringing a pregnancy to term - forget complications or subsequent support costs should anything go wrong.

      If the Catholic Church and other religious organizations really want to put their money where their morals (supposedly) are how about *fully* (as in 100%) covering all pregnancy-related and neonatal medical costs for *all* their employees and covered family members. Short of that I have to admit I view this whole "religious freedom" flap as just another attempt by "the religious" to scam a few bucks from the rest of society under cover of "conscience." You know - like the religiously-affiliated secular business that claimed it didn't have to follow regular employment laws because all its' employees - even the ones who weren't of the business' declared faith - were actually "ministers."

      February 16, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  18. george of the jungle

    Obama/Biden 2012

    February 16, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  19. ThinkAgain

    How about a provision that allows companies to opt out of coverage for viagra?

    February 16, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  20. ThinkAgain

    Pope Benedict publicly supports universal health care. Except, of course, when it comes to women.

    Bunch of mysoginistic jerks in skirts!

    February 16, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • Dan

      Socialized Healthcare is the dealth of American Liberty. Socialism will rob your freedoms under the guise of protecting the citizens from theirselfs

      February 16, 2012 at 4:49 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
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.