Is the Obama White House anti-Catholic?

After looking at the controversial dispute over some HHS funding that has made headlines, one writer takes a closer look:

You can argue Catholic bishops have a legitimate beef with HHS on this grant, but the Obama administration has not exactly put the freeze on Catholic groups or turned its back on engaging Catholic organizations. As my contacts in the Obama administration have noted, other grants from HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement to the USCCB increased from $27 million in fiscal year 2010 to some $32 million in fiscal year 2011. Funding to Catholic Relief Services increased from some $69 million in 2008 to $109 million in 2011. Catholic Charities USA received an increase of approximately $120 million in federal funds from 2009 to 2010. Last month, The White House welcomed 150 leaders from Catholic Charities USA to discuss innovative partnerships to reduce poverty.

Surely, one can’t deny the fundamental disagreements between this administration and Catholic bishops, but the Obama administration is not going out of its way to poke Catholics in the eye. As Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite of the Chicago Theological Seminary points out at WaPo On Faith, this issue highlights a genuine difference, both in policy terms and in worldview, over how to best serve exploited women who in many cases have faced cruel sexual violence, including rape.

While Catholic bishops strive to float above the partisan fray that clouds Washington, they are not without a political agenda either. Even retired bishops such as Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco and prominent Catholics such as Nicholas Cafardi, a former chair of the bishops’ National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth, have cautioned the bishops for appearing too cozy with the Republican Party. Just weeks after Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Catholic bishops gathered for their annual national meeting and spoke in near apocalyptic terms about the supposed threat posed by Freedom of Choice Act. Bishops sponsored a national postcard campaign to lobby Congress and the White House against this bill that was never even introduced. After weeks of frenzied lobbying and action alerts, even the bishops’ own Catholic News Service felt the need to tamp down worst-case scenarios of Catholic hospitals being forced to perform abortions as unsubstantiated rumors. Many Catholic bishops blasted the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to give the 2009 commencement address, more than a few echoing the strident talking points of Catholic Republicans such as Deal Hudson. And the bishops’ long advocacy for universal health care stalled last year when they opposed historic health care reform over a misguided belief that it would provide taxpayer funding of abortion, a flawed policy analysis according to the Catholic Health Association and independent experts. Even President Obama’s executive order banning federal funding of abortion did not mollify bishops’ concerns, some of whom went on to publicly chastise Catholic sisters and lay Catholic organizations that supported health care reform.

The bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services office is one of the Church’s great treasures, helping to resettle over 20,000 refugees from Iraq, Somalia, Burma and other ravaged countries in 2010 alone. This vital ministry, as in most of the Church’s global outreach, does not simply benefit Catholics in need but also provides help for any vulnerable person. We should support, not undermine, partnerships between the federal government, church institutions, non-profits and other civil society groups that provide this kind of noble work.

But in a pluralistic democracy it’s also inevitable that there will be times when the particular moral beliefs of a religious organization clash with a government agency tasked with providing public funding drawn from taxpayers who don’t share those views. The effort to navigate that complex legal and ethical maze is difficult and not always done well. But it’s a real disservice to the essential task of both church and state when we reduce those clashes to shouting matches and ugly charges of bigotry.

Read it all.

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19 responses to “Is the Obama White House anti-Catholic?”

  1. Look, this is the most pro-abortion president in history. His socialized health insurance law will force Catholic hospital workers to violate their consciences. It will try to force Catholic employers to pay for plans that pay for abortion and contraception. It will direct federal funds to abortion. Obama has done everything in his power to make sure abortion is protected and expanded. He’s a killer.

    So Catholic Charities, which is not the same thing at all as the USCCB and has a bunch of fifth column Catholics, is getting extra lucre from this guy? Not surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Catholic Health Association got a kickback for their collaboration, too.

    There isn’t even a question here.

    [Comment edited to remove gratuitous threat against the author of this blog. — Ed.]

  2. The constant drumbeat of Obama as anti-Catholic is becoming mind-numbing. A converse interpretation is possible – the Catholic Church wants to impose its beliefs on a non-Catholic country, and Obama is trying to maintain religious neutrality. I am not supporting abortion or any other actions that are considered immoral by the church, but just saying.
    I would also think that as Catholics we should be educated about those things we find troubling such as the Health Care law – it is not socialized health care, in fact is a conservative version that about 15 years ago the vaunted party of life – the Republicans wanted. It does not cause any money to be spent on abortions.
    Gratuitous attacks on CHA and other Catholic groups also points out a lack of Catholic Charity on the part of many alleged conservative catholics.

  3. Andy

    Right. There is a meme which has been created, “Most pro-abortion president in history,” and everything is read through that lens. It often is eisigesis which ignores what is really happening. Look, for example, at how the GOP itself supported abortion funding in GOP health care given to its own members! Things like that are bypassed, ignored. Things like GW Bush being the first president to federally fund embryonic stem cell research (and his pride for it, as shown in the 2004 elections) are ignored — he’s ok, he says he is pro-life, so he is given a pass! Words, words, words. It seems words are all some look for, not deeds. But Obama, he is looked at, and everything is shown as signs of his “most pro-abortion” stand, even if, one looks at it rationally, one can see he is not engaging such a battle. The fact that he was willing to get pro-choice advocates upset to pass his health care reform shows abortion is not central to him! Sure, he is not pro-life, but neither is our nation! That’s the reality. The same people who say no one can ever vote for him because he is not pro-life have never said one cannot support the United States, even though the US is not pro-life. Logically, they show they contradict themselves. All the time. It’s political rhetoric, and nothing but politics, using abortion to distract people. I seem to remember, even Hitler tried it, too!

    As for who I believe the most pro-abortion president is, I still have to say Nixon. He really promoted abortion, worked long and hard to develop population control policies, and the like.

  4. A few observations for Ryan:
    –When you call someone “pro-abortion,” that polarizes their “pro-choice” position incorrectly. You seem to be stating that if someone is “pro-choice,” that is really a euphemism for stating that they “pro-abortion” as well. That is illogical and untrue at its face. “Pro-choice” means just that and nothing more.
    –There are a fair number of Roman Catholic folk who identify themselves as “pro-life” Democrats. I know quite a few and they are wonderful and devout folks who are genuinely upset at the grave slander which heads their way at the hands of some folks.
    –I would have selected the late Republican Gerald Ford as far more “pro-choice” that folks ever care to admit. Some Republican folk try to absolve hom by insisting that it was really Betty Ford who was the “pro-choice” person in order to excuse one of their heroes but that is not factually accurate.
    –From everything I have read about the specific provisions of “Obama-Care,” there is no mandate that hospitals have to provide abortion services, no mandate that all health-care providers have to assist in an abortion — or for that matter — any mandate that requires any health care worker to perform any other procedure that violates their own personal moral codes.
    –Finally, I am not aware that the USCCB has taken any negative position on the entire “Obama-Care” package. It has, however, raised some concerns over parts of it (I suspect their staff folks have read it all THOROUGHLY). Once those concerns are heard and understood, generally a working agreement is quickly developed.

  5. “Is the Obama White House Anti-Catholic?” Posing the question in such sweeping terms invites the kind of slick and dismissive retort that John Gehring provides in his Huffington Post piece, and that piece in turn invites the sort of partisan response we see on this blog whenever President Obama’s name comes up. Lots of heat, no light.

    But Catholics do desperately need some light shed on the issue that underlies this particular controversy: How central to our identity as Catholics is our opposition to abortion? Gehring describes the pro-life stance of the Catholic Church as “the particular moral beliefs of a religious organization,” a seeming oddity of our peculiar denomination which, in cases like this, may “clash with a government agency tasked with providing public funding drawn from taxpayers who don’t share those views.” I believe our bishops see it differently, and I know that I do.

    To me, a pro-life position on abortion is an essential corollary of our most basic moral conviction: the inviolable dignity of the human person, a key principle of natural law which our faith challenges us to uphold. It is precisely because we uphold that principle that Catholics provide services to marginalized people like victims of human trafficking, as well as the other groups Gehring cites. To say that our service to such people is inherently inadequate because we are pro-life is to attack the very basis on which we serve. It cuts to the heart of our identity not only as Catholics but as moral human beings, and in that sense, this decision (if not this administration) is profoundly anti-Catholic.

  6. An additional observation:

    If you go back in this blog to Deacon Greg’s posting on November 1 entitled: “The ‘offensive’ Complaint” and scroll down to comment #15 you will find a posting of mine dated 8:06 on November 2. How about another story about this remarkable nurse — the wife of a local deacon I know:

    Our heroine was about 36 and four months along in her pregnancy. She was still working in her clinic atthe college and her patient that one day was a faculty lady who was trying to deal with some sort of chronic health issue (weight-gain, high-blood-pressure; who knows). The faculty lady asked the nurse how she was feeling (really asking — between the lines — how her pregnancy was going). The nurse replied with the standard complaints that any pregnant woman has at some time or another: discomfort, morning sickness, inability to get a good night’s sleep, etc.

    The faculty lady then looked at the nurse and said: You know, I do know how and where you can solve all of those problems immediately and permanently.”

    The nurse quickly realized what her colleague was saying between the lines. She looked at her patient and said very deliberately: “Thank you for your concern but you see I am “pro-choice.” I am CHOOSING to carry this child to term as raise it properly. Now ! Do you have some sort of problem with my “choice” here?”

    The lady faculty member left and I understand he never returned to that clinic again.

  7. Wondering what your bishop would think of your comments is hardly a gratuitous threat.

    [Ryan: Implicit in your overtly hostile comment — which among other things, called me “shameful” — was a veiled threat to intimidate me into silence, or even report me to my bishop, for publishing something with which you disagree politically. Which, frankly, is ridiculous. Just because I post an opinion piece here doesn’t mean I agree with it, or that I support it. Regular readers know that. They also know that I believe dialogue about matters with which people can reasonably disagree is healthy. Meantime: I left the substance of your response intact. Going forward, stick to the topic at hand. Thank you. Dcn. G.]

  8. To Ryan Ellis:
    For what it is worth:
    What I like most about this Blog is that I am not being presented (or bombarded) with the Blogger’s opinions, po9litical or religious. (There may be a place for that but I can get it on many other Catholic Blogs.) Here, I can comment on the issue, not the Blogger’s opinions. I think it stimulates and promotes real dialogue, even though it can get testy occasionally. It’s good journalism and I appreciate it.

  9. So we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money to just a few Catholic agencies, and annual increases which are growing many, many times the rate of the economy or ANYONES wages these days, and that’s being “anti-Catholic.” Where do I go to get the feds to discriminate against me? These bishops and the various partisans in the blogosphere love to beat the drum about how the feds are “persecuting” them and frog marching them toward concentration camps. In reality they’re as “persecuted” as the rich trust fund wastrels who chafe when their parents force them to adhere to some rules.

    The bishops’ bottom line agenda is to have a theocracy in this country – to make themselves, and perhaps a coalition of like minded evangelicals, a fourth branch of government above all others. They’ve made themselves a lobbying arm of the GOP toward that end, and anyone who opposes their policy platform in any way is “anti-Catholic.”

  10. Kenneth, you forgot to mention pedophilia. Every time you say “theocracy,” you’re also supposed to mention pedophilia. Otherwise, it might appear you are straying from the issue under discussion.

  11. What has really come to concern me in recent years, and I often state this in my posts to this wonderful blog (thank you, Deacon Greg), is how polarizing the dialogue has become within our Church, often reflecting what is going on in the political arena. As is discussed in this article, I believe the Church has often gone too far in aligning itself with the Conservative branch of the Republican Party. In the long run, this will only hurt us. While Catholics are obviously in agreement with the Republican Party in its Pro-Life stance, I believe that there are many other areas where the Church and Republicans digress, including positions on Immigration, access to Health Care, the Environment, etc. If we start supporting Parties as opposed to Positions, we start being burdened with all of that other baggage that goes with one party or the other, and we drive away many good people. I often find myself defending Pro-Life positions, but have to make clear that I don’t agree with many of the other positions of your typical Pro-Life politicians. I find myself, intellectually, often at odds with Pro-Life people for this very reason, and this upsets me a great deal.

    In addition, I believe the Pro-Life discussion has often become simplistic. We laud politicians who vote to limit abortions, which we should. Yet many of these same “pro-life” politicians than pass laws that make it more difficult for young, pregnant women to afford or have access to health care, unemployment insurance, day care, job training, education for their kids. All of these things make it more likely a woman will have an abortion, yet we ignore these things and give the “Pro-Life” politicians an easy pass.

    In addition, the strident tones of many of the posts is distressing. The world is often painted in very black and white terms, and people are forced into one camp or another. Politicians are demonized and terms which belong on Political talk shows start showing up in Catholic posts. I do not understand how this is helpful or Christian. It all results in the Church being fragmented more and more. It saddens me.

  12. One reason Democrats get a reputation for being anti-Christian and anti-Catholic is that when Church leaders disagree with radical left-wing policies coming from them, many of that party’s leaders unleash a torrent of bigoted language to defend their policies. (Such as a recent tirade by the Democratic Party leader Debbie Wasserman)
    On the other hand when Church leaders oppose conservative stands Republicans take (like in favor of the war in Iraq) conservative Republicans are wise enough to simply, for the most part, to say very little politely– or nothing– in reply ,and never the vituperation some of the Democratic left liberally throw at Christians and Catholics for daring to oppose parts of their agenda.

  13. Such as a recent tirade by the Democratic Party leader Debbie Wasserman
    I presume you’re referring to Debbie Wasserman Schultz. To what do you refer?

  14. Since you brought it up, the abuse scandal is entirely the byproduct of the bishops’ historical sense of entitlement to princely power unaccountable to any Earth-bound authority.

  15. Deacon John…
    You make my point for me! You portray the “radical left wing” Democrats as “unleashing a torrent of bigoted language.” You paint the Republicans as polite, quiet, and deferential. Those ridiculous stereotypes are gross oversimplifications that attempt to justify aligning one political party as being in sympathy with the Church while putting the other at odds. When you do that, you alienate half (or more, if you throw in in Independents) of our Church. It HAS to be about policies, not political parties. There are good, holy people in both parties; there are scoundrels in both parties. Of course, that’s true of our Church as well….

  16. Deacon Mike:

    What a blessing of common sense you are! Keep up the good work — I’ll assume many of the folks in your parish lay prostrate before the Eucharist in thanksgiving for your ministry. Amen!

  17. I refer to the Democrat Chairwoman Schultz calling the pro-life attempt to protect unborn children through a referendum in Mississippi “extreme” and “radical” as well as “divisive, dangerous, and destructive.’

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