Rift: How Obama’s “accommodation” has split Catholics

A wide array of voices, from this morning’s New York Times:

The near-unified front led by the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops to oppose a mandate for employers to cover birth control has now crumbled amid the compromise plan that the Obama administration offered last week to accommodate religious institutions.

The leaders of several large Catholic organizations that work directly on poverty, health care and education have welcomed the president’s plan as a workable compromise that has the potential to protect religious freedom while allowing employees who request it to have contraceptives covered by their insurance plans.

The bishops, however, have continued to voice strong objections to the White House plan. And they have taken it one step further, arguing that individual Catholics who own businesses should not have to provide birth control to their employees in their health insurance coverage.

The uproar threatens to embroil the Catholic church in a bitter election-year political battle while deepening internal rifts within the church. On the one side are traditionalists who believe in upholding Catholic doctrine to the letter, and on the other, modernists who believe the church must respond to changing times and a pluralistic society.

To many Catholics, it is reminiscent of the rifts that surfaced in 1968 when Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which reaffirmed the prohibition on artificial contraception, disregarding a Vatican commission’s recommendation to do away with the ban.

Now, as then, even the nuns are not on the same page. The organization that represents a majority of women’s religious orders, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, said the Obama administration had listened to the concerns of Catholics and found a “fair and helpful way to move forward.”

But a traditionalist order in Ann Arbor, Mich., the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, which was formed 15 years ago and has about 100 members, said in a statement that the “so-called compromise” by the White House was “insulting.”

Leslie Tentler, professor of history at the Catholic University of America in Washington, said: “Part of what is going on is a larger authority issue of who speaks for the church. And I think most Catholics would take exception to the bishops’ argument that only the bishops get to say what is Catholic morality in very difficult situations.

“It also reflects the unresolved status of the teaching on contraception, which is widely violated not just by Catholics, but also by the clergy, who don’t even talk about the issue,” said Dr. Tentler, the author of “Catholics and Contraception: An American History.”

Read the rest.


  1. Elizabeth Scalia says:

    The “accommodation” was MEANT to split Catholics. Obama could not have the ones who voted for him in ’08 not voting for him in ’12. It was a deeply cynical move, and it was also meaningless. The decision was codified on Friday, in its original form and anyone it’s a done deal. But he gave fake “cover” and that’s all some needed.

  2. My head is spinning. Not at the division on this issue, because the seeming consensus was fragile from the start, but at the ignorant and ham-handed ways in which both sides within the Church are making their points. I wish the bishops could find a way to say why this is an important doctrinal principle (not just a matter of what the majority practices), and therefore a constitutionally-protected position, that doesn’t make them so easily prey to being paraphrased as the Wimmin-Hating Men’s Club that cares nothing for the legitimate health care of the poor or the stewardship of the world’s resources.

    I wish those who stand with the bishops in not buying the lie that pregnancy is a disease could do so without sounding like the other kind of birthers, suggesting the reason President Obama wouldn’t share his birth certificate is because Satan doesn’t have one.

    I wish those who are on the frontlines of Catholic health care and charity could be forthright about saying their choice to accept the accommodation violates Catholic teaching, but they have prayerfully chosen to take a proportionate stance that places meeting the needs of these least ones—an ability increasingly compromised by government decisions outside their control, as in the withdrawal of immigration funding and, in many jurisdictions, interference with Catholic Charities’ adoption efforts—over formal cooperation in providing contraception.

    And I wish liberal Catholics (among whom I still count myself, though it’s getting harder to cling to the ledge every day) would not continue to astound me with their ignorance of how the Church we belong to operates. How can a Catholic University professor possibly make the jaw-dropping statement “I think most Catholics would take exception to the bishops’ argument that only the bishops get to say what is Catholic morality in very difficult situations”? Because only the bishops—in union with the pope—DO get to say what Catholic morality is, in any situation. Major fail, Professor, major fail.

  3. ron chandonia says:


  4. This poll (and there are others) confirms the trend:

    Evangelicals are more inclined to hear the bishops than most Catholics, who seem to ignore them.

    Seems like we’re quickly becoming the Tea Party at Prayer. Yikes!

  5. I can see disagreeing with someone. However, I do not know why people do things, what they are thinking, and what is in their hearts.

  6. You are right on. So much for the great uniter. Add this to the list of Obama failures.

  7. Leslie Tentler, professor of history at the Catholic University of America in Washington, said: “Part of what is going on is a larger authority issue of who speaks for the church. And I think most Catholics would take exception to the bishops’ argument that only the bishops get to say what is Catholic morality in very difficult situations.

    Umm Maybe it’s just ME but I thought our Bishop ARE the only ones who are supposed to lead us in ALL ways, INCLUDING morality?!???!

  8. There should be no “liberal” Catholics.. We are to be obedient to the Church and her teachings.. Period End!.. The church is NOT a democracy…and of you are a “liberal Catholic” then I don’t believe you should be calling yourself Catholic at all because there really is no such thing..

  9. vox borealis says:

    This will only be resolved in court, where the majority will hinge, probably, on what one justice had for breakfast. Democracy is irrelevant. The constitution is irrelevant. The notion of individual rights endowed by a creator is irrelevant. Thus has the USA slid inexorably into tyranny.

    And no, this didn’t just start three years ago. It’s a long term process that merely accelerated recently when political conditions were fortunate.

    I can’t believe I am saying and thinking this, but I have grown to hate my country.

  10. Deacon Brian says:

    I don’t think that most Catholics realize the repercussions of this “evil” mandate.
    If imprisonment AND heavy fines are realized, Catholics may find their Church doors locked on Sunday morning. Then we will wonder why we did not stand up and defend our Church.

    I pray it will never come to this.

  11. Robyn, are you okay with people self-identifying as conservative Catholics? If so, I guess I sort of see your point (though I do identify as a liberal Catholic). If you’re willing to sign off on someone being a “conservative Catholic,” however, you have only convinced me that you view the word “liberal” as poisonous when in fact it’s a legitimate vantage point — notwithstanding Fox News’ and Rush’s efforts to turn it into a swear word.

  12. Heavy fines, conceivable (and regrettable, and unfair, should that come to pass).

    Imprisonment, not likely.

    Locked church doors, however, are more likely to result from the church’s refusal to acknowledge the viability of women’s vocations to the priesthood than from any decision reached by the federal government. (As you well know, many Catholic churches in the U.S. have been locked up or sold — by bishops, not the government.)

  13. Robyn, I wonder what makes a person a liberal catholic or a conservative catholic or just a catholic? Is it disgust that the Bishops haven’t been loud in condemning unjust war or condemning torture? Is it a belief that our current economic system is unfair and denies dignity to many? Is it because I believe those things and still see the wisdom of the church’s teaching on birth control and abortion? If it is only adherence to the teaching on birth control and abortion that makes one a Catholic then I am truly saddened. The church teaches much more beyond that. I guess in reading what I see on Conservative Catholic websites that the fact that I believe what I stated first would make me a liberal, even though I follow the church in the other areas.

  14. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    The bishops are the authentic teachers of our faith–not university history professors, or academic theologians. Throughout Church History the worlds of academe have been fertile playgrounds for devious
    Machiavellian politicans seeking to split Catholics.
    Noone seems to want to talk about the total absurdity and duplicity of calling something a “compromise” when the “compromise” was issued dictatorially with no discussion with those raising the problematic issues. (And then legally proceeds with the originally planned version not the “compromise” version.)
    Then he “compromises” with the insurance companies by issuing diktats to them without as much as a phone call to them.

  15. Many of the fathers of the church and some of its greatest teachers — Benedict, Antony of Egypt, John of Damascus, Francis and Dominic, Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross — were not bishops.

    The bishops are not the only authentic teachers of our faith. Some have created the greatest errors (name your heresy here).

    Read up on your church history.

  16. The bishops must fight this to the finish. No compromise. At the end of the day, I will be a Catholic before an American. We cannot roll over on this; before they fine my parish, I’ll stop paying taxes; I’m not afraid of the government. I despise political hacks and weak sisters. The fools that “lead” the “large Catholic organizations”… “that … have welcomed the president’s plan as a workable compromise” should be replaced; they are worthless. There is no compromise here. Catholic first, American second.

  17. Amen amen

  18. It’s not just you. Tentler is a moron.

  19. I get you Robyn. I so get you.

  20. Don’t worry vox, don’t despair. The powers of death won’t prevail:

    552 Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Our Lord then declared to him: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Christ, the “living Stone”, thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it.

  21. I think you’re selling the Bishops short, probably from your bias. But they have made that case. You just didn’t hear it. Look at what Bishop Coakly of Tulsa has sad and Bishop Zubik of Pittsberg and Bishop Chaput of Philadelphia. And I bet others. Bishop Dolan who is the head of the Bishop’s conference has unfortunately been busy with first a trip to Israel and now with his ordination to Cardinal.

  22. What has shocked me is how quickly the Liberal Catholics jumped on board with the smallest of fig leaves. I knew there were sensibilities to a political position, and it’s that way for Conservative Catholics too. But I do not think if the roles had been reveresed that Conservative Catholics would have succombed to fig leaf rhetoric. No I do not believe that at all. Well, I guess if Catholics can overlook the pro abortion positions of the Democratic Party, then they’re really not on board with life and contraception issues. I can understand Catholic social justice issues. I disagree with what constitutes solutions for it, but I understand where such Catholics are coming from. I cannot understand how life and now religious freedom issues can be condoned. Unless of course Catholics on the left don’t really buy into them. Next time I won’t be so shocked.

  23. pagansister says:

    The RCC, like many, many other faiths both Christian and non, seems to have come to a topic that has caused disagreement. If indeed this faith is as strong as it thinks it is, this too shall pass. If not, who knows? Religions evolve (or IMO should) so this may be one of those moments in RCC history. After all, the Anglicans & Lutherans bounced out of the RCC and it’s control a long time ago.

  24. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    mjl–read some history yourself. St. Catherine of Siena, etc. etc. never claimed to be official teachers of the Faith. In fact, all the great writers in Church History usually stated at some point their loyalty to the teaching authorities (the Magesterium) of the Church (i.e. pope and bishops.). It was those who pumped themselves up above the Magesterium that were usually the Great Church Dividers.

  25. pagansister says:

    Catholic first, America second. Really Joanc57? Interesting.

  26. A silly article by the New York Times. They are not “traditionalists”, they are Catholics who believe in Jesus Christ and follow their Church in full sense. They are good and obedient Catholics. The socalled “modernists” are these who think they can be Catholic without obeying and following the moral teaching of the Church in full. They are not Catholics in the real sense but Protestants, they excommunicate themselves from the Communion of the Faithful and should repent.

    Theses so called “Catholics” are doing the greatest damage to the Church. Not President Obama. But “Catholics” who think they can have their way without having any consequences who think they can put themselves above the Authority of the Church.

  27. The power of their teaching may be felt in retrospect. But while alive, only Bishops directed teaching. Only Bishops are appointed leaders. Others may have opinion which over time swayed the Pope and Bishops to use their arguments. But I do not belive that anyone can supercede the Bishop’s authority while alive.

    A comparison would be the US Supreme Court. There are lots of legal scholars who can publish their ideas, and those ideas can be picked up over time, but only the Supreme Court Justices have the power to make rulings.

  28. Excellent comment. Perfectly said.

  29. yes, really pagan sister.

  30. The correct labels in my opinion are as follows: 1. Catholic. Meaning you choose to obey rather you agree or not, or at least you do not lie to yourself and say your disobedience is not sin. 2. Not Catholic. You do not choose to obey the Church and you have no concern for the teachings of the Church. There are no options for ‘traditional, conservative, liberal’ as these make it seem that there is this ‘choice’ as a Catholic to use the label but ignore the faith. There is however obedient and disobedient. It doesn’t sound as good on the sound bites however.

  31. pagansister says:

    Hard for me to agree with that, but I guess it works for you. Be glad you live in a country (1st) that allows you to have those feelings. :o)

  32. I would have these feelings wherever I lived, however, it’s nice to not lose my head over it!

  33. It seems the NYT and NPR are both pushing this supposed rift amongst Catholics. Doctoring and engineering pols to back up their false claims. Meanwhile George Soros is spending millions creating artificial groups like Catholics United to undermine out faith. These are troubling times Brothers and Sisters. Be watchful and observant. There are those who seek to divide us and cause dissension among us. Do not be taken in by their deception. Pray for our strength and unity, and the wisdom of God to guide our Bishops.

  34. I seriously doubt a Catholic writer would be allowed to write as many negative articles on the Jewish religion, and call Jewish beliefs into question as often as Laurie Goodstein has done with the Catholic Church. It is time she was called out for being the bigot she is, and fired from the newspaper. She is little more than a mouth piece for Anti-Catholic Hate groups. The Catholic Church helps thousands of people everyday, and she has never once covered those stories. But any story of abuse, corruption, or division is immediately front page news.

  35. pagansister says:

    Ahhh, the freedom of the press.

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