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For the last few weeks Catholic clergy and GOP politicians have denounced the Obama administration for forcing Catholic-affiliated institutions to provide coverage for birth control and abortion-producing pills. After hearing strong reactions from his Catholic Democratic advisors, Obama offered an apparent compromise (if a pun may be permitted) to coat the bitter pill. Arrangements would be made with insurance companies to supply the coverage, without directly involving institutions that are under the Catholic Church or under other protesting religious authorities. Presumably Evangelicals would express the same objection as religious Catholics to subsidizing what seems to be a form of abortion.

The Catholic clergy vigorously protested Obama’s plan in its original form and in its not significantly revised draft. Led by the about-to-become Cardinal of New York Timothy Dolan, clerics from across the country thundered in sermons against forcing Catholics to act against their consciences. Dispensing birth control particularly to the unmarried is an offense against Catholic moral teachings, but assisting in making abortion services available by paying for them goes beyond that. It is seen as turning Catholic institutions into accomplices in homicide. It would have been impossible for Catholic parishioners to have missed this message. And it would have been equally hard for TV news watchers to have missed the assertions made by all GOP presidential candidates that Obama was trampling on the religious consciences of individual Americans. He was doing this by removing an exemption that had been granted to religious institutions to withhold coverage for what they found morally objectionable.

Meanwhile there have been dire predictions that Obama and his party will pay for their presumptuous behavior at the polls. Supposedly American Catholics, who until now have been mostly Democrats, will change sides in the next presidential race and vote overwhelmingly Republican. For the clergy this outcome is being sought to punish a president who has never swerved from the secularist Left. Republicans desire the same outcome for more practical reasons, but perhaps just as passionately. If attacking Obama in the name of “individual religious freedom” can get them back into the White House, an awful lot of Republican politicians will be rejoicing.


There are two problems with this interpretation. For one thing, we are talking here not so much about “individuals” as about the largest church in the country and about other traditional Christian institutions that until now have operated mostly without harassment. Obama and the anti-Christian Left, which includes much of the media, would like to change our society. Clearly they have a cultural agenda, which consists of promoting a post-Christian form of religion centered on Political Correctness. In this new culture Martin Luther King, various feminists and other figures of the revolutionary changes that remade this country since the 1960s will be given places of prominence, while older Christian institutions and sacred festivals will receive less government attention. It was no accident that when Obama gave an address at Catholic Georgetown soon after assuming the presidency, he ordered that all Christian symbols be removed from his immediate vicinity. At the time it seemed that the new president was trying to distance himself from old religious associations. At the very least he gave the impression of being an immaculate secularist.

Even more importantly, there is no indication that Obama is losing his Catholic base of support. His Catholic, feminist Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius pushed for making the now challenged coverage available to those working in Catholic-affiliated institutions. Another Catholic, feminist, and a strong advocate of gay marriage, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, is visibly overjoyed by what Obama has just done. Gillibrand’s popularity in New York has soared to such dizzying heights that no Republican thus far has expressed any willingness to run against her. This lady represents a heavily Catholic state in which Obama would carry two-thirds of the vote against any Republican contender.

Those who foresee a dramatic about-turn in American Catholic voting behavior are bound to be disappointed. They are dealing here not with a theologically united community but with what is left of a tribal community that attends church out of family habit. According to a poll taken by Public Policy Polling, 59 % of American Catholics approve of what Obama imposed on Catholic-affiliated services. Those interviewed in fact seem peeved that their clergy would oppose such a progressive measure. The once proverbial blue-collar Catholic of sixty years ago, who was imbued with deeply traditional attitudes, is a relic of the post-World War Two past. In a brilliant biography of a devout Catholic and outspoken conservative, The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan, English author Timothy Stanley depicts his subject as the flamboyant representative of a once sturdy Catholic working-class culture. Although Stanley respects that culture, he does notice that it’s all but vanished. The GOP should not count too heavily on its comeback.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Catholic Church 
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  1. I wonder if American Roman Catholic bishops wonder from time to time how it is that Italy, Spain and Portugal have some of the lowest birthrates in Europe.

  2. Robert says:

    Dr. Gottfried is correct. It will take another generation or two (or three) to clean up and reorganize the remains. Heck, in many important ways he has been more loyal to principle in defending Catholics from the crowd than those appointed to us during the last fifty years. Or so it would seem to this reader.

  3. Obama does nothing that is not coldly calculated. He knew exactly what would happen.

  4. The only flaw I see in Dr. Gottfried’s analysis is his use of an expanded form of the term “Catholic.” Just because a man is baptized Catholic, may have been roughly Catechized, been married at a Catholic church, occasionally goes to Mass at Christmas and Easter, and has had his children go through the same ordeal does not make it that he is a “Catholic” in any meaningful way. Look at the tribes of Kennedys, Cuomos and O’Malleys. None are “Catholic.”

    Catholicism is not a part-time faith but one which should rule the way one lives. Of the 65 million or so “Catholics” in the USA, only 20 million or so are truly Catholics. The rest have become part of the dominant secular society and they abide by the ethos of that society. Witness that many of the most liberal states in the country are “Catholic”- Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

    In the end, the largest church in America is the church of secular humanism and not the Roman Catholic Church. And the church of secular humanism is getting more radical all the time. Think of the twenty year advance of homosexual “marriage”. An absurd notion twenty years ago, acceptance of homosexual “marriage” is broadly accepted by the secular humanist. It should not surprise when the secular humanists progress to another bizarre fad to legitimize.

  5. c matt says:

    Sadly, your analysis is probably correct. The problem goes even deeper – it is not just the Catholic teaching that has been lost on most of these people, but the ability to think critically. Most don’t even understand that this is an attack on religious liberty.

  6. Lilith says:

    Sorry boys, but, speaking as a woman who has been on BC pills (for hormones, not for contraception) I can tell you I don’t like the idea of some man–any man–telling me what I can and cannot do with my own body. It’s not only none of your business, it’s none of your concern, nor is it the church’s concern. There is no “attack on religious liberty.” I can’t see why you would think that. No one is saying you can’t have your religion. More power to you. But STAY OUT OF MY LIFE AND MY BEDROOM. If you boys can remember one simple thing…your right to have your own rights and ideas (including your religion) ends with your nose. Same as mine. I would not even PRESUME to try to tell you how to live your lives, don’t go sticking your nose into my life in the name of your silly religion. That’s what “secular humanism” really is. You live your life the way you want, and I won’t interfere. However, you need to give me the same courtesy, rather than take my rights from me only because you believe it they are “bad” or a “sin.” Just because you believe that doesn’t mean I have to. Keep your beliefs to yourself and allow others to have theirs. I won’t force you to become a Satanic Minister if you don’t force me to become a Dark Age Mistress. Thank you for your time and consideration.

  7. tbraton says:

    Bravo, Liillith. Well spoken. As a non-Catholic male, I have a hard time understanding how so-called “conservatives” can rail against the intrusion of government (at whatever level) into people’s lives yet approve of the government intruding into the most personal and intimate affairs of people’s lives. What you do with your body should be of no concern to me or anybody else, much less an unmarried, supposedly celibate priest.

  8. E says:

    Um, Lilith,

    Take your own advice, baby. If you want to use contraception, go for it (by all means). The bishops are not your personal slaves. You don’t own them. This most certainly is a religious liberty issue. Actually, it’s a conscience issue (regardless of religious involvement or commitment.) You do not have to work for Catholic Charities and they are not obligated to do what they are volunteering to do. A priest hectoring you about birth control is not on the same level as the state threatening fines or imprisonment. Your argument is simply not legitimate. Mind your own business, capiche?

  9. A.C. says:

    On a somewhat unrelated note-Professor Gottfried, how come your new book on Strauss and neoconservatism is $90.00 or so at Amazon? When will it be published by an American publisher for a reasonable amount? Best wishes…

  10. Lillith. The question isn’t what you can or can not do with your body. It is about WHO should be forced to pay for it. I believe birth control is about $20 per month without insurance. Why give up your liberty in order to get that for free? Big Government wins the argument when you act selfishly. It’s about CONTROL, Lillith, not freedom.

  11. Nick K. says:

    This whole forced-coverage-for-abortion scheme from Obama was an effort to make government policy supersede personal conscience and individual moral choice. Is this not a key characteristic of 20th century totalitarianism?

  12. Like many women, Lilith just emotes rather than think logically. In the Obamacare contraception situation, the government is attempting to force Roman Catholic institutions to have the provision of birth control devices written into their health plans. Artificial birth control is anathema to Roman Catholic dogma. In truth, it is the government which is intervening into the business of the Roman Catholic Church and not the Roman Catholic Church intervening in the sex lives of others.

    Adherence to the Roman Catholic Church is voluntary. It can not force women to not use birth control devices. But the Roman Catholic Church should not be forced to pay and provide birth control devices by the national government. That violates the First Amendment.

  13. Dear Lilith,

    On the contrary, you are forcing someone else to pay for something they do not want to pay for. This is not a “right”. This is you sticking your nose into institutions run by the church. How is that not obvious to you?

    Secondly, under your premise, it is no business of law-abiding citizens to “stick their noses” into other people’s business and “tell them what they can and cannot do with their own body” when they pass laws making pedophilia and child pornography illegal. Your philiosophy if “do what thou wilt”, and is essentially nihilistic. You and all the secular humanists are not leading us into a brave new world, you are pulling the rest of us down with you into the pit.

  14. “Like many women…” Really, Derek? No need to go there. You and everyone else did a fine job of refuting any easily identified fallacy.

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