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A Sleeping Church Wakes Up

Throughout the ongoing debate over President Barack Obama’s contraceptive mandate, and again on Monday, when Catholic leaders here in St. Louis and nationwide announced anti-mandate lawsuits, one question has surfaced repeatedly among Obama’s critics and allies alike: Why choose an election year to pick a fight with the Catholic Church?

The mandate controversy is, after all, the president’s own creation. As St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson said in a press conference Monday, when explaining why the Archdiocese and Catholic Charities of St. Louis joined 41 other organizations in suing the Obama administration, “The church did not pick this fight or its timing. The federal government did.”

So why did Obama choose this year to try to force Catholic institutions to subsidize contraceptives, sterilization procedures and the potentially abortion-inducing “morning-after pill,” a drug that can destroy embryos by preventing their implantation in the uterine lining? Why did he make the mandate’s religious exemption so narrow that it defines as “religious” only those organizations that primarily employ and serve members of their own faith — a test that even Mother Teresa’s faith-saturated ministries would flunk? And why, when confronted with the widespread, ecumenical uproar over the mandate’s violation of the First Amendment, did he propose as an “accommodation” a cheap accounting trick, one that still forces Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for drugs and services they consider immoral?

Surely, the president has seen Catholics mobilizing en masse for religious liberty rallies across America. He must know about last month’s Pew poll, which found that his 9-point advantage with Catholic voters from the 2008 election has dissolved into a 5-point deficit today. He cannot be blind to the avalanche of mandate-related lawsuits that are begging for Supreme Court review. So why not just let Catholic groups off the hook for contraception coverage and find another way to fund his “free” birth control plan?

The answer: Obama must think the mandate is an electoral winner.

Of course, the president may also harbor a passion for the principle of employer-subsidized — and church-subsidized — birth control. But Obama is not known for letting such principles impede his political prospects. Consider his recent “evolution” on gay marriage, in which he embraced same-sex nuptials just in time to collect a boatload of big checks from his socially liberal and increasingly impatient donor base. Amid the fanfare over his “principled” stand for gay rights, mainstream media reports ignored the fact that Obama already had taken that stand 16 years earlier as an aspiring Illinois Senate candidate, only to later repudiate it when support for gay marriage threatened to torpedo his national political ambitions.

Obama is a man of the left, but he is a man who likes to win. And clearly, he believes that any losses he sustains among Catholics angered by his stubbornness on the mandate will be more than offset by gains among fans of that mandate — including, he hopes, Catholic women. Given how many Catholic women disregard their church’s teaching on birth control, he must have reasoned, how could his clash with the bishops fail to help him in November?

It’s a logical bet, but also a risky one. It’s true that American Catholics are a cantankerous lot, our messy house full of feuding factions and more than a few nominal believers contemptuous of church authority. Yet many pockets of the church also are brimming with youthful vitality and enthusiasm for Catholic doctrine. And even among the large swath of casual Catholics who chafe at church teaching on issues like contraception, tribal loyalty to Catholicism dies hard. The sight of Uncle Sam bullying Holy Mother Church brings to mind that old schoolyard saying: Only I can insult my mother.

Beyond Catholic loyalties, there is the American instinct for defending religious freedom. That instinct runs deep among Catholics who still remember the days when their faith was regarded as alien and suspect by America’s Protestant majority.

As for the opinions of Catholic women, polls show that party affiliation and churchgoing habits better predict one’s reaction to the mandate than gender. Judging from the faces crowding those religious liberty rallies and the names on the womenspeakforthemselves.com open letter — which has attracted some 28,000 signatories just three months after its authors, attorneys Helen Alvaré and Kim Daniels, emailed it to a couple dozen friends — many of the fiercest opponents of Obama’s purportedly pro-woman mandate are women.

It’s too soon to tell if Obama’s gambit to divide and conquer the Catholic vote will pay off. But the early results do not look good for the president. In hunting for an easy target, Obama has awakened a sleeping giant and rallied Catholics to a level of political attentiveness and cohesion not seen in years. This may be one fight he will wish he had dodged.


Colleen Carroll Campbell is a St. Louis-based author, former presidential speechwriter and television and radio host of "Faith & Culture" on EWTN. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com and her latest book is My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir. This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and is used by permission of the author. 


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  • goral

    If the Church split on BHO is at aprox. 50/50, than the “sleeping giant” is rather pitiful. I suppose the numbers run that way for most voting blocks.

    I think the guy is throwing the election. He’s in over his head. He’s lost without his teleprompter. He’s a dismal failure, he knows it and he’s not having any fun. He only smiles when he has to.

    He got what he wanted out of it, a free ride for him and Michele, for the rest of their lives. They’ll go on the talking circuit and clean up, like Jackson and Carter. They’ll get to travel all over the world to monitor elections.
    There’s probably already something in the works for him to speak at Georgetown. Division is his game. The guy is following his heart, a heart of darkness.

    The dems may yet scramble at the convention and put up Hilary, another true democrat who probably would do better against Romney than this imposter.

  • wild rose

    Goral,
    My heart falls to my feet to know that Catholics are split 50/50 on Barack Obama.

    The late Pope John Paul II was very devoted to Our Lady of Fatima throughout his pontificate. The Pope had great vision that gives us hope during dark times. In 1979 Pope John Paul II made his first pilgrimage to Mexico and consecrated his papacy to Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1999 he made his fourth pilgrimage there and consecrated the entire Continent to her. He delivered a summary of the historic first All-American Bishops Synod at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

    In contrast to the culture of death with a loss of hope, Pope John Paul II proclaimed Our Lady of Guadalupe the mother Mother of All America (North America and South America.) at the First Synod of all of the Bishops of America in Rome in December, 1998. At the beginning of the Great Jubilee of 2000, as he looked at an image of Our Lady of Guadelaupe, the Holy Father said, “Now is the time of the New Evangelization to lead the people of God in America to cross the threshold of the third millennium with renewed hope.” He entrusted to her, as the Star of the New Evangelization, the “future path of the Church on the great continent of America.”
    The Holy Father said, “I ask our Lady of Guadalupe to visit as a pilgrim of faith each and every diocese, parish and family in America.”

    At this time all of us must pray daily and never give up hope.

  • goral

    Our late Great Pope, Wild Rose, came out of a seemingly hopeless situation. His indomitable spirit conquered it all. All of it unraveled right before his very eyes.
    You are absolutely right in your comments. I don’t remember who said the following:
    If you don’t have hope then you can not reach that which lies beyond hope.
    This Memorial Day we pray for those who sacrificed so that we would have a better country than the 50/50 splits that have us mired in mediocrity, at best.

  • wild rose

    Goral, thank you for your comments.

    Last week Thursday, May 24, 2012, the Church worldwide prayed for the Church in China. China has an underground Catholic Church that follows the Catholic faith and tradition. The Bishops are appointed by the Pope. However, the Chinese Communist regime appoints the clergy of a false Catholic Church in China that is controlled by the government.

    Barack Obama and his cohorts are not in the same position as Communist China who leads it’s Church of China. BHO and his cohorts are using contraceptives and same-sex marriage to pacify the electorate. They want to encourage renegades and division within the Catholic Church. In the long term Obama and his cohorts, Obamacare, and the US Supreme Justices who want to change the US Constitution could use the Chinese Communist model to control the Catholic Church in the United States. Heck, Obama could be the party leader in office for years to come. The elected Democratic Party is the sleeping giant. Change must come within the Democratic Party.

  • goral

    We were speaking of hope, my hope is not in the Democrat Party having a change of heart. They are all political hacks. The dems. are our version of the Chicoms. The Republicans do a great job managing the mess that Democrats put in place.

    My hope is in movements like the Tea Party. This bloated and irresponsible gov’t has to be brought under control. It is threatening churches, bankrupting businesses and strangling and demoralizing property owners. It’s creating a degenerate and dependent citizenry which in turn gives it power in the polls.
    The sleeping giant, Wild Rose, are property owners like you and I, who will, hopefully soon, stage a tax revolt.

  • wild rose

    It’s hard to believe that members of the Democratic Party have moved far left and willing to abandon the aspirations of our founding fathers and the teachings of the Catholic Church. The liberal/Marxists have the ability and the means to test people, good, weak or timid, and reduce them to obedience. Their tools are money, but also prestige, honor or positions in society.

    Many lay people and clergy are willing to go to jail rather than submit to Obamacare as it stands now.
    I don’t have a personal problem with depression but BHO’s hope and change brings on depression.