Does Catholic support for Obama weaken bishops' position?

Does the fact that Barack Obama won the Catholic vote nationwide (albeit narrowly) weaken the position of Catholic bishops that the contraception mandate within Obamacare represents a violation of their members' religious freedom? Mark Movsesian, director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University, writes:

One should remember...that the Obama Administration imposed the contraception mandate, and ... Catholic bishops made the mandate a salient issue. Requiring Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives and abortifacients to employees, the bishops said, seriously threatens Catholics’ religious freedom. ...

Leaving aside whether voters who disregard their bishops’ views on the contraception mandate are erring as Catholics–a question on which I’m not qualified to state an opinion–I wonder what implications this vote has for the future of the mandate. Legally, the lawsuits under RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) will go forward, and I think they have a fair shot at success. But the atmosphere may have changed. It won’t show up expressly in judicial opinions, of course, but I wonder whether judges who support the mandate won’t feel more emboldened to find that the mandate doesn’t “substantially burden” Catholic institutions. And I wonder whether the Obama Administration won’t feel more comfortable taking a hard line on whatever “accommodation” they are preparing for the final regulations, due before August 2013. The courts may or may not follow the election returns, but politicians surely do.

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Comments (3)

I agree, and if that was my own TECie priest or bishop I'd feel the exact same way.

There seems to be an interesting dichotomy with regard to the Roman Catholic tradition and its interventions on public policy. The bishops are so over focused on Catholic moral teaching that they have pre-empted any meaningful engagement of Catholic social teaching. Other R.C. constituencies are focusing on Catholic Social teaching, including a critique of materialism and consumerism and the inequality experienced by the poor. Female religious communities figure prominently in the latter. This gives rise to questions about possible fault lines, not so much or just between between R.C. groups and their relative priorities, but between what may be distinguished as Catholic Social teaching on the one hand and Catholic moral theology on the other.

I don't feel competent to comment on the nuances of the American electorate, but editor(s) at National Catholic Reporter sure are. I recommend the link to their editorial below. Here is a bit of a teaser.

"The bishops clearly need to rethink their political alliance with the Republican Party and their emphasis on making abortion and gay marriage illegal as the principle marks of Catholic identity."

Weaken the RC bishops' position? I think their standing with their rank and file may be at an all-time low, even before the election.

If we look at the "Catholic vote", I think a case can be made for there not really being one - they vote all over the map like alot of other groups. A small percentage of them will vote according to how the RC episcopate directs, but they are a minority.

The bishops' loss of credibility started back in the 1960's with the ban on birth control, and it has continued to slide until it fell into the pit of the pedophile scandal. At this time, they have near-zero credibility with their rank and file. No sarcasm intended here; just the plain truth.

Kevin McGrane

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