Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

US bishops need a new strategy against Obama mandate

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 02, 2012

This weekend would be an ideal time for the leaders of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to reconsider the political strategy they have adopted in their fight against the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.

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In their bid to undo that offensive mandate, the bishops could theoretically look for help from each branch of the US government: executive, legislative, and judicial. But in the course of this week they have received very clear signs that two of those roads are already closed.


True, the USCCB can still hope for help from the judiciary. Cardinal Dolan rightly notes that the courts may be the best bet to overturn the mandate—and perhaps the entirety of the Obama health-care plan. If the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is unconstitutional, the problem will disappear. But if the courts let the legislation stand, the bishops are out of options.

Or are they?

Having been rebuffed by both the White House and the Senate, the bishops do have one more viable option. They can use their political clout to ensure that next year, the White House and the Senate have different occupants.

President Obama did the USCCB one small favor, by declaring that the contraceptive mandate will not take place for a year. At this time next year we could have a new president. If Barack Obama is re-elected, he will undoubtedly go forward with his plan. But any one of his Republican opponents would reverse the HHS mandate. So are the American bishops prepared to say forthrightly that a President whose policies trample on religious liberty should be replaced?

In the Senate, 51 members—including, sadly, 13 Catholics—voted to ignore the rights of conscience. Are the bishops in the states served by those 51 senators prepared to remind voters that their elected representatives have betrayed their rights?

No doubt the USCCB can and should continue working with the officials now serving in office. But we know now that those efforts have only an infinitesimal chance of success. If the bishops can’t work with the existing office-holders, their best hope for success lies in electing others to those offices.

Under ordinary circumstances it would be imprudent for Catholic bishops to become involved in partisan political contests. But these are not ordinary circumstances. The Obama administration has all but declared its intent to divide the Catholic community, and toward that end the White House is now encouraging Catholics to ignore the hierarchy. The bishops cannot defend their authority effectively unless they are willing to say that a continuation of the Obama administration would threaten the integrity and unity of the Catholic faith.

USCCB leaders have promised that they will continue the fight against the Obama mandate. But will they take the steps necessary for success in that fight? This year’s campaign season will be a test of the American bishops’ resolve.


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Bernadette - Mar. 07, 2012 11:01 AM ET USA

    I have little hope that the bishops will show spine and courage in this battle for the soul of our Church. They will cave in because they are too wedded to big government and the handouts they have been receiving. They have sold us for a potage by the name of "social justice." They have forgotten their job description: teach and sanctify. It's politics all the way and just the other day the USCCB issued another paper on disarmament. They meddle in matters not of their competence. Oh, woe!

  • Posted by: jimr451 - Mar. 07, 2012 7:08 AM ET USA

    I agree about the elections - but shouldn't the bishops put forward their intentions assuming the mandate stays in place? Will they resist, and risk arrest? Will Catholic hospitals be shut down or sold off? Schools, etc? They should clearly articulate what will happen, and start the process this summer, contingent on the November elections. That would make the choice for voters crystal clear.

  • Posted by: impossible - Mar. 07, 2012 12:08 AM ET USA

    The solution is at the voting booth. The USCCB needs to shed their leftist allegiance and issue an honest voting guide. That would be one that includes the necessary words, "proportionate reasons," a proper explanation thereof with clear, unambiguous examples of its implementation. Had they done so prior to 2008, it's likely that the Catholic vote for our Abortionist-in-Chief would have been considerably less than 54%. Be bishops first and shed the leftist partisanship.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 06, 2012 11:36 PM ET USA

    The USCCB must stop considering themselves to be merely a teaching body and start to realize that they are leaders and should be at the front lines leading the charge in defense of their flock. First and foremost there needs to be a concerted effort by the Catholic Bishops to (1) reassert their rightful leadership position as the official Voice of the Church, and (2) rein in the many high profile Catholics who are actively subverting the Church. These include external political figures as well internal Church elements. The USCCB must be forceful and relentless in challenging these Catholic dissidents, especially when their dissenting statements or actions are made in public. If no change in behavior the USCCB should implement more drastic action including denial of the Sacraments and for internal Church Catholics, their removal from Church leadership positions.

  • Posted by: rpp - Mar. 06, 2012 7:05 PM ET USA

    It is time for the Bishops to update the recently updated and released Voters Guide. It should add this statement: "It is not morally licit to vote for a candidate who supports forced medical coverage for morally offensive "medical" treatments including any form of artificial contraception, sterilization, abortion inducing drugs, or birth control pill."

  • Posted by: - Mar. 05, 2012 9:45 AM ET USA

    Most of the Catholics who voted for Obama agree with his policies, including the mandate. Episcopal opposition will not change that. The mandate violates the constitutional liberty of ALL citizens. The bishops must cease narrowly arguing for religious exemptions and assert the First Amendment right of ALL citizens. They should lead a sustained, public refusal to accept the affront, and demonstrate by the witness of their arrest and incarceration their commitment to constitutional liberty.

  • Posted by: mdepietro - Mar. 04, 2012 9:25 PM ET USA

    We have not had ordinary times since the Democrats became the party of abortion on demand. Remember Abortion, unspeakable crime as Vatican II called it. When one political party is defending and funding with taxpayer dollars "unspeakable" crime it would seem that the Bishops would have not choice but to be partisan. In any case the Democrats have doubled down, now they want us to fund immorality. This is something that the Bishops must be willing to go to the mat over.

  • Posted by: Defender - Mar. 04, 2012 6:28 PM ET USA

    It looks like the USCCB gets caught short often concerning things. Perhaps they need a change in their internal political department and let it be known that there will be no restrictions of their efforts for now on (this has to include Canon 915) or all they do will be perceived as bluster.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Mar. 04, 2012 5:25 PM ET USA

    The Church needs to exert the authority given her by Christ: to wit, disciplining the thirteen "Catholic" Senators who voted against the legislation. The question of kicking them out of office is not in their province; the question of discipline (up to and including excommunication) is solidly in their hands. Also, maybe they need to take a page from Bishop Doran's playbook and having priests recite the prayers of infestation at all four corners of the White House and the US Capitol.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Mar. 03, 2012 10:24 PM ET USA

    In the main it would appear that what the American bishops feel is the "bottom limit" for what they feel they must accomplish is to perserve merely the "possibility" of doing good within the American system. The reality is clear, most Catholics are not congruent with Church teachings and neither are most Catholic institutions, but what the bishops at least want is what could be defined as "the possibility of being Catholic."

  • Posted by: Estel - Mar. 03, 2012 9:16 AM ET USA

    Phil, I was thinking the exact same thing. It may be time to simply say the heck with threats to the Church's tax exempt status. We need to declare the truth - that many elected Catholic officials only pay lip service to their religion and they are the reason for the current morass we find ourselves in. We need to throw the bums out! And let's face it, even if the HHS mandate is reversed now, what will stop a re-elected President from re-imposing them again when he is no longer accountable?

  • Posted by: the.dymeks9646 - Mar. 03, 2012 7:52 AM ET USA

    These are indeed not ordinary circumstances. We learned this week that this administration justifies the expense for contraceptives to be offset by a reduction in costs of fewer people. This is an administration of death and not life. With just a tad of imagination we can predict where this calculus will take them. The sick, the poor, the elderly all have a "cost" associated with them.

  • Posted by: thx1688 - Mar. 03, 2012 7:28 AM ET USA

    Perhaps, but taking a page from Quantum Metaphysics, I would caution that the perhaps their present strategy of doing nothing in dealing with abortion, homosexual marriage, and the Catholic politicians that support them, in like fashion simply needs to be given more time to see if it produces something.