How Much Clout Do the U.S. Catholic Bishops Really Have?

The U.S. Catholic Bishops have a long row to hoe, and campaigning against Obama’s HHS mandate is not going to be cheap. Their most serious challenge may be to get a significant majority of Catholics to back them up.

Here are some telling facts and figures:

  • Public Policy Polling: 53% of Catholic voters don’t believe Catholic hospitals and universities should be exempted from providing the contraception benefit.
  • The Guttmacher Institute: 98% of Catholic women of have used contraception in their reproductive years.
  • The Public Religion Research Institute: 71% of all Catholics support same-sex marriage (another issue, but indicative).

Progressive Catholics in the pews have been known to “push back” against hardline church directives. E.g., in the mid-1980s, Seattle Catholics supported Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen, who was in Cardinal Ratzinger’s crosshairs for having addressed a Catholic gay-rights group called Dignity. With parishioners’ support, Hunthausen prevailed and Ratzinger backed down.

A quick Internet search turns up 30 progressive Catholic organizations that have refused to bow to the demands of the magisterium. This is further proof that the Church is deeply divided on issues that the bishops consider settled.

Catholic human services and housing programs  in the U.S. are largely funded by government endowments. (about 72%). In the past two years, more than $1.5 billion went to Catholic organizations. Furthermore, the level of funding has increased dramatically under the Obama administration.

Catholic groups receiving these funds have no firewalls to ensure that the money is not used to promote religious and political agendas. They are not subject to federal lobbying reporting requirements. American voters may well ask why their tax dollars are being used to subsidize religious agendas.

Many of the Catholic organizations that have received such generous federal subsidies know full well that a “show-down” with the Obama administration could end badly for them. In recent days, many prominent Catholic employers have announced their support for the President’s plan. These include the Catholic Health Association, the University of Notre Dame, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and Catholic Charities USA.

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