Noonan opines on Pres. Obama’s attack on the Catholic Church

In the WSJ there was an op-ed by Peggy Noonan which bears review. Here is the last third (the rest is about Gov. Romeny and the GOP).

[…] President Obama just may have lost the election.

The president signed off on a Health and Human Services ruling that says that under ObamaCare, Catholic institutions—including charities, hospitals and schools—will be required by law, for the first time ever, to provide and pay for insurance coverage that includes contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization procedures. If they do not, they will face ruinous fines in the millions of dollars. Or they can always go out of business.

In other words, the Catholic Church was told this week that its institutions can’t be Catholic anymore.

I invite you to imagine the moment we are living in without the church’s charities, hospitals and schools. And if you know anything about those organizations, you know it is a fantasy that they can afford millions in fines.

There was no reason to make this ruling—none. Except ideology.

The conscience clause, which keeps the church itself from having to bow to such decisions, has always been assumed to cover the church’s institutions.

Now the church is fighting back. Priests in an estimated 70% of parishes last Sunday came forward to read strongly worded protests from the church’s bishops. The ruling asks the church to abandon Catholic principles and beliefs; it is an abridgment of the First Amendment; it is not acceptable. They say they will not bow to it. They should never bow to it, not only because they are Catholic and cannot be told to take actions that deny their faith, but because they are citizens of the United States.

If they stay strong and fight, they will win. This is in fact a potentially unifying moment for American Catholics, long split left, right and center. Catholic conservatives will immediately and fully oppose the administration’s decision. But Catholic liberals, who feel embarrassed and undercut, have also come out in opposition.

The church is split on many things. But do Catholics in the pews want the government telling their church to contravene its beliefs? A president affronting the leadership of the church, and blithely threatening its great institutions? No, they don’t want that. They will unite against that.

The smallest part of this story is political. There are 77.7 million Catholics in the United States. In 2008 they made up 27% of the electorate, about 35 million people. Mr. Obama carried the Catholic vote, 54% to 45%. They helped him win.

They won’t this year. And guess where a lot of Catholics live? In the battleground states.

There was no reason to pick this fight. It reflects political incompetence on a scale so great as to make Mitt Romney’s gaffes a little bitty thing.

There was nothing for the president to gain, except, perhaps, the pleasure of making a great church bow to him.

Enjoy it while you can. You have awakened a sleeping giant.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. ContraMundum says:

    I hope she’s right. I hope the bishops are really angry, and don’t just feel that they have to record a protest for the record before going back to business as usual. I hope they keep up the heat and even escalate it. I hope Catholics pay attention and vote Obama out, even though I won’t be able in good conscience to vote for his likely replacement.

    I’m afraid, though, that few bishops have the stomach to keep this up. We already know which ones probably will and which ones probably won’t. I’m afraid that most of the laity don’t care about either what the bishops say, or about the protection of conscience, or about freedom of religion (as opposed to maybe mere freedom of worship).

  2. jasoncpetty says:

    Wishful thinking—and I hope she’s right—but I get the feeling Obama/HHS will cave on this in mid-October, just prior to the national elections. Then all will be well and he’ll pick up just as much of the “Catholic” vote as before. This is a genius move, politically: you get the bishops to attack you only on the worst part of your program, which is a guarantee they won’t attack any other part of it. It’s a tacit episcopal re-endorsement of Obamacare just before the national elections which–unless Mitt “tu quoque” Romney is the candidate–will be in large part a referendum on Obamacare. And Obama gets to come off as the good guy, who learned his lesson and will fight to protect the right of Catholics to exist as a ghetto religion. The “sleeping giant” episcopate will get a token victory so it can go back to feeling good about committing to nothing politically.

    But I hope Noonan’s right.

  3. pbewig says:

    I agree with jasoncpetty. Obama will change his mind in mid-October, and the Bishops will be neutered. The only way the Bishops can win is by demanding not that Catholic institutions are exempt from the rule, but the everybody is exempt from the rule. That is, medical insurance may not provide for abortion, sterilization and contraception for anyone.

  4. wmeyer says:

    I also hope Noonan is right, and fear she is not. The letter from my archbishop was rather mild, and there is an editorial online from someone in my diocese who expresses very strongly his concerns. His comments about the letter from my archbishop are actually quite restrained. The letter is understated and nuanced in the face of a harsh and unconstitutional action. In this country, precedents reshape law, as well as beliefs. If Obama’s trampling of the Bill of Rights remains unchallenged by the Congress and by SOTUS, folks, then we have no rights. Hardly a time for the bishops to mince words.

  5. JohnE says:

    Since heterodox Catholics who already use birth control would now get it for free, I have a bad feeling that this will blow over for most of them, especially if it gets changed or overturned before the election. Frankly, I’m a little puzzled why some of them all of a sudden care now. If issues like abortion, gay “marriage”, embryonic stem cell research and the like were either flat out disagreed with or at least trumped by global warming, entitlement programs, Wall Street greed, Bush, hatred for any name followed by “(R)”, and other more “important” issues, why should we expect it to be any different in November? Will not these “important” issues once again occupy center stage when we get closer to the election?

    Maybe a little less enthusiastically than last time, maybe even begrudgingly, they’ll be back on the Hope’n’Change ™ bandwagon again nevertheless. Hoping I’m wrong of course. Imagine the near and long-term destruction of another round of President Obama.

  6. Supertradmum says:

    The president knew he could bully the Church. This has been my position all along. The so-called sleeping giant has a lack of power. Sadly, until Catholic Dems abandon the party of their choice and vote for some one else, nothing will change. The socialist agenda was always there and the anti-Catholic agenda was always there. To say that the president did not have to pick this fight is naive and disingenuous. He was merely waiting for the right time. He got the mandate when he was elected and when Stupek caved. Stupek was the Judas and the Obama Admin is the Sanhedrin.

    Unless the bishops excommunicate those Catholic politicians who support this Admin, nothing will change in the minds of most Catholic Dems, who can continue to lie to themselves about the anti-life platform of their party. I have an article on my blog today which is even more contentious. Some of the bishops should be excommunicated. In law, as Thomas More points out in the great play, A Man for All Seasons, silence in the law is consent. As long as some bishops are silent and as long as so-called Catholic politicians are not excommunicated, there is a silent complicity from some bishops.

  7. anilwang says:

    In a strange way, we as Catholics need to thank Obama.

    The old adage of the frog is true. If you turn up the heat slowly, the frog does nothing and is boiled alive, but if you drop the frog in boiling water, the frog will jump out. The Catholic Church in America was lulled into sleep since despite being marginalized in the early parts of the previous century, the US has been relatively friendly to the Catholic Church. It’s no surprise that contraception was just not preached about even at the time just before Vatican II. Obama’s frog boiling has not only waken a sleeping giant, it has also reminded the American Catholic Church that being complacent has consequences.

    Had the bulk of Catholics been regularly reminded that contraception was a sin and told why, American politicians and movie theaters would never dream of attempting to promote the culture of death. I’m not joking. There was a time when movies which were declared offensive to the Catholic Faith were shut down or rewritten to remove the offensive scenes. Such censoring is offensive to “modern sensibilities” even in Catholics, but such “modern sensibilities” also think its okay to self-censor and allow others to shut out the Catholic voice since “it might offend someone and it might not be ecumenical”.

    Thank you Obama. It’ll take a lot of time to return “modern sensibilities” to the point where they are actually sensible, but you’ve done much to kick-start the process. Keep up the “good work”.

  8. Ed the Roman says:

    Archbishop Wenski’s letter, read yesterday and printed in the bulletin, was not very mild.

    The heterodox are rather less likely to be on Church related health plans; they may still feel that the institutional Church should not be pushed around.

    And a lot of people who are not even Catholic and think birth control is fine do *not* think it is fine that the Church is not being allowed to keep its own doctrine.

  9. mamajen says:

    54 percent of “Catholic” voters helped this evil man win knowing full well his extreme stances on abortion. It would not surprise me to learn that every one of those voters uses or supports contraception. Sadly, I don’t think this overreach will mean much to most “Catholics”. I hope I’m wrong. The fact that our bishops are finally speaking out is a positive change, though.

  10. wmeyer says:

    Our pastor is out of action with health problems, and yesterday we had a visiting priest. His homily focused on Job, and his final point was the everything is a gift.

    It almost immediately made me think of how, exactly, I could view Obama and his actions as a gift. And almost that quickly, I thought that if he has awakened the sleeping giant, then yes, even such heinous actions may have been a gift.

    We must pray for our bishops, that they will take an even stronger position, and not weaken.

  11. irishgirl says:

    Let’s hope [and most of all, pray] that the Catholic ‘sleeping giant’ HAS awakened in America, and that Obama and his evil minions get booted out of office come November!
    mamajen-well said!

  12. The Sicilian Woman says:

    I’ll repeat, with some modification, what I’ve posted on another blog:

    I have not voted in 11 years, not since 2000, when I voted for Bush. I’ve been so turned off by both parties that I’ve tuned out. I’ve never registered in the state of my current several years of residence.

    But THIS, this direct, blatant attack against the Catholic Church (even though the Church isn’t named outright, anyone can tell damned well who the primary target is), which, last I knew was a religion, which, last I knew was protected under the First Amendment, THIS is the reason why I am registering this year and voting against Obama and every last liberal/Democrat I can. They might well be re-elected or voted in, but not with my vote, or my indifference, or my being passive.

    This attack is not the first on our Constitution, by the Republicans or by the Democrats. But this attack is clear. It trumps every other issue out there; if this is successful, all hope is lost.

    What is even more frightening is the fanaticism of Obama supporters – no doubt, and tragically, including many Catholics – that prevent them from ever considering that he could do such a thing. I was telling a Christian friend (who revealed in that conversation that she LOVED Jesus and went on and on about her love for Him) why I was voting against Obama and all other liberals/Democrats. She was shocked as (as would be most of my friends, who are all liberal), and said that he couldn’t go against the Constitution like that. I offered to send her the direct link to the HHS statement on the government web site. At first, she was agreeable to my doing so. Then she declined, saying, “I don’t want to have my head in the sand, but…”

    I was floored. This is a mandate, not issued by a Catholic nor other religious entity. It’s a statement of action issued by the U.S. government and found on the U.S. government’s web site; yet, her devotion to Obama is so blind, she doesn’t want to read about his mandate. That’s tragic intellectual dishonesty and bias cowardice. (Trust me, I read plenty of awful things about Republicans and conservatives. See my first statement about not having voted in 11 years.) The distant and not-so-distant results of this mandate, if it sticks, are going pull her head and that of every other clueless U.S. citizen out of the sand when it’s far too late.

    I am praying that all who call themselves Catholic wake up and realize the beauty of the Faith as I have, and see through the narcissist in the White House, even if he suddenly changes his mind before the elections. If Obama attempts this before he’s re-elected, does anyone think he’s going to attempt anything less afterwards? Dear Lord, please don’t let people be that gullible.

  13. avecrux says:

    I hope and pray that Noonan is right, but I am not convinced.
    We who read certain blogs or attend Mass are hearing one thing – but it is like the March for Life… where you personally know there are close to half a million people marching, but the mainstream media ignores it or gravely downplays it. During the last election cycle my husband, who works at a secular employer, said that every single day the employees were making jokes about Sarah Palin – most often that she believed she could see Russia from her house. My husband kept pointing out “That quote is taken from an SNL sketch – it is not a direct quote!” People neither knew nor cared.
    I am praying a lot, offering things up and trying to stay hopeful, but we are planning a pretty heavy Lent this year and some intense talks with out kids.
    I read this insightful article today:
    I found this part the most interesting and plausible:
    ” Obama’s decision might be thought of as akin to his decision halting the Keystone oil pipeline: a conscious attempt to energize his base at the expense of swing voters, who he concluded were already lost.
    The other possibility, of course, is that Obama sees the dismantling of Catholic institutions as part of a larger ideological mission, worth losing votes over. As Yuval Levin noted in National Review Online last week, institutions such as the Catholic church represent a mediating layer between the individual and the state. This layer, known as civil society, is one of the principal differences between Western liberal order and the socialist view.
    Levin argues that the current fight is just one more example of President Obama’s attempt to bulldoze civil society. He wants to sweep away the middle layer so that individuals may have a more direct and personal encounter with the state. The attack on Catholics is, Levin concludes, “an attack on mediating institutions of all sorts, moved by the genuine belief that they are obstacles to a good society.”
    Seen in this light, Obama’s confrontation with the Catholic church is of a piece with the administration’s pursuit of the rickety Hosanna-Tabor case and another incident from last October, when the Department of Health and Human Services defunded a grant to the Conference of Catholic Bishops. That program supported aid to victims of human trafficking. The Obama administration decided that they no longer wanted the Catholic church in the business of helping these poor souls. That, evidently, is the government’s job.
    Of course, there is a third possibility in explaining the president’s motives. It could be that, in deciding to go to war with the Catholic church, President Obama has hit on one of those rare moments where his electoral interests—at least as he perceives them—and his ideological goals are blessedly aligned.”

    I think Newt actually expressed it best – this election is about our common notion of America vs. America as the latest European-style secular socialist state.

  14. digdigby says:

    54% of Catholic voters elected a ‘man’ who defended the practice of leaving live birth babies to writhe to death in storage rooms. ’nuff said. What these ‘catholics’ will do I would not presume to guess. Obama’s ‘catholic’ secretary of health held a private party at the governor’s mansion for the abortion saint Dr. Tiller and his entire staff.
    Is this woman receiving communion? Who is allowing it?

  15. Supertradmum says:

    The Sicilian Woman,

    If any adult is “gullible”, it is his or her’s own fault. There is no excuse for adults to be naive or gullible. If an adult is easily tricked and manipulated, there is sin in his or her life. We have the gifts of the Holy Spirit from Confirmation. Either we believe that the Sacraments change us or we do not. Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, reverence, fear of the Lord — we have been given these gifts in order to deal with things exactly as these are happening now. And, if people are not exhibiting these gifts, either they have lost Faith, or are living with a serious sin. I suggest the sin of greed is the main one making Catholics vote Dem. People vote for their wallet first, and it is not the problem of the GOP, as the socialist agenda promises cookies and milk forever and ever. Sorry, I am tired of Catholic adults acting like children when they have all they need to be adults.

  16. PostCatholic says:

    I happen to disagree with the Catholic clergy on the topic of birth control, and to agree with HHS that providing drugs for reproductive hormonal regulation is often necessary preventative medicine. But I do think that the White House made the wrong call on Constitutional freedoms, and that the Catholic (and presumably Mormon and Muslim) clergy ought to have the freedom to purchase and provide insurance that is in line with their religious principles. Freedom of Religion is a sacrosanct tenet of American life, especially for those like me who mostly want freedom from religion. I’d expect either conservative and liberal judges to overturn this decision in court.

    That said–I think you’re dreaming if you think anything approaching a majority of Catholics is agrees with all those bishops’ letters and statements and are angry enough to do anything about it for you. This is a tiff between the Catholic hierarchy, whose political views rightly command very little respect from the overwhelming majority of Americans and only passing attention from most Catholics, and a President who almost exclusively will be asked to account for very high unemployment in the next election.

  17. Supertradmum says:

    no apostrophe above in hers, please…sorry

    Did you notice that the millions of Muslims and Mormons in the States have been silent in this protest, or at least their hundreds of imams and elders? Why, because they know that this is as attack on the Catholic Church and they will wait until the dust has settled. Until the Mormons and the Muslims make a statement, the Church stands alone with some of the few evangelical pastors who have responded.

  18. PostCatholic says:

    No, I haven’t noticed silence. I heard a Mormon bishop on my local TV news complaining about this but it’s my understanding that there is more flexibility in LDS doctrine than in Catholicism on birth control; I know that the chief plaintiff against this ruling is Colorado Christian College,which is not Catholic; I have heard the Republican front-runner for the nomination to challenge Obama, a Mormon, blast this decision in unequivocal terms; I don’t really follow Islam but I would presume there are very few Islamic-related institutions in the US impacted by the President’s decision. But I agree with you that Catholics are certainly leading the protest of this decision.

  19. What is so sad about this whole Soros/Obama administration is that the millions of Catholic, Orthodox, immigrant, and minority groups who have been staunchly in support of the Democratic Party because they thought that this party carred about the little guy have been betrayed. The party showed its true colors some years ago when it refused Gov. Carey of PA the right to speak at their national convention. Frankly that is when I turned away from the DP. Worse yet we have man Catholic, Orthodox, Minority voices that are pro abortion, and defy the church authorities whenever they are called to task. I realize that excommunications of ten create more problems than they remedy. However, someone needs to tell them that if they present themselves for Communion, they eat and drink unto their condemnation. it really frosts me when I hear Ms. Pelosi brag about the women’s voices have been heard regarding the refunding of PP, and then in the next breath claim that she is a devout Catholic! If she is then I am the Dahli Lama!

  20. PostCatholic says:

    I don’t know if she’s devout, but Speaker Pelosi I think is quite typical of an Catholic American woman.

  21. Joseph-Mary says:

    I also wonder about a late “about face” so that Catholics will be fooled into not thinking this minion of the father of lies is just that.

    Birth control pills have abortifacient properties. Period. There are many offenses to God begin legislated in this age. Post-Catholic, we shall pray for you and others like you and there are millions of you.

    If the present evil agendas are allowed to continue we can expect persecution. Will the post-catholics care when their priest or bishop is jailed? Will they care when it is their devout mother who is jailed? Or their devout brother who prays at an abortion killing center? Or will they be lie the nazis and go along with mob mentality and allow the evils to proliferate as long as no one is coming for them? But one day even post-catholics will be old or sick or disabled and deemed nto worthy of life. And , as is already happening in come European countries, the involuntary euthanasia bus will come for them.

  22. Finarfin says:

    As much as I hope Noonan’s prediction is right, I do not think that she is. I agree that there is a sleeping giant, but I think the giant is the sleeping Samson whose hair has already been shorn, as well as his strength. While the Church has suffered from modernism over the past 50 years, lay Catholics have developed a defective idea of what it means to be Catholic. When 67% believe you can ignore Church teaching, and 98% believe in contraception, who is going to follow the bishops when they have their call to arms? The rebellious and untrained army? If Obama loses the election, it will be because people do not like his economic policies.

  23. Ed the Roman says:

    Yes, typical of those whose fathers were a big city mayors and who married millionaire developers.

  24. lucy says:

    Imagine what our world will be like without Catholic institutions? It’ll be Potterville instead of Bedford Falls.

  25. ContraMundum says:


    If Obama has to energize his base at the expense of “swing” voters, he has lost the election.

    Remember, he won only 52.9% of the popular vote in 2008. That was while he still had almost no record to define him, so that voters of very different persuasions could “hope” he would be good to their causes, and also while the crappy economy “belonged to” the Republicans.

    However, I think he calculates that “swing” voters like contraception more than they like Catholic bishops. He’s probably right about that, I’m sad to say.

  26. Ed the Roman says:


    I agree with you on swing voters. But there are substantial numbers of economically liberal Catholics who have formed part of his base, and they are very disheartened, if what is in the Fishwrap about this is to be credited.

  27. Margaret says:

    The Ents have awakened. Now we shall see if they go on the move…

  28. benedetta says:

    Agree with Supertradmum, this has been the agenda all along, there has been no great change and it should not come as a surprise. As to the Catholics for Obama the first time around, that demographic has been switched up in exchange for the militant gay lobby which overwhelmingly is in favor of more and bigger abortion (defying logic, yes but that is how it is). This is just peddling anti-Catholicism during the time to pay the piper for the election. The gamble is that the attack on Catholics will energize the base whose premises are anti Catholic and bigoted and who would love to see Catholics’ numbers dwindle more and more through contraception, abortion, and persecution.

  29. benedetta says:

    I’m not sure I agree that there is little impact on Muslim institutions. Many communities now have Muslim schools along with mosques. And there are a number of Conservative, Orthodox, and Hasidic Jewish institutions that will be keeping a close eye on this one. But I agree the relative quiet from others has to do with the reality that this is about attacking Catholics, for the point of it, not for the point of health care.

  30. Tantum Ergo says:

    Now the Catholic Church in the United States , dispite prior wimpiness, is faced with “Do or Die.”
    Perhaps Obama’s mandate is the best thing that could have happened, because even the liberals have come on board to defend the Church from attack. We need a coordinated battle plan that doesn’t end with the pulpit announcement. (A public excommunication of Sebilius would be a shot heard round’ the world.) WHY are these “cinos” allowed to call themselves Catholic while their scandal wrecks havoc?

  31. avecrux says:

    Hi ContraMundum.

    I hope you are correct.
    Here is my fear – Obama energizes his base. Those are the folks who will go to the wall for him and actually work to have him re-elected. Our base? As one very politically active (former local party chairman) and well informed friend said to me, “Well, I would hold my nose and vote for Romney in the Fall, but its not like I’d put a bumper sticker on my car or anything….” My personal opinion is that if the Republicans run an establishment candidate (aka Romney), we’re toast.

    digdigby – thank you for the link to those Sibelius/Tiller pics. I plan to make them more well known.

    I noticed today that Nancy Pelosi’s Archbishop is one of only 10 US Bishops left who have not issued a statement regarding the HHS mandate – and I noticed Pelosi issued a very strong statement supporting the anti-religious freedom mandate.

  32. JohnE says:

    What about us Catholics working in the secular world? Will we have the opportunity to opt out of our health plans and purchase a policy that does not support abortion, contraception, etc.? This is more than a fight for church-run organizations, but for individuals as well. I can’t see how this health care bill can possibly stand. On the other hand, we have legalized abortion, so insanity is already on the loose…

  33. Son of Trypho says:

    The Church in the US always has the nuclear option – just close down until further notice all Catholic medical/social services affected by this situation and make it clear that they are doing this because of the legislation.

    Although I’m not from the US, I suspect the Govt. probably doesn’t have the capacity to organise public services to replace the medical/social/charitable works that would be lost. The situation which would result would force the Govt. to back down or face nationwide chaos.

  34. digdigby says:

    I just remembered the nightmare years of AIDS in New York City in the eighties when there was no cure only certain, horrible death and the #1 group caring for dying and indigent AIDS patients were Catholic religious and Catholic charities.

  35. Supertradmum says:


    My family would not care if I went to jail for Catholicism. They would blame me for not “compromising” or for not being “world savvy”. (Not my son, he is on the same page) I have heard it all before. However, I would count it all joy, as I have been spiritually prepared for this more and more daily. We all should be.

  36. New Sister says:

    You guys are so right — the Bishops are being luered into an Obama PR trap. They will be forced to make approving statements of his imminent “about face,” which he will of course time for maximum, pre-election, positive press coverage. The headlines, “Obama Boldly Protects Catholic Worship – Receives Praise from Bishops.”

    As far as the question above on whether or not Sec Sebilius is receiving Holy Communion, her statement in an interview I heard a few years ago certainly indicated that she is, or was then. She was talking in detail about how painful it had been to be banned from Holy Communion by her bishop in Kansas, and about how much her Catholic faith meant to her. The reporter then asked if she, as Secretary and no longer in KS, was able to receive the Sacraments again, she refused to answer. I assume she is in Bishop Weurle’s diocese….

  37. wmeyer says:

    If Pelosi is typical of American Catholic women, then the battle is lost before it is joined. If most are as unprincipled as she, there is no power in the Church, and none in the electorate.

    And as we are being steadily maneuvered to the point of Romney vs. Obama, the only real choice is racial. I don’t trust either of them. Actually, I trust O more, but to do all the wrong things.

  38. I wouldn’t be too sure about Obama changing his mind. Look what happened to the Komen Foundation when it changed its mind about funding Planned Parenthood– it had to change it back again. Obama would be mercilessly attacked by the far left– including the rich bullies at Planned Parenthood– if he backtracks. At this stage, I think he is committed (in the sense of being stuck). But I could see him surreptitiously organizing lawsuits against this policy so that the courts would quickly strike it down. That way he wins as much as he could win– he doesn’t get what he wants, but as Father Z says, he can claim, “at least I tried.” The only way he wins is if he stays the course and the courts reverse it. Any other outcome and he either alienates his radical core or he just loses the election altogether.

  39. Imrahil says:

    There’s always hope.

    That being said, President Obama is said to introduce European style (viz. Socialism) into the United States. Well, in Europe the position, “I’m heterodox, but I’m deeply against the State hindering the Church to be orthodox in the points in which I disagree with her” is a position practically unheld.

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