This week, President Obama is taking heat from some of his most ardent supporters in the mainstream media, liberal Catholics. The unusual outcry from stalwart Democrats such as MSNBC's Chris Matthews and The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne stems from the president's decision to require Catholic hospitals, universities and charities to provide contraceptives in employee insurance plans.
Last night, Chris Matthews devoted a segment to the issue, describing how churches are exempt from the Health and Human Services policy, but charities and hospitals, which employ non-Catholics, do not qualify for an exemption. "This is a sad thing," said Matthews. "I'm very proud of the work my wife and I have done ... with Catholic charities, but i'm very proud of it and ... it's open to everybody. Everybody gets the advantage of these things."
Matthews, who isn't shy about referring to his Catholic identity, invited on The Washington Post's Melinda Henneberger, a liberal Catholic, who also spoke forcefully against the HHS decision. "I'm trying to figure out how it could be handled more poorly but I can't," she said. "Religious freedom is built into the First Amendment so this is not, to me, a tough call."
Another guest was Melissa Rogers, former member of President Obama's White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. "I think they had a good goal in mind, which is in my view, expanded contraceptive coverage is a good thing," she said. "The problem is they struck the wrong balance here on religious liberty. We shouldn't, in my view, require objecting religious employers to pay for and offer their employees a plan that they preach against."
On Monday, The Washington Post's columnist and liberal Catholic E.J. Dionne took, perhaps, the most unequivocal stand saying "Obama threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus and strengthened the hand of those inside the Church who had originally sought to derail the health care law."
As for what kind of effect this will have on Catholic voters is uncertain. Politico's Glenn Thrush reported on the issue this morning "Obama beat John McCain by 9 points among Catholics in 2008 after trailing him throughout the year, in part on his strength with Latino voters. That isn’t likely to happen this year, which could be a major factor in western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, Indiana, Missouri and New Hampshire, all states with substantial populations of older, white Catholics, already skeptical of Obama’s leadership."
Still, as Thrush reports, it's far from clear if everyday Catholics are as fired up about the issue as pundits and Church leaders. "Scott Alessi, writing on the American Catholic’s website last week, reported that one Wisconsin bishop got a standing ovation for his opposition — but claims that overall reaction generally seemed muted." Alessi wrote, “I wonder how many other Catholics had that reaction, and simply shrugged rather than display the outrage at the Obama administration’s actions that the bishops are counting on."