Politics
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Conservative Catholics rally against contraception mandate

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Conservative Catholic groups are warning Democrats that there may be political ramifications for backing the White House’s controversial contraception mandate.

“If Democrats lose the Catholic vote, I would think they at some point will question whether their allegiance to the far-left social extremists is going to hurt” in future elections, Brian Burch, the president of the conservative website CatholicVote.org, told The Daily Caller.

“We do plan to make sure that faithful Catholics remember this [directive] in November,” said Matt Smith, director of the conservative group Catholic Advocate, told TheDC. Despite progressive efforts to shift the debate to contraceptives, he said, using new media has allowed Catholics to argue that the mandate is a threat to religious autonomy.

“That has a huge impact,” he said.

One prominent example of the progressive pushback against the conservative protests was displayed on Monday when liberal Catholic columnist E.J. Dionne said further resistance to government regulations would convert the Church into “the Tea Party at prayer.”

Dionne’s rhetorical warning-shot to Catholics came the day before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops holds its biannual management meeting, dubbed the “administrative conference.”

Roughly 30 bishops will meet in D.C. on Tuesday to set the schedule for this year’s June and November meetings of the nation’s roughly 181 bishops. The June meeting will be held in Atlanta, and will deal with routine issues of doctrine and budgets, as well as the proper response to the regulation, issued Feb. 10, that would force religious-affiliated institutions to provide insurance that covers contraception.

On Monday, Dionne portrayed the meeting as the moment where bishops will either “defend the church’s legitimate interest in religious autonomy [by accepting the Feb. 10 regulation], or… wage an election-year war against President [Barack] Obama.”

Dionne, whose support for the Feb. 10 announcement has been frequently highlighted by White House officials, urged the religious leaders to accept the decision.

“Before the bishops accuse Obama of being an enemy of the faith, they might look for a settlement that’s within reach — one that would give the church the accommodations it needs while offering women the health coverage they need,” he wrote.

Some Catholic advocates shrugged off Dionne’s criticism.

“Name a single bishop that is in support of the mandate? — there isn’t one,” said Burch. “Functionally, [Dionne] is a member of the Obama reelection team, so you can’t take him seriously,” he added.

Dionne is a “cheerleader for the administration,” George Weigel, an influential Catholic theologian, told TheDC.

The Bishops recognize the dispute is over churches’ freedom, not birth control, “and will stay on-message… no matter how much E.J. Dionne disapproves,” said Weigel who is also a fellow at the D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Although the head of the Catholic Health Association and a Jesuit group have endorsed the Feb. 10 regulation, there’s little visible support elsewhere in the church for a federal role in church management.

For example, Fr. Michael Pfleger, a noted progressive Catholic priest in Chicago, declined to comment on the issue, despite several calls from TheDC.