Obama, the born-again Catholic

Amid polls showing that his efforts to regulate religious institutions have hurt his image among Catholics, President Barack Obama has begun touting his early ties to the church.

“My first job as a community organizer was with Catholic churches who taught me the power of kindness and commitment to others in neighborhoods,” he declared at a Hollywood fundraiser May 23.

“When I was a young community organizer, I was working with Catholic churches and they taught me that no government program can make as much of a difference as kindness and commitment on the part of neighbors and friends,” he said at a Colorado fundraiser earlier that day.

This new emphasis on his ties to the Catholic Church is a change from Obama’s previous speeches and fundraisers, where he did not mention that, early in his career, he was funded and supported by liberal Catholic officials in Chicago.

His Chicago supporters included a radical Catholic priest, Father Michael Pfleger, who has since been admonished by senior church officials for political advocacy.

Obama’s emphasis on his Catholic ties come as polls show a sharp drop in his support among swing-voting Catholics in battleground states after his February imposition of regulations on churches.

An April poll from Pew reported that Obama’s approval among non-Hispanic Catholics dropped from 45 percent in March to 37 percent in April, while support for Romney rose from 51 percent to 57 percent. That shift could swing the decision in critical swing-states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania.

If broadcast on TV, Obama’s new emphasis on his Catholic ties could bolster his weakened standing among many liberal Catholics, especially those who rarely attend church. It could also boost his support among the many Hispanic Catholics in battleground states like Nevada, North Carolina and Florida.

Obama’s February regulations require government officials to decide whether churches’ activities are religious enough to merit exemption from an unwanted federal mandate that clashes with some churches’ core message. The mandate requires religious institutions to provide contraception and some abortion-related insurance services to their employees who work outside in places such as schools, charities and hospitals.

The regulation is strongly opposed by the Catholic Church — which operates many schools, charities and hospitals — but also by Baptist, Evangelical and Jewish religious groups. They fear it could be used by progressives to impose further disabling regulations on religious observance and on churches.

“They tell us if you’re really going be considered a church… you can serve only Catholics and employ only Catholics,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the most senior Church official in the U.S., told “CBS This Morning” May 22. “We’re like, ‘Wait a minute, when did the government get in the business of defining for us the extent of our ministry?’”

Because of Obama’s regulation “you’ve got a dramatic, radical intrusion of a government bureaucracy into the internal life of the [Catholic] Church,” Dolan said April 8 on CBS’ Face the Nation.

The Catholic shift away from Obama may grow following Obama’s May 9 decision to endorse same-sex marriage, a position that is especially unpopular among Hispanic Catholics.