The reason liberal Catholics were so wounded is twofold. First, this isn’t a religio-cultural fight over Latin in the Mass or Gregorian chant. The subjects of contraception, abortion, and sterilization are not ornamental aspects of the Catholic faith; they flow from the Church’s central teachings about the dignity of the human person. Second, Obama has left Catholic organizations a very narrow set of options. (1) They may truckle to the government’s mandate, in violation of their beliefs. (2) They may cease providing health insurance to their employees altogether, though this would incur significant financial penalties under Obamacare. (The church seems unlikely to obtain any of Nancy Pelosi’s golden waivers.) Or (3) they may simply shut down. There is precedent for this final option. In 2006, Boston’s Catholic Charities closed its adoption service​—​one of the most successful in the nation​—​after Massachusetts law required that the organization must place children in same-sex households.

Which means that what is actually on the block are precisely the kind of social-justice services​—​education, health care, and aid to the needy​—​that liberal Catholics believe to be the most vital works of the church. For conservative Catholics, Obama merely confirmed their darkest suspicions; for liberals, it was a betrayal in full…

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.