(Washington)-- On March 2, 2012, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York voiced dismay in the Administration’s handling of the church as the White House and the church seek to work out religious freedom problems found in a mandate in the new health care reform bill. The mandate drew church ire when it required that all employers, including religious ones, pay for contraceptives – including abortifacients – and sterilization for employees despite church teaching against them.
The Cardinal’s comments were made in a letter to the Bishops of the United States, released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Given church concerns about religious freedom, Cardinal Dolan wrote, “the President invited us to ‘work out the wrinkles.’ We have accepted that invitation. Unfortunately, this seems to be stalled: the White House Press Secretary, for instance, informed the nation that the mandates are a fait accompli (and, embarrassingly for him, commented that we bishops have always opposed Health Care anyway, a charge that is scurrilous and insulting, not to mention flat out wrong).”
Cardinal Dolan also said that “The White House already notified Congress that the dreaded mandates are now published in the Federal Registry ‘without change.’" He added that “The Secretary of HHS is widely quoted as saying, ‘Religious insurance companies don’t really design the plans they sell based on their own religious tenets.’ That doesn’t bode well for their getting a truly acceptable “accommodation.”
Cardinal Dolan also described a recent meeting at the White House between bishops’ conference staff and White House staff, and said “our staff members asked directly whether the broader concerns of religious freedom—that is, revisiting the straight-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption—are all off the table. They were informed that they are. So much for ‘working out the wrinkles.’ Instead, they advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the ‘enlightened’ voices of accommodation, such as the recent, hardly surprising yet terribly unfortunate editorial in America.”
“The White House seems to think we bishops simply do not know or understand Catholic teaching and so, taking a cue from its own definition of religious freedom, now has nominated its own handpicked official Catholic teachers.”
Cardinal Dolan also said, “We will continue to accept invitations to meet with and to voice our concerns to anyone of any party, for this is hardly partisan, who is willing to correct the infringements on religious freedom that we are now under. But as we do so, we cannot rely on off the record promises of fixes without deadlines and without assurances of proposals that will concretely address the concerns in a manner that does not conflict with our principles and teaching.”
He added that “Congress might provide more hope, since thoughtful elected officials have proposed legislation to protect what should be so obvious: religious freedom. Meanwhile, in our recent debate in the senate, our opponents sought to obscure what is really a religious freedom issue by maintaining that abortion inducing drugs and the like are a ‘woman’s health issue.’ We will not let this deception stand. Our commitment to seeking legislative remedies remains strong. And it is about remedies to the assault on religious freedom. Period.”
Cardinal Dolan added that “Perhaps the courts offer the most light."
Cardinal Dolan warned the bishops that “given this climate, we have to prepare for tough times. Some, like America magazine, want us to cave-in and stop fighting, saying this is simply a policy issue; some want us to close everything down rather than comply (in an excellent article, Cardinal Francis George wrote that the administration apparently wants us to ‘give up for Lent’ our schools, hospitals, and charitable ministries); some, like Bishop Robert Lynch wisely noted, wonder whether we might have to engage in civil disobedience and risk steep fines; some worry that we’ll have to face a decision between two ethically repugnant choices: subsidizing immoral services or no longer offering insurance coverage, a road none of us wants to travel.”
Cardinal Dolan added that “we know so very well that religious freedom is our heritage, our legacy and our firm belief, both as loyal Catholics and Americans. There have been many threats to religious freedom over the decades and years, but these often came from without. This one sadly comes from within. As our ancestors did with previous threats, we will tirelessly defend the timeless and enduring truth of religious freedom.”
(USCCB Media Relations)