The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto has a fascinating interview with New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in which the president of the US bishops’ conference discusses the interactions he’s had with President Barack Obama over the last several months regarding the birth-control mandate handed down by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Dolan describes the 45-minute meeting he had with Obama last November, at which he understood the president to say that the Catholic Church’s religious freedoms would be protected as the health-care law was implemented:
“I said, ‘I’ve heard you say, first of all, that you have immense regard for the work of the Catholic Church in the United States in health care, education and charity. . . . I have heard you say that you are not going to let the administration do anything to impede that work and . . . that you take the protection of the rights of conscience with the utmost seriousness. . . . Does that accurately sum up our conversation?’ [Mr. Obama] said, ‘You bet it does.’”
The archbishop asked for permission to relay the message to the other bishops. “You don’t have my permission, you’ve got my request,” the president replied.
Dolan describes himself as “chagrined” at Obama’s apparent change of heart when, at the end of January, he received a call from the Oval Office telling him that not only would the birth control mandate be enforced, but that the bishops had until August “to find out how you’re going to be able to comply.” Dolan says he told the president: “Well, sir, we don’t need the [extra time]. I can tell you now we’re unable to comply.”
Dolan tells Taranto that for the USCCB, the primary issue remains religious freedom, not contraception.
What rankles him the most is the government’s narrow definition of a religious institution. Your local Catholic parish, for instance, is exempt from the birth-control mandate. Not exempt are institutions such as hospitals, grade schools, universities and soup kitchens that employ or serve significant numbers of people from other faiths and whose main purpose is something other than proselytization.
“We find it completely unswallowable, both as Catholics and mostly as Americans, that a bureau of the American government would take it upon itself to define ‘ministry,’” Archbishop Dolan says. …
It also amounts to penalizing the church for not discriminating in its good works: “We don’t ask people for their baptismal certificate, nor do we ask people for their U.S. passport, before we can serve them, OK? . . . We don’t serve people because they’re Catholic, we serve them because we are, and it’s a moral imperative for us to do so.”
Dolan does say that a lack of clarity on Catholic teachings regarding sex is partly to blame for the recent furor over contraception; even many Catholics don’t understand the Church’s prohibition of birth control, and use it without scruple.
For this he faults the church leadership. “We have gotten gun-shy . . . in speaking with any amount of cogency on chastity and sexual morality.” He dates this diffidence to “the mid- and late ‘60s, when the whole world seemed to be caving in, and where Catholics in general got the impression that what the Second Vatican Council taught, first and foremost, is that we should be chums with the world, and that the best thing the church can do is become more and more like everybody else.”
Dolan also takes aim at the attitude of many American Catholics toward public service and religion, epitomized by John F. Kennedy’s assertion that, as Dolan puts it, “my Catholic faith will not inspire my decisions in the White House.”
“That’s worrisome,” Archbishop Dolan says. “That’s a severe cleavage between one’s moral convictions and the judgments one is called upon to make. . . . It’s bothersome to us as Catholics, because that’s the kind of apologia that we expect of no other religion.”
Read all of Taranto’s interview with Dolan here.