“This Is Not about Contraception, This Is about Religious Freedom”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave a lengthy and candid interview this weekend with the Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto in which he reiterated the Catholic Church’s opposition to the “radical, unprecedented, and dramatically intrusive” HHS Mandate.

Early on, Dolan recounts his conversation with President Barack Obama following their 45-minute discussion at an Oval Office meeting last November:

“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.

But as we all know from the way subsequent events played out, this “request” was soon forgotten.

“So you can imagine the chagrin,” Archbishop Dolan continues, “when he called me at the end of January to say that the mandates remain in place and that there would be no substantive change, and that the only thing that he could offer me was that we would have until August. . . . I said, ‘Mr. President, I appreciate the call. Are you saying now that we have until August to introduce to you continual concerns that might trigger a substantive mitigation in these mandates?’ He said, ‘No, the mandates remain. We’re more or less giving you this time to find out how you’re going to be able to comply.’ I said, ‘Well, sir, we don’t need the [extra time]. I can tell you now we’re unable to comply.'”

The administration went ahead and announced the mandate. A public backlash ensued, and the archbishop got another call from the president on Feb. 10. “He said, ‘You will be happy to hear religious institutions do not have to pay for this, that the burden will be on insurers.'” Archbishop Dolan asked if the president was seeking his input and was told the modified policy was a fait accompli. The call came at 9:30 a.m. The president announced the purported accommodation at 12:15 p.m.

“We’ve Grown Hoarse Saying This Is about Religious Freedom”

Cardinal Dolan goes on to explain that the Obama Administration’s so-called “accommodation” doesn’t solve anything, and emphasized a key point has made repeatedly — and quite rightly — in recent months: “We’ve grown hoarse saying this is not about contraception, this is about religious freedom.”

This point really cannot be underscored enough.  Religious freedom is the crux of the matter.

And the notion that the federal government would determine which religious institutions qualify as ministries under the HHS Mandate’s exceedingly narrow exemption is one that Dolan finds intolerable:

“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. “We would find that to be—we’ve used the words ‘radical,’ ‘unprecedented’ and ‘dramatically intrusive.'”

Later, Dolan implies that if the purpose of the HHS Mandate were to deliberately force the Catholic Church out of health care, there’s definitely a precedent for such a move:

The Archdiocese of Washington, in a very courteous way, went to the City Council and said, “We just want to be upfront with you. If this goes through that we have to place children up for adoption with same-sex couples, we’ll have to get out of the adoption enterprise, which everybody admits we probably do better than anybody else.” And one of the City Council members said, “Good. We’ve been trying to get you out of it forever. And besides, we’re paying you to do it. So get out!”

“We Have Gotten Gun-Shy…on Sexual Morality”

Dolan freely admits that the Catholic Church has a “towering” internal problem in “convincing our own people of the moral beauty and coherence of what we teach” — and that Church leadership is largely to blame:

“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.”

The “flash point,” the archbishop says, was “Humanae Vitae,” Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical reasserting the church’s teachings on sex, marriage and reproduction, including its opposition to artificial contraception. It “brought such a tsunami of dissent, departure, disapproval of the church, that I think most of us—and I’m using the first-person plural intentionally, including myself—kind of subconsciously said, ‘Whoa. We’d better never talk about that, because it’s just too hot to handle.’ We forfeited the chance to be a coherent moral voice when it comes to one of the more burning issues of the day.”

The candor of Dolan’s remarks notwithstanding, the WSJ’s Taranto notes that as he and the Cardinal are discussing these matters, “Dolan makes a point of reiterating that his central objection to the ObamaCare mandate is that it violates religious liberty.

Clearly, Cardinal Dolan is a man who understands how to communicate with the media — and the importance of staying on message.

Read the entire interview here.

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