In an age when 140-character Twitter messages pass for serious political comment, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan stands out as a man who doesn't shy from taking a stand in the public arena, in detail and at length, on the great issues of the day. The cardinal's most recent letter to his fellow Catholic bishops does exactly that with regard to President Obama's mandate that all employers, including those associated with religious ministries, provide free contraception benefits in their employee health insurance policies. Dolan addressed his letter primarily to those who share his Catholic faith, but his thoughts deserve serious attention from all Americans who care about the preservation of individual freedom of thought and conscience.
Dolan exposed the "compromise" offered by Obama as an empty shell. It simply shifted the burden of payment from the religious employers providing the health care coverage to employees to the insurers that issue the policies. Dolan pointed out that the compromise "was not even a nod to the deeper concerns about trespassing upon religious freedom, or of modifying the HHS attempt to define the how and who of our ministry." Put otherwise, the government cannot define for the church how it conducts its affairs. And simply as a practical matter, most of the ministries involved are self-insurers, so, Dolan wrote, "we'll still have to pay and, in addition to that, we'll still have to maintain in our policies practices which our church has consistently taught are grave wrongs in which we can participate." As examples, Dolan said the Obama rule would still force ministries working with "victims of human trafficking, immigrants and refugees, and the hungry of the world" to refer them "for abortions, sterilization or contraception."
The truth is that Obama's talk of seeking a compromise was never more than just that, talk. That much is clear from Dolan's description of the attitude White House negotiators displayed during the discussions with the bishops: "At a recent meeting between staff of the bishops' conference and the White House staff, our staff members asked directly whether the broader concerns of religious freedom -- that is, revisiting the strait-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption -- are all off the table. They were informed that they are." In other words, Obama had no intention of budging on the most critical issue -- whether the government or the church will decide how the church operates.
Even worse, according to Dolan, Obama's representatives presumed to tell the bishops where they should seek authoritative advice regarding Catholic doctrine and government edicts, referring to a recent editorial in a weekly Jesuit publication that advised accommodation rather than confrontation on the issue. "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," Dolan observed. In other words, Obama wants the bishops and all who agree with them to just shut up and do what they're told by federal bureaucrats.