The leader of the Catholic church in America clearly feels that, on the issue of forcing Catholic institutions to cover birth control, President Obama either misled him with assurances or reversed himself.
Take a look at this interview running today in the Wall Street Journal with a disappointed Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York. Obama, as the author notes, sounds somewhat imperious and dismissive.
Mr. Obama knew that the mandate would pose difficulties for the Catholic Church, so he invited Archbishop Dolan to the Oval Office last November, shortly before the bishops’ General Assembly in Baltimore. At the end of their 45-minute discussion, the archbishop summed up what he understood as the president’s message:
“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.
“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.'”
Dolan makes clear that the White House “compromise” on the issue is nothing of the sort – Catholic institutions still have to offer birth control, it’s just that the insurers will have to pay for them. What’s more, many of the entities are either self insured or are insured by Catholic insurers.
Dolan also regards it as an affront to religious liberty that the government decides which organizations are Catholic enough to avoid the mandate – to define the word “ministry.” Remember, churches themselves, as opposed to entities like Catholic hospitals, are not covered by the birth control requirement.
The archbishop sees a parallel irony in his dispute with Mr. Obama: “This is a strange turn of the table, that here a Catholic cardinal is defending religious freedom, the great proposition of the American republic, and the president of the United States seems to be saying that this is a less-than-important issue.”
Dolan suggests that the government intrusion will lead institutions to try to become more fully Catholic by servicing only Catholics. So far from not doing “anything to impede” the good work of Catholic institutions, non-Catholics will be left out in the cold. In certain cases, literally.
And so I guess we’ll need more government to help them.