NEW YORK CITY — Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York will receive the 2013 William Wilberforce Award this weekend from a group of Christians for his leadership in standing up for religious freedom.
“I resonate with Cardinal Dolan as much as any public religious leader in our country today,” Timothy George, chairman of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, which is bestowing the award, told Catholic News Agency April 16.
“Cardinal Dolan has just been tremendous; he’s one of the major leaders, not just of the Catholic Church in the United States today, but of all Christians, and really all people of goodwill.”
George, who is also a Baptist minister and dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, noted that the prelate has “taken a very courageous and bold stand” for conscience protection and religious liberty in the face of the HHS contraception mandate.”
“But that’s only one of a variety of concerns,” he added. “We’re concerned about the dignity of marriage, the sanctity of every human life, including those children waiting to be born, and religious freedom.”
“On these particular issues, as well as concern for the poor and the marginalized, Cardinal Dolan is a hero to so many of us.”
The William Wilberforce Award was established in 1988 and honors those who “have done something significant, noteworthy and consequential to show the importance of a positive witness related to the values and character of the Christian faith in our time today,” George said.
Cardinal Dolan is the third Catholic to be given the award, following Father Richard John Neuhaus in 1998 and Bishop Macram Gassis of El Obeid, in Sudan.
The honor is named for an evangelical social reformer of 19th-century Britain who worked to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire.
“Certainly, Cardinal Dolan has been a tremendous encourager to Catholics,” but also to other Christians, George said. “He’s had a unique position from his base in New York to speak out clearly and boldly, but also winsomely.”
He praised Cardinal Dolan’s ability to “speak truth in love” and to convey the truth of Christianity “with a kind of joy, love and sense of humor.”
“We make a better impact on correcting the culture of death with a culture of life if we can do that in a Christlike way, and I think Cardinal Dolan has mastered that.”
George expressed relief that Cardinal Dolan was not elected pope during the conclave at the Vatican in March, saying that “we need his leadership.
“For him to leave his post would leave a tremendous vacuum, I think.”
Opposition to the HHS Mandate
Cardinal Dolan has been outspoken in his opposition to the HHS mandate, and he led his archdiocese into a lawsuit against the department, seeking to block its objectionable provisions.
In January 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services issued the mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act, requiring all health-care providers to provide and pay for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs — even if the employer or insurance provider has deeply held beliefs preventing the provision of these products and procedures.
George said that opposition to the mandate “really is a debate about religious freedom, focusing on conscientious objection,” rather than “a debate about contraception.”
“Many evangelicals are not on the same page with respect to contraception itself, but, across the board, evangelicals have stood with Catholics to say this is not about contraception — it’s about religious freedom,” he added.
It is Cardinal Dolan’s defense of religious conscience for which the Colson Center is honoring him.
“One’s conscience ought to be informed by the truth,” George said. “Conscience in itself is not a final arbiter of what is absolutely right and wrong — it needs to be an informed conscience, and that requires, from a Christian point of view, an understanding of who God is, of his Revelation, and holy Scripture and the life of the church, and a moral sensitivity that is shaped by religious faith.”
“That’s, I think, why Catholics object strongly to this [HHS mandate] enforcement, that it goes against their religious conscience.”
The award will be presented April 27 in Arlington, Va., as part of the Wilberforce Weekend Conference.
George is “very grateful” to Cardinal Dolan for accepting the Wilberforce Award, and said, “I look forward to the occasion.”