Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York says that although opponents of the federal contraception mandate face a difficult struggle, religious groups can achieve victory through persistence.
“We have to be very vigorous in insisting that this is not about contraception. It’s about religious freedom,” said the cardinal, who is president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
He said the debate is a “tough battle” because proponents of the coverage mandate have chosen an issue they know the Catholic Church is “not very popular on.”
The cardinal made his remarks in an interview with television talk-show host Bill O’Reilly, which was excerpted on the Fox News show The O’Reilly Factor on March 28 and broadcast on the March 29 edition of Conversations With Cardinal Dolan on SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel.
His comments focused on the Health and Human Services mandate, announced on Jan. 20, that requires almost all employers to provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs. The Obama administration has billed the mandate as an increase in “preventive care” for women’s health.
The mandate has caused problems of conscience for Catholics and others who have moral and religious objections to providing the required coverage.
Cardinal Dolan said that the bishops will “vigorously” continue their advocacy against the HHS mandate and will continue the “very effective interreligious and ecumenical coalition that we’ve got fighting this.”
“This is not just a Catholic issue. It is certainly not just a bishops’ issue,” the cardinal told O’Reilly.
“We’re not giving up on the administration,” he added, while acknowledging some pessimism about that path’s prospects for success.
Legislative resolutions are also possible, he noted. The U.S. Senate’s failed Blunt Amendment, which provided religious-freedom guarantees, received “a lot more support than people ever thought it would,” according to the cardinal. Another proposal in the U.S. House, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, could also remedy the problem.
A judicial resolution “might be the most promising road to take” in light of the Supreme Court decision Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which criticized the federal government for trying to define a church’s religious ministry.
Cardinal Dolan remarked upon the “remarkable unanimity” among Catholics against the Jan. 20 announcement that the mandate would be final. A Feb. 10 reputed compromise announced by the Obama administration appeared to weaken this unity.
“That’s been fractured a bit since Feb. 10, because there are some who say, ‘Okay, now the administration has seen our point and we can back off.’ We bishops don’t think we can. But I’m wondering if this is the issue that will bring us together.”
The cardinal told O’Reilly that the Catholic Church wants Catholics to be “a player in American politics,” though the bishops generally avoid telling Catholics whom to vote for.
He also criticized what he saw as a double standard in the treatment of the Catholic Church compared to other churches active in political life.
“Every week I open up the newspaper and I see political candidates speaking at a Baptist church. It doesn’t bother me.
“It bothers me that if they spoke at a Catholic church, you’d have editorials in hundreds of newspapers across the United States speaking about the violation of church and state.”
“Catholics in the United States have been rather shy about any public witness to their faith in the marketplace because of what? The innate ingrained anti-Catholicism that is part of the Puritan culture of the United States.”
The cardinal observed a worrisome trend among secular-minded people in media, entertainment and government to “duct tape” the churches and the role of religion in American life.
If this succeeds, he predicted a “huge void” in society that would be filled by “a new religion called secularism … which would be as doctrinaire and would consider itself as infallible as they caricature the other religions doing.”