As controversy continues over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said that separation of church and state should not restrict the Church from offering its valuable contribution to society.
In an interview on CBS News' Face the Nation on Easter Sunday, the cardinal described the mandate as “a dramatic, radical intrusion of a government bureaucracy into the internal life of the Church.”
He emphasized that while the Church “didn’t ask for the fight” over contraception and religious freedom, “we're not going to back away from it.”
The public square, he pointed out, is enriched when people bring their religious and moral convictions to the discussion of national issues and impoverished when they are prevented from doing so.
Host Bob Schieffer asked the cardinal to respond to John F. Kennedy’s famous campaign speech that endorsed a vision of separation of church and state “where no Catholic prelate would tell the president, should he be Catholic, how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote.”
Last November, Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum said that he “almost threw up” when he read the speech.
He said that Kennedy “threw faith under the bus in that speech,” which he described as “the beginning of the secular movement of politicians to separate their faith from the public square.”
Cardinal Dolan said that he agreed with Kennedy that there should be a separation of church and state because such a separation benefits not only the U.S., but also the Church.
However, he said, Santorum is also accurate in noting the secularizing effects of the speech, which has been widely misinterpreted to require “a wall between one's faith and one's political decisions.”
“I don't think John Kennedy meant a cleavage between faith and politics,” the cardinal said. “But I would agree with Senator Santorum that, unfortunately, that has been misrepresented to mean that faith has no place in the public square.”
This view misrepresents “what the American genius is all about,” he added.
Cardinal Dolan said that the false understanding of this principle can be seen in the ongoing debate over the Obama administration’s insurance mandate, which will soon require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their conscience.
The cardinal said that President Obama had initially assured him that “the government would do nothing to impede religion” or to prevent the Catholic Church from continuing its valuable work in the areas of health care, charity and education. However, he said, it’s hard to see how the new regulations “do anything but that.”
Cardinal Dolan spoke out against recent comments by Vice President Joe Biden, who said that the mandate does an acceptable job of balancing the Church’s freedom with access to free contraception for women. While he said that he appreciates the vice president’s counsel, the cardinal firmly disagreed with his assertion.
The mandate is unacceptable from a moral standpoint because it will still force Catholics to fund or facilitate the objectionable coverage, the cardinal explained, adding that the Catholic community will continue to speak out against the mandate not only from “a religious point of view, but a constitutional point of view.”
But despite the challenges facing the Church in America today, Cardinal Dolan remains optimistic. He believes that religion in the U.S. “is vibrant” and “the commitment of the people is strong.”
Catholics should also remember that “the difficulties can purify us and strengthen us,” renewing the Church as she spreads her message of “light and freedom and hope.”
In related news, Father Paul Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, said Catholics should follow the example of St. Thomas More in their current conflict with the Obama administration.
More's faithful witness and willingness to sacrifice his life rather than violate his conscience “are instructive for us in this present crisis,” said Father Scalia, who serves as pastor of St. John the Beloved Parish in McLean, Va.
In an April 4 article for the Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper of Arlington, Father Scalia reflected on the life of St. Thomas More, the well-known 16th-century lawyer, author and martyr who served as the chancellor of England under King Henry VIII.
He observed that More was faced with a moral dilemma when the Catholic Church would not allow King Henry to divorce his wife, and the king responded by simply redefining the Church.
More could not support the king’s decision in good conscience and, therefore, resigned from public life. He did not voice his opposition to the king, but merely attempted to live as a private citizen in silence.
“But King Henry’s rebellion against the Church inevitably trampled on the conscience of individuals as well,” said Father Scalia, explaining that even though he had resigned from his position, More was commanded to take an oath affirming the king’s divorce.
When he refused to violate his conscience by taking the oath, More was imprisoned and then beheaded.
The years that followed were filled with persecution of Catholics in England, who were fined and imprisoned for their religious beliefs.
Father Scalia compared More’s struggle with the king to that of Catholics against the Health and Human Services mandate. He said that the similarities between King Henry’s decree and the contraception mandate “are striking and instructive.”
Just as King Henry redefined the Church in England, the Obama administration “seeks to do likewise in the United States” with its recent mandate, he said.
The administration and some congressmen have even “lectured the bishops about what the Church should do or think.” In doing so, he explained, they have violated the Church’s right to self-governance of internal affairs.
Father Scalia also noted that just as King Henry’s actions affected both the Church as an institution and private individuals such as More, the contraception mandate threatens not only the rights of Church organizations, but also those of individual Catholic citizens, who will also be penalized if they do not obey the mandate.
Father Scalia advised that if history is repeating itself in the current persecution of the Church, the faithful must “deliberately choose to imitate” St. Thomas More’s witness.
Catholics should reflect More’s “integrity and holiness of life,” he said, observing that the saint’s silence on the issue of the king’s divorce spoke volumes because he was known to be a man of integrity.
Although we currently “do not have the luxury of remaining silent,” we must still follow in More’s path of integrity, uniting our words and actions to present the truths of our faith, he said.
Father Scalia emphasized that Catholics should imitate More’s joy, which he maintained even in the midst of oppression. This joy may not always be externally visible, but should remain steadfast inside of us, because we know “that no suffering or persecution in this world can separate us from the love of Christ.”
Catholics should also imitate More’s patriotism, said Father Scalia, recalling More’s famous statement before his death: “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”
In the same way, he said, we will be good Americans by defending the First Amendment’s promises and “being devout Catholics first.”