National Catholic Register


Cardinal Dolan's Update on the HHS Mandate

The January 2014 deadline for compliance with the federal contraception mandate is just months away, so what will the U.S. bishops do? The New York cardinal offers a few hints.

BY Joan Desmond

| Posted 9/11/13 at 2:34 PM


Today, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York headlined a Sept. 11 press conference at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that was designed to showcase the Catholic Church's stance on Syria. An audio recording of the press conference is here.

On the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the USCCB president outlined Pope Francis' case against military intervention, and advocated stepped up dialogue and diplomacy as the best way to address Assad's reported use of chemical weapons, and to secure a political settlement to Syria's civil war. 

But the cardinal was also asked to explain what the bishops will do about the Health and Human Services contraception mandate. And while he did not have a firm respone, he signaled a couple of interesting things. {Keep in mind that while places of worship are generally exempted from compliance with the mandate, Catholic social agencies, universities and hospitals are not. At the end of June, they were offered a final "accommodation"  that did not satisfy all the USCCB's concerns.)

Here's what I gleaned from Cardinal Dolan's remarks.

1. Beyond the pursuit of legal and legislative remedies to the HHS mandate,  the USCCB will issue policy guidelines for dealing with the federal law.  A plan will be unveiled soon, with the Jan. 2014 deadline for compliance looming ahead,

"We are not going to run away from it."

We are  “talking about different ways that we are able to continue …with the ministries and apostolates that this country cherishes and finds extraordinary valuable" while also adhering to Catholic teaching. “How we can do that while compiling with the law…is the big question."

2. It's tough to form a broad consensus on a policy with potentially far-reaching and unpredictable consequences. 

"We are not ready to announce our plan."

"I don’t know what we are going to do."

3. The conference will issue guidelines, but the local bishop possesses the authority to make his own policy..

"Every bishop in his diocese will have to decide how to do this."

4. Catholic organizations, like the Catholic Health Association, which issued a statement  approving the HHS mandate "accomodation," have complicated the bishops' work. 

"We found thei [CHA] statement to be less than helpful."

Still, the statement reconizes "that the bishops have a much wider concern than" CHA, and that the bishops are the "official teachers" in the Church.