Top U.S. Bishop to All Bishops: ‘We Did Not Ask for This Fight, But We Will Not Run From It’

March 4, 2012 - 12:58 AM
Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Pope Benedict XVI makes Archbishop Timothy Dolan a cardinal of the Catholic Church on Feb. 18, 2012 at Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

(CNSNews.com) - Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter on Friday to all the Catholic bishops of the United States reasserting the conviction of the Catholic Church that it will not yield to the Obama administration’s command—issued in the form of a Health and Human Services regulation implementing the president’s health-care plan--that Catholics and Catholic institutions must violate the teachings of their faith by purchasing and providing health insurance plans that pay for sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients.

“We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans,” Cardinal Dolan wrote his brother bishops.

“We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it,” he said.

“Since January 20, when the final, restrictive HHS Rule was first announced,” Cardinal Dolan wrote, “we have become certain of two things: religious freedom is under attack, and we will not cease our struggle to protect it.”

Although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops posted the cardinal’s letter on its website on Friday and issued a press release about it, neither The Washington Post nor The New York Times nor any other American newspaper that appears in the massive Lexis-Nexis database of news sources published a story about it in any of their Saturday editions. Nor, as of the early hours on Sunday, had any secular newspaper that shows up in a Google News search published a story about the letter.

Despite the silence from the establishment media, the cardinal’s defiant letter was in fact a major event in what has become the most significant confrontation over religious freedom in the history of the United States.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 51 to 48 to reject an amendment sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri that would have added “conscience protection” language to the Obamacare legislation, and thus protect employers from being forced to provide health insurance coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients if they have a moral or religious objection to these things.

If enacted, this amendment would nullify the HHS sterilization-contraception-abortifacient regulation insofar is it effects employers, but not insofar as it effects individuals who buy their own insurance and who would still be mandated under Obamacare to purchase insurance.

“And you now ask the obvious question,” wrote Dolan, “”What’s next?’”

Dolan first noted that the Obama administration’s regulation jeopardizes the church’s ability to carry out the ministries that he said have been entrusted to it by Jesus.

“As pastors and shepherds, each of us would prefer to spend our energy engaged in and promoting the works of mercy to which the Church is dedicated: healing the sick, teaching our youth, and helping the poor,” said O’Connor. “Yet, precisely because we are pastors and shepherds, we recognize that each of the ministries entrusted to us by Jesus is now in jeopardy due to this bureaucratic intrusion into the internal life of the church.”

Cardinal Dolan then said that the so-called “concession” President Obama had offered in February—that he would order insurance companies working with Catholic institutions to provide sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients to the workers at those institutions for free—did not solve the problem.

“For one, there was not even a nod to the deeper concerns about trespassing upon religious freedom, or of modifying the HHS’ attempt to define the how and who of our ministry,” wrote the cardinal.

“Two, since a big part of our ministries are ‘self-insured,’ we still ask how this protects us,” he wrote.  “We’ll still have to pay and, in addition to that, we’ll still have to maintain in our policies practices which our Church has consistently taught are grave wrongs in which we cannot participate.

“And what about forcing individual believers to pay for what violates their religious freedom and conscience?” he wrote. “We can’t abandon the hard working person of faith who has a right to religious freedom.

“And three,” he said, “there was still no resolution about the handcuffs placed upon renowned Catholic charitable agencies, both national and international, and their exclusion from contracts just because they will not refer victims of human trafficking, immigrants and refugees, and the hungry of the world, for abortions, sterilization, or contraception.”

The cardinal revealed that President Obama had invited the bishops to work with the White House to “work out the wrinkles” on his proposed accommodation. But that effort failed to make progress as the White House showed no flexibility on the core issue.

“At a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff, our staff members asked directly whether the broader concerns of religious freedom—that is, revisiting the straight-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption—are all off the table,” wrote the cardinal. “They were informed that they are. So much for ‘working out the wrinkles.’”

The cardinal said that the bishops would continue to seek a legislative remedy to the administration’s attack on religious liberty and would also pursue protection of religious liberty through the federal courts.

“Perhaps the courts offer the most light,” he said, pointing to the Supreme Court’s recent 9-0 decision against the Obama administration in the Hosanna-Tabor case in which the administration tried to tell a Lutheran church who its ministers would be.

“Given this climate, we have to prepare for tough times,” the cardinal wrote.

He closed the letter by noting to his brother bishops that religious freedom now faces a threat not from a foreign enemy but from within the United States.

“Brothers, we know so very well that religious freedom is our heritage, our legacy and our firm belief, both as loyal Catholics and Americans,” he wrote. “There have been many threats to religious freedom over the decades and years, but these often came from without. This one sadly comes from within. As our ancestors did with previous threats, we will tirelessly defend the timeless and enduring truth of religious freedom.”

Read the entirety of Cardinal Timothy Dolan's letter by clicking here.