Last night's O'Reilly Factor featured an interviewwith Cardinal Timothy Dolan about -- what else? -- the contraception mandate. The exchange was fairly unsurprising: Dolan doesn't want to seem like he's judging the president, or anyone else (but he is judging their policy positions and motives). Nor would he ever tell anyone how to vote (but the bishops did endorse the GOP's doomed legislation to rescind the mandate). And of course a noun, a verb, and "religious freedom."What I find most interesting about the interview is the nakedness with which Dolan presents the bishops' communication strategy:
Our opponents are very shrewd because they've chosen an issue that they know we're not very popular on. And that is why, Bill, we have to be very vigorous in insisting that this is not about contraception. It's about religion freedom.And I don't want to judge people but I think there would be a drift in the administration that this is a good issue and if we can divide the Catholic community because it's already divided and if one can caricature the bishops as being hopelessly out of touch these bullies who are trying to achieve judicially and legislatively what they've been -- been unable to achieve because their moral integrity has been compromised recently there is that force out there trying to caricature us.All right. But we can't back down from this fight because it's about religious freedom; it's close to the very heart of what the democratic enterprise that we know and love as the United States of America is all about.
So, according to Dolan -- and not that he's judging -- the Obama administration decided to pursue the contraception mandate because they knew the vast majority of Catholics remain unpersuaded by Humane vitae. (Otherwise, what, they would have gone for abortion?) And because the administration deemed the the bishops' moral authority sufficiently depleted by the sexual-abuse scandals. (Does Dolan really believe that bishops haven't been able to persuade Catholics on this issue because of the sexual-abuse scandal?) So it's precisely because the church's teaching against contraception is so unpopular, Dolan explains, that the bishops must insist that their opposition to the mandate is really about religious freedom. (Don't tell the bishops' press shop.)I have no doubt that those who devised the bishops' messaging strategy know how quickly an anti-contraception gambit would fail. That's why USCCB press releases emphasize that the mandate would cover first "abortion drugs" (never "emergency contraceptives that could act as abortifacients") then sterilization procedures, and finally prescription contraceptives. But at what point will the bishops explain how the proposed accommodation forces Catholic hospitals, universities, and charities to violate their religious beliefs? Will anyone clarify how Bishop Lori went from allowing Catholic hospitals to give rape victims morning-after pills to opposing their inclusion in the mandate because they're "abortion-inducing"? In other words, when will the Catholic bishops make a Catholic argument against the accommodation?

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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