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Archbishop Dolan is not happy with Obama

After a lecture Tuesday evening on "Law and the Gospel of Life" at Fordham Law School, I asked New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan about his reaction to President Obama's decision on the contraception mandate -- a decision which seemed to run decidedly counter to the impression Obama had left with the archbishop after their Oval Office meeting last November. From my RNS write-up:

"The president seemed very earnest [in November], he said he considered the protection of conscience sacred, that he didn't want anything his administration would do to impede the work of the church that he claimed he held in high regard," Dolan recalled on Tuesday. "So I did leave a little buoyant."That optimism ended last Friday, however, when Obama phoned Dolan to tell him that he was not expanding the conscience exemption to include religious institutions -- such as Catholic hospitals, universities and social service agencies. In a bid to appease critics like Dolan, the White House gave church organizations an extra year to find a way to comply with the mandate that all health insurance plans provide free contraceptive coverage."I had to share with him that I was terribly let down, disappointed and disturbed, and it seemed the news he had given me was difficult to square with the confidence I had felt in November," Dolan said.

Understandable, I think, given the grief Dolan could now face from bishops who want to take a harder line with the administration.But not to worry! As my RNS colleague, Lauren Markoe reports, the White House yesterday honored Catholic teachers. All good. Right?

"Irony is the word of the day," said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Ouch.UPDATE: BTW, the nine educators (one of them a student and educator) got shafted as their stories and their cause got swamped by the political controversy. I have a blog post on them over at RNS.

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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A very judicious and interesting report.

I am trying to understand the multiple dimensions and opinions about this, but it does not seem that "religious freedom" is imperiled. I would imagine dioceses are exempt because their purpose is explicitly religious, no? Isn't it the social services provided and those provided through the hospitals, schools, etc. that have long accepted public and federal funding and are therfore subject to the same regulations as secular agencies. The hierarchical objections to respecting rights to adoptions by gay persons and spousal rights are already at issue and it seems that new understandings of being private/public agencies is being developed.

Dave, that's actually a problem because it seems that dioceses and the like would not be exempt. The issue of exposure to regulation for those taking state funds is a related issue, but even if you don't take government money you have to comply with this mandate. And since dioceses and parochial schools and social service groups that do not take government funds also serve non-Catholics and employ non-Catholics, they would have to comply. It's all a bit of a mess. I still can't figure out how the so-called "Hawaii option" is supposed to work, except that all Catholic hospitals, universities, social service agencies and the rest are supposed to move to Hawaii. That could be nice.

Excerpts from a manuscript in progress, The Development of Religious Liberty by Barack Obama, with contributions from his shadow Curia:"If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan."Barack ObamaWe have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."Nancy PelosiSr. Keehan receives presidential pen for supporting health care despite bishops' objections"This is a big f***ing deal"Joe Biden"This proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services."Kathleen Sebelius

On learning the President's political decision, I found it somewhat fetching that Dolan allowed that he was "terribly let down, disappointed and disturbed," and that he felt somehow misled at their November meeting.He didn't see this coming? Isn't that the way politics among the hierarchy is played in the Vatican? Did Dolan learn at cardinal training school that in politics you never say what you mean and never mean what you say?Bottom line, beyond all the stated high-minded principles involved, Dolan didn't have the votes. His political math is deficient. This was most fundamentally one politician, Obama, telling another politician, Dolan, that you are no threat to me. Besides Obama is not going into an election with the economy in the dumpster and do something to alienate some of his most ardent base supporters [those who believe that women have constitutionally protected rights to privacy and equal protection under the law.

I found Rick Garnett's comment on MOJ this morning interesting, basically that the Administration didn't have to pick this fight by crafting an exemption that accomplished the goal of coverage for those employees who wanted such coverage without so offending the status quo. Garnett's forgotten more on this topic than almost anyone writing on this anywhere. He also has a nice reply to Eric Bugyis's post up now as well.

Garnett's "forgotten more on this topic than anyone writing on this"? I'm not sure that recommends his analysis (with which I agree, by the way).

Jim,It shouldn't matter whether or not Dolan "has the votes" or not. The whole point of natural rights (e.g. the right to religious liberty) is that they need to be honored even when they aren't popular. The government shouldn't be coercing religious institutions into taking actions that violate tenets of their faith. The majority of Americans don't agree with the Church of Latter Day Saints' prohibition of alcohol and caffeine. That wouldn't make it okay for the federal government to require to Mormon institutions to purchase such products on behalf of their employees. One need not agree with the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception to see the injustice of the new HHS rule.

David Tenny,Actually, religious liberty is not the only constitutional right that is in play in this instance. I would argue that the Obama Administration is attempting to balance the First Amendment prohibitions against the free exercise of religion and the constitutionally inherent right to privacy and the equal protections of the law embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment.I would argue that the Obama Administration has tried to carve out exemptions for church ministers, who ostensibly are exercising their religious liberty, while protecting the rights of employees [remember, we are mostly talking about women here] of religious institutions, who may or may not share the religious sentiments of a church, and may not be a member of that church, to equal protections of the law as applies to compensation and benefits of their employment contracts.You can't have it both ways. If Catholic institutions are going to accept federal taxpayer money, as Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities do, then they must accept the constitutional protections and guarantees that are afforded to all US citizens. The Catholic Church does not enjoy exemption from intrusion into an individual's right to privacy just because they are a church. That would be unAmerican. That is what the Bill of Rights was all about.Women who are employees at a religiously affiliated hospitals, or who are students at religiously affiliated universities, have a right to the same access to health care as other women at secular institutions. Government, not the church, is the guardian of those rights.Why is this such an issue when most states including New York, California, etc. already have these kind of legal requirements for religiously affiliated institutions - and have been in effect for decades? Could it be that the hierarchs are hell bent on playing politics in this most political of election years? Could it be that the hierarchs see some political gain to sabotaging the single greatest political accomplishment of a progressive president that is not politically beholding to the hierarchs?It is possible that Catholic hierarchs see a political opportunity to shore up their standing with the reactionary hegemony that is now dominant in the Vatican? Is it possible that the hierarchs are grandstanding yet again in a doomed effort to prop up their failed anti-feminine ideology?

BTW, here's a nice plug for David Gibson's Religion News Service from the eminent sociologist of religion, Peter Berger:"The Religious News Service provides daily briefings which are quite useful to obsessive religion-watchers like me." here refers to (as far as I can tell) a non-existent "Religious News Service" but he references two stories featured on the "Religion News Service" for the date he mentions and so must have meant the latter in his recommendation. Like Homer, Berger occasionally nods; still the plug is probably the more welcome for being spontaneous.

I should have used the more permanent URL for the Berger plug:

Coming from Peter Berger, that is flattering indeed (in my view)! His Religious/Religion mistake is not uncommon, and understandable, if unfortunate, since our degree of "religiosity" could certainly be called into question. But Prof. Berger may be recalling a far off day when it was Religious News Service, a kind of church-sponsored ecumenical effort, like a non-denominational CNS. But it went to "Religion News Service" many years ago, and then the Newhouse family bought it and ran it for years. Now we are revamped as a non-profit, technically speaking, which is a novel development for me. But a number of non-profit venture have done good journalism, and it will be interesting to see if this is actually a viable model. Having worked for big corporate media outlets and family-owned media outlets, I'm game to try something new. But that is media inside baseball. Back to our regularly scheduled arguments...

Markoe's headline: After angering Catholics, White House honors teachers".It implies that Catholics in general are angry at the decision. Is that true? (No.)And I don't see the "irony" in honoring Catholic teachers. I think it's lovely that President Obama's administration recognized the contributions of these dedicated people. What about a thread on how little honor Catholic teachers get from their employers? And how little money, how few benefits, how little job security, how little justice. Parochial school teachers are fired without warning or due process. Pastors withhold paychecks with impunity. Etc. Ironic, isn't it?

Mr. Jenkins,The right to privacy is a creation of the Supreme Court; it is found nowhere in the text of the Constitution--it suposedly lurks in the "penumbras" and "emanations" of several of the Bill of Rights.Even assuming it has some constitutional warrant, however, the right of privacy doesn't require one person to pay money to another person. That's what Obama wants Catholic institutions to do, in ways that violate the teachings of the Church. You may think that's wonderful, but I don't. And I'm also glad the bishops aren't going to take this one lying down.

Here's the address for the ReligioN News Service: "Blogs" to get to David G.

Jim Jenkins,You act as if no-one objected to the contraceptive mandates enacted in New York and California and that the Church is only objecting now becuase of politics. It is suprising how short a memory we have on this issue. Catholic charities sued California on this issue and lost back in 2004. Many people wrote about it back then, including Pro. Garnett ( who I was lucky enough to have learned from at ND (in addition to commonweal's Prof. Kaveny). The reason the hierarchy is more vocal now if because the ACA is national in scope, not because Obama is president or because it is an election year. As for your right to privacy and 14th amendment arguments, lets just say those are some serious "emanations and penumbras" you are invoking. How is the Church intruding on someone's right to privacy by refusing to pay for their contraception or abortion? I would think allowing indivuals to purchase contraceptions without having to inform their employers through insurance benefit requests would be more of a safeguard to privacy than forcing the employer to pay for how you choose to conduct your sex life.

It always amazes me that respect for the right of privacy appears to rest on the notion that these rights are one sidedly enjoyed by those who disagree with traditional, conservative familial principles, when the origination of the right to privacy in the modern era arose out of a case involving the teaching of German by a private Catholic school, which the state of Nebraska tried to prohibit during WWI. The case is called Myer v. Nebraska:"While this Court has not attempted to define with exactness the liberty thus guaranteed, the term has received much consideration and some of the included things have been definitely stated. Without doubt, it denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint, but also the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."

Gerelyn --I think that was an odd use of the word "irony" too. But these days I can never figure out what it means. It's used about so many different kinds of situations it's useless.Thorin --I don't see why you think the case at issue is a matter of a right to privacy.

I think the WSJ is right on the use of politics.

Ann,I don't think this case involves the right to privacy. Jim Jenkins does, and I was responding to him.

Ann, thanks for the reference to our website. The design is new, and VERY problematic, in my view. Plus, I haven't posted on the blog in weeks. Posting here is easier. And more fun.

Ah, Card-des Timmy: you are used to playing with the few, the proud and the relgiously haughty. Welcome to the world of big boy politics, secular style. BTW, it's a land that you, as a successor to the apostles, are best removed from.

Jeff, and others reading Garnett, here's the commentary that I just posted to Rick's MOJ piece:Rick, Thanks for your reply. It's always fun to go back and forth with you on this (and I am being sincere!). In the long avalanche of commentary on the various posts that went up at Commonweal (including Grant Gallicho's reiteration of Commonweal's editorial position, which is different from my own, David Gibson's, which seems similar to Grant's, and Lusa Fullam's commentary on David DeCosse's NCR piece, both of which, I think, support my own view), some of us came to some slight agreement on the situation. Grant boiled down the issue to this: The nature of the dispute is the problem raised by the governments decision to force religious institutions to act in a way that violates their moral teaching. We agreed that in the case of, say, Jehovah's Witnesses denying life-saving blood transfusions to non-JW patients or coverage to non-JW employees, the government would have a supervening interest to protect the life/health of its citizens by mandating that JWs either provide these services or get out of a business in which they would be expected to provide them or, perhaps, be fined so that the government could provide them. So, the question seems to be: When does the interest of the State to protect the rights of its citizens supervene on the freedom of religion of those who would conscientiously object to providing the services to which their patrons or employees are entitled?This determination has absolutely nothing to do with the conscientious objection itself or the specific religious reasons for it. In the case of JWs, it is not within the competence of the government to consider JW theology in deciding that a non-JW individual's access to blood transfusions is important enough to supervene on the religious views of a JW doctor or employer. Mutatis mutandis, the Catholic Church's moral teaching on contraception and the consciences of Catholic employers have nothing to do with determining the minimum healthcare provisions that will be included in an employee's right to coverage. The only consideration is whether contraception (or, indeed, any medical service) meets the criteria for inclusion, which includes some combination of weighing health risks versus benefits, the financial burden and relief involved, the impact on long-term health and quality of life, etc. You argue that "we make efforts to specially accommodate religion-based objections," but I'm not sure that this is or should be an expectation placed on a government that explicitly claims to refrain from adjudicating which religion-based objections can and cannot be accommodated, which would involve concluding that some religious-reasons are better or worse, at least in the eyes of the State. In the case under consideration, this would mean that although blood transfusions and contraception have both been deemed "medically necessary" as part of the basic right to healthcare, the government would be deciding that Catholics have better religious reasons than JWs to claim exemption. Now, you can argue that contraception is not "medically necessary" and blood transfusions are, but this is a properly "public" argument that does not require any recourse to religious premises.So, the Bishops are clouding the issue when they claim a right to exemption based on conscience, which in a pluralist democracy is a question of an individual's ability not to be directly and unduly coerced to personally engage in activities that challenge his or her moral convictions, or religious freedom, which protects the direct exercise of religious belief and practice by groups of like-minded individuals. The Obama Administration has already made the necessary provisions by allowing that any group of explicitly confessing like-minded individuals engaged in religiously-informed work with and for co-religionists can choose to have an insurance plan that does not cover the services to which they ALL object, and, of course, any individual can deny any medical service to which he or she personally objects. However, if one is going to serve and employ non-co-religionists, it is in the direct interest of a representative democratic government, which has determined that access to minimum "medically necessary" care is a right, to make sure that all of its citizens have the opportunity to exercise that right, via the mechanisms put in place to enable it. You can object to the right itself, the criteria governing "medical necessity," or the method by which healthcare is being distributed, but none of these objections have anything to do with religion, and they certainly have nothing to do with the Bishops.

Adding to Ann's link to the RNS site, I suggest bookmarking this and having access to more than David G. I particularly enjoy Mark Silk as well.

Eric: your summary above is one of the best I have read yet and I will distribute it to a wide variety of individuals that I know who are on both sides of this debate.Thanks for keeping the faith.

Jimmy, Mark Silk is aces -- the class of the (emerging) operation.

"Its all a bit of a mess. I still cant figure out how the so-called 'Hawaii option' is supposed to work, except that all Catholic hospitals, universities, social service agencies and the rest are supposed to move to Hawaii. That could be nice."Because I'm the one who pointed to Hawaii law in October 2011, I'll explain what I had in mind. did not suggest that Hawaii law would or could trump federal regulations. Presumably, the Supremacy Clause would bar that kind of thing. Instead, I suggested that the federal government seek to honor both the free exercise interests of all religious employers and the interests of employees of objecting religious institutions that would like to get these benefits. How? First, broaden the exemption to permit all objecting religious organizations to refuse to provide these benefits. Second, ensure that employees of objecting religious organizations could gain coverage for contraceptives on favorable terms. I pointed to a provision of Hawaii law that ensures that employees of objecting organizations can get these benefits directly from the insurer at a cost not higher than the enrollees pro-rata share of the price the employer would have paid had it not objected. That's one way to accomplish the second goal, but there could be others as well. Thus, I was pointing to some ideas from state law as examples of ways that the federal government might accommodate both sides interests in a revised federal regulation.

It should be noted, again, that Eric Bugyis' argument would support requiring Catholic employers to pay for employees' abortions, as he has admitted. And comment number 5 to the Mirror of Justice post referred to by Jeff Landry above cogently argues that that is precisely what the Obama Administration eventually intends to require:

I don't see how this sets the stage for coverage of abortion when the ACA specifically bars taxpayer funding for abortion. Obama would have to undo his own law, and would certainly incur the wrath of Congress if he tried to do so. The votes just aren't there. Hyde gets passed every year as a matter of course.

Dolan et al want the Affordable Health Care Act to impose 'Humanae Vitae' on employees of religious organizations, even though it has been rejected by the vast majority of Catholics.

Jamie Manson's column at NCR seems helpful and correct and I'm digging out McGreevy's "Catholicism and American Freedom" again...

Here is a stupid question. Don't 28 states already mandate this? How have religious organizations handled this? Is there a dirty little secret that maybe some/many Catholic organizations have already been providing these benefits?

Anthony - you are correct. And this will increase with 2014 and PPACA.

Mr. Thorin, to put it briefly:- The Constitution contains no reference to any "right to privacy"- However, over more than 100 years, courts have found a fundamental (but somewhat vague) right to privacy implicit in the Constitution- Many "right to privacy" cases deal with sex, sexuality, or abortion, and are thus quite controversialWhile you may not agree with Supreme Court precedence and interpretation of the US Constitution on the right to privacy, your beef is with the US Supreme Court, not my argument.And in any case, equal protection under the law IS written right there in the Fourteenth Amendment. The 14th Amendment is a protection that must be extended to ALL women and men. You dont get to pick and choose.Im not suggesting this, but if Catholic institutions think providing full health care services to their employees (not their ministers) violate their religious principles, then they dont have to take federal and state tax money which supports many, if not most, of their programs and services.

A thought experiment - - Suppose a Palin administration determines that each college-level course (sciences excluded) should impart a minimum number of patriotic lessons in each semester. A panel of experts has determined that in a polarized society there is a pressing need for common beliefs to bring us together. In order to prevent anarchy all colleges and universities receiving federal funds of any sort will be required to present inspiring patriotic themes in their classrooms, stressing the importance of the common good and the need to respect legitimate authority. Without such an initiative students will find it simply too difficult to locate the proper patriotic materials on their own.The program is in no way coercive since institutions remain entirely free to reject federal funding. Of course they also will pay pay a non-coercive fine as a simple deterrent ensuring that the freedom of students is acknowledged in practical ways. Some professors will object on the basis of spurious conscience claims but the rights of students to receive a patriotic education are paramount. And no one is forcing professors to choose such a profession. They are entirely free to become street-corner orators.Colleges and universities have been granted a more than generous 12 months leeway so that they may adjust to this long-delayed educational revolution. Look forward to many more such exciting initiatives as we look for ways to create a more homogeneous citizenry free of obnoxious institutions.

@ MikeDMaybe you should have taken a few classes in constitutional law over at Biolchini Hall when you were at ND.There are over 100 years of Supreme Court precedence regarding the right to privacy. [See my post above.] And then, the Fourteenth Amendment is pretty explicit in its mandate that all laws must be equally applied to all citizens [no "emanations and penumbras" here - it's written in plain English].There are actually 28 states, not just New York and California, that mandate similar coverage for reproductive healthcare as does the Affordable HealthCare Act. I cite these because they illustrate what may be feeding the present political motivations of the hierarchy.Why are we hearing these objections from the hierarchs only now when this has been the practice in a majority of states over decades? Are the hierarchs trying to get the federal government to enforce their rejected and bizarre ideology about sexuality among Catholics and employees at Catholic institutions where they have failed so miserably?Could it be that politically the hierarchs are trying to muscle the president in an election year? If so, I think they just found out that Barack Obama knows how to push back. Others writing here on this blog have offered the "Hawaii solution" where especially the hierarchs could get what they need to save face. After all, the president is from Hawaii.

Thanks for the shout out, Jimmy. Glad you found it helpful.

WaPo and the WSJ have both come down on the side of the bishops. You can read the editorials by accessing them through this America article::

The Tablet, the English Catholic newspaper, is also supporting the bishops position.

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