Birth control, the President and Cardinal Dolan

Every Saturday the Wall Street Journal runs a piece called The Weekend Interview.  Last Saturday, the interviewee was Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops. You can read the entire piece here.

To set the scene, last November, the President invited now Cardinal Dolan to the White House to discuss the concept of the federal government deciding that all “qualified” insurance policies must provide free birth control.  The Catholic Church, of course, would be exempt from this requirement, but what about Catholic schools, hospitals, etc.  I note parenthetically that most, if not all insurance policies issued by Catholic organizations do cover contraceptives if they are needed to treat a medical condition.  So the question is solely birth control.

According to Cardinal Dolan, at the end of the 45 minute meeting,

‘I said, ‘I’ve heard you say, first of all, that you have immense regard for the work of the Catholic Church in the United States in health care, education and charity. . . . I have heard you say that you are not going to let the administration do anything to impede that work and . . . that you take the protection of the rights of conscience with the utmost seriousness. . . . Does that accurately sum up our conversation?’ [Mr. Obama] said, ‘You bet it does.'”

The archbishop asked for permission to relay the message to the other bishops.'”You don’t have my permission, you’ve got my request,’ the president replied.

Clearly, Cardinal Dolan left the White House with the idea that no Catholic institution would be required to provide free birth control.

‘So you can imagine the chagrin,’ Archbishop Dolan continues, when he called me at the end of January to say that the mandates remain in place and that there would be no substantive change, and that the only thing that he could offer me was that we would have until August. . . . I said, ‘Mr. President, I appreciate the call. Are you saying now that we have until August to introduce to you continual concerns that might trigger a substantive mitigation in these mandates?’  He said, ‘No, the mandates remain. We’re more or less giving you this time to find out how you’re going to be able to comply.’

To which the Cardinal said,

 ‘Well, sir, we don’t need the [extra time]. I can tell you now we’re unable to comply.’

Later on in the interview, Cardinal Dolan said,

We find it completely unswallowable, both as Catholics and mostly as Americans, that a bureau of the American government would take it upon itself to define ‘ministry…’

The irony, here, is that less than two weeks before the administration’s January decision, the United States Supreme Court issued its unanamous opinion in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC.  A quote from the concurring opinion of Justices Alito and Kagan is worth mentioning.

What matters in the present case is that Hosanna-Tabor believes that the religious functions that [Ms. Perish] performed made it essential she abide by the church’s doctrine of internal dispute resolution [i.e., no lawsuits when it comes to matters of the church]; and the civil courts are in no position to second guess that assessment.  This conclusion rests not on [Ms.Perish’s] ordination status or on her formal title, but rather on her functional status as the type of employee that a church must be free to appoint or dismiss in order to exercise the religious liberty that the First Amendment guarantees. [emphasis supplied] (See page 39)

If the federal government can’t tell the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church what it must do, does anyone think the administration can tell any other faith what it must do?

Apparently, our President does.


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The Sound Off Sister was an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and special trial attorney for the Department of Justice, Criminal Division; a partner in the Florida law firm of Shutts & Bowen, and an adjunct professor at the University of Miami, School of Law. The Sound Off Sister offers frequent commentary concerning legislation making its way through Congress, including the health reform legislation passed in early 2010.


  1. dairyair on April 2, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    Cardinal Dolan learned that all Obama promises come with an expiration date. Oh, wait, he did promise to ruin the coal industry, and he seems to be making real progress there.

    • Dimsdale on April 3, 2012 at 11:35 am

      I don’t think this promise even “got off the shelf”.

  2. Lynn on April 4, 2012 at 7:54 am

    I think President Obama should take another look at the Oath of Office that he took at his Inauguration.

    • Dimsdale on April 4, 2012 at 11:09 am

      That would presume that he cared about it…


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