I’ve been away from the blog for a bit.  The letter I’m providing here is from six days ago, but it’s still worthy of noting for the below reasons.

I provided an introductory blog on why the Catholic Church has been, is now and should be taken seriously as a georeligious/geopolitical force [ Georeligious Power: A Paris Revolution. A Polish Revolution. An American Revolution? ].  Then, I posted this follow-up article [ The President Caves to Georeligious Powers on Obamacare ].  Consider this present blog the third in a series, the three of which cover the four recent moves on the tournament chessboard that America has become for the “seasoned” Catholic Church and the “rather brazen” newcomer, the Obama administration.

I encourage all to read this, regardless of interest or disinterest in the issues of religious freedom, freedom in general, religion in general, healthcare, sexual freedom, sex in general, privacy, civil disobedience or whether government should act as protector or director of freedoms.  Why?  Simply because it’s invasive to all (non-American citizens as well) at some level.  In other words, if it’s not in your face already, it will be.

At the very least, it adds to the correction of any misconception that the Catholic Church has no influence in today’s world.  It does, and even when not understood on a common-citizen level, it’s understood almost unanimously on national and international levels.  The Church has been, is and will continue to be a major player on our world’s “chessboard.”  And, they’re not going away.  President Obama may be jousting with them at the moment, but he knows it as well.

If you’re a person of any conviction, ranging from no conviction at all (a conviction in itself) to a monk in a monastery, this present match concerns your life at a much higher level.  Are you a person who wants to be left alone without anyone telling you what you can or can’t do with your life (outside of crimes against property, person, government, etc.)?  Or, are you a person who is fine with ceding some, many or all of your freedoms to the government as a director and even enforcer of freedoms custom-fitted for all citizens by a majority vote of citizens?

In a constitutional republic, which is still what we live in within America, the government protects all freedoms without creating / directing / enforcing them upon a minority.  When you’re an equal people, there can be no minority.  It’s only within a democracy, where majority rules over the lives of a minority, that you will find our inherent equality-by-nature of whites, Blacks, women, men, religious, atheist or otherwise trumped by a custom-fitted nature for all.

In this specific match between the Church and President Obama, the president is not acting as an equal-by-nature protector of a constitutional republic where religious freedoms (including those of no convictions) are defended equally.  He’s not even acting as a protector of sexual freedoms when trying to establish one policy that applies to all, regardless of one’s beliefs, religious or otherwise.  He is acting from out of a form of social democracy where he very clearly seeks to direct “the many” of all citizens along “the one” same path — ultimately, with no variance allowed.

Whether you’re in the majority or minority (where you’ll least like it), you’ll be affected.  If you think you’ll wind up in the majority for every issue close to your heart, think again. 

This is a letter from the recently promoted Timothy Cardinal Dolan, formerly Archbishop of New York, to all of the bishops of the Catholic Church, dated March 2, 2012.  I’ve given the link at the bottom for a copy of the entire letter, with his signature included.  For this blog, I’ve condensed the letter to its most directly stated points, and I’ve highlighted in bold the “boldest” of bold statements from the new Cardinal.  Then, I’ve underlined the words and statements, in my view, to taken most seriously.  If nothing else, please view the highlights.

As a side note, if there’s one thing, for me, that has led to the present and growing disconnect between parish-level Catholics and the Church heirarchy, it’s that the Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals (who do most of the letter-writing and “attempted” communicating that finds its way to the street-level parishioners) have no sense whatsoever (meaning, none) of “street language,” so to speak.  They tend to talk and write like they’re still in the first century Church of Peter or Paul. 

I’ve purposely excised as much as possible of that in my below condensation simply because I believe that communication is a bridge between one and another (including those at a street level like me).  I truly want an inclusive “all” to understand the Cardinal’s argument.  Take a peek at the original document, and you’ll see what I’m getting at.  In all fairness, though, the Cardinal addressed the letter to fellow Cardinals, but I still say they need to talk “to” the people instead of “down to” them to encourage a much needed healing of the widening disconnect.  –SB

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)  March 2, 2012:

I have written you to express my gratitude for our unity in faith and action as we move forward to protect our religious freedom from unprecedented intrusion from a government bureau, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

. . . we as a body have had opportunities during our past plenary assemblies to manifest our strong unity in defense of religious freedom.

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

Benedict XVI . . . “Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.”

Bishop Stephen Blaire and Bishop William Lori, with so many others, have admirably kept us focused on this one priority of protecting religious freedom.  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.  We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it.

. . . 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. . . . 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. . . . we were doing those extensive and noble works rather well without these radical new constrictive and forbidding mandates.

Our Church has a long tradition of effective partnership with government and the wider community in the service of the sick, our children, our elders, and the poor at home and abroad, and we sure hope to continue it.

. . . this is not a “Catholic” fight alone. . . . to quote . . . a nurse who emailed me, “I’m not so much mad about all this as a Catholic, but as an American.” . . . Governor Mike Huckabee, observed, “In this matter, we’re all Catholics.”

. . . We are grateful to know so many of our fellow Americans . . . stand together in this important moment in our country.  They know that this is not just about sterilization, abortifacients, and chemical contraception.  It’s about religious freedom, the sacred right of any Church to define its own teaching and ministry.

When the President announced on January 20th that the choking mandates from HHS would remain, not only we bishops and our Catholic faithful, but people of every faith, or none at all, rallied in protest.  The worry that we had expressed — that such government control was contrary to our deepest political values — was eloquently articulated by constitutional scholars and leaders of every creed.

On February 10th, the President announced that the insurance providers would have to pay the bill, instead of the Church’s schools, hospitals, clinics, or vast network of charitable outreach having to do so.  He considered this “concession” adequate.  Did this help? . . . while withholding final judgment, we would certainly give the President’s proposal close scrutiny. . . . we did — and as you know, we are as worried as ever.

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.

Two, since a big part of our ministries are “self-insured,” we still ask how this protects us.   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?  We can’t abandon the hard working person of faith who has a right to religious freedom.

And three, 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.  In many ways, the announcement of February 10 solved little and complicated a lot.  We now have more questions than answers, more confusion than clarity.

What to do now?

For one . . . we will continue our strong efforts of advocacy and education.  In the coming weeks the Conference will continue to provide you, among other things, with catechetical resources on the significance of religious freedom to the Church and the Church’s teaching on it from a doctrinal and moral perspective.  We are developing liturgical aids to encourage prayer in our efforts and plans on how we can continue to voice our public and strong opposition to this infringement on our freedom.  And the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, that has served the Conference so well in its short lifespan, will continue its extraordinary work in service to this important cause.

Two, we will ardently continue to seek a rescinding of the suffocating mandates that require us to violate our moral convictions, or at least insist upon a much wider latitude to the exemptions so that churches can be free of the new, rigidly narrow definition of church, minister and ministry that would prevent us from helping those in need, educating children and healing the sick, no matter their religion.

In this regard, the President invited us to “work out the wrinkles.”  We have accepted that invitation.  Unfortunately, this seems to be stalled:  the White House Press Secretary, for instance, informed the nation that the mandates are a fait accompli (and, embarrassingly for him, commented that we bishops have always opposed Health Care anyway, a charge that is scurrilous and insulting, not to mention flat out wrong. . . .)

The White House already notified Congress that the dreaded mandates are now published in the Federal Registry “without change.”  The Secretary of HHS is widely quoted as saying, “Religious insurance companies don’t really design the plans they sell based on their own religious tenets.”  That doesn’t bode well for their getting a truly acceptable “accommodation.”

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.  They were informed that they are.  So much for “working out the wrinkles.”

Instead, they advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the “enlightened” voices of accommodation, such as the recent, hardly surprising yet terribly unfortunate editorial in America [prominent Jesuit publication].  The White House seems to think we bishops simply do not know or understand Catholic teaching and so, taking a cue from its own definition of religious freedom, now has nominated its own handpicked official Catholic teachers.

We will continue to accept invitations to meet with and to voice our concerns to anyone of any party, for this is hardly partisan, who is willing to correct the infringements on religious freedom that we are now under.  But as we do so, we cannot rely on off the record promises of fixes without deadlines and without assurances of proposals that will concretely address the concerns in a manner that does not conflict with our principles and teaching.

Congress might provide more hope, since thoughtful elected officials have proposed legislation to protect what should be so obvious:  religious freedom.  Meanwhile, in our recent debate in the senate, our opponents sought to obscure what is really a religious freedom issue by maintaining that abortion inducing drugs and the like are a “woman’s health issue.”  We will not let this deception stand.

Our commitment to seeking legislative remedies remains strong.  And it is about remedies to the assault on religious freedom.  Period.

(By the way, the Church hardly needs to be lectured about health care for women.  Thanks mostly to our Sisters, the Church is the largest private provider of health care for women and their babies in the country.)

Bishop William Lori, Chairman of our Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, stated it well in a recent press release:  “We will build on this base of support as we pursue legislation in the House of Representatives, urge the Administration to change its course on this issue, and explore our legal rights under the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

In the recent Hosanna-Tabor ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously defended the right of a Church to define its own ministry and services, a dramatic rebuff to the administration, apparently unheeded by the White House.  Thus, our bishops’ conference, many individual religious entities, and other people of good will are working with some top-notch law firms who feel so strongly about this that they will represent us pro-bono.  In the upcoming days, you will hear much more about this encouraging and welcome development.

Given this climate, we have to prepare for tough times.  Some, like America magazine, want us to cave-in and stop fighting, saying this is simply a policy issue; some want us to close everything down rather than comply (In an excellent article, Cardinal Francis George wrote that the administration apparently wants us to “give up for Lent” our schools, hospitals, and charitable ministries); some, like Bishop Robert Lynch wisely noted, wonder whether we might have to engage in civil disobedience and risk steep fines; some worry that we’ll have to face a decision between two ethically repugnant choices:  subsidizing immoral services or no longer offering insurance coverage, a road none of us wants to travel.

. . . we know so very well that religious freedom is our heritage, our legacy and our firm belief, both as loyal Catholics and Americans.  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.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan

Archbishop of New York

President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)