The Conscience Mandate and the Battle Within the Catholic Church

The Conscience Mandate and the Battle Within the Catholic Church

The archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is also the head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), sent a letter two weeks ago to all Catholic bishops in the nation which asserts that the Catholic Church will not subjugate itself to the mandates of President Obama and his administration. The cardinal refers to the ObamaCare mandate which requires all religious-affiliated organizations and institutions, including hospitals, charities, and schools, to provide free contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees.

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

In his letter, Cardinal Dolan addressed members of the Catholic left, such as America magazine, who have encouraged yielding to the White House, and abandoning the affront to religious liberty as provided for in the Constitution. An editorial in a recent edition of the Jesuit-affiliated magazine openly tells the Catholic bishops that Americans like their clergy in the background, not stirring up trouble, as they are now. This somewhat humorously calls to mind the false image the left paints of conservatives toward women: that they want women barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen where they belong. Apparently, this is how the Catholic left likes its bishops:

The bishops have been most effective in influencing public policy when they have acted as pastors, trying to build consensus in church and society, as they did in their pastorals on nuclear war and the economy. The American public is uncomfortable with an overt exercise of political muscle by the hierarchy. Catholics, too, have proved more responsive to pastoral approaches. They expect church leaders to appeal to Gospel values, conscience and right reason. They hope bishops will accept honorable accommodations and, even when provoked, not stir up hostility. In the continuing dialogue with government, a conciliatory style that keeps Catholics united and cools the national distemper would benefit the whole church.

In his letter, Cardinal Dolan reminded his fellow bishops that, during a meeting with the White House, the bishops were advised to “listen to the ‘enlightened’ voices of accommodation, such as the recent, hardly surprising, yet terribly unfortunate, editorial in America.”

Responding to the Catholic left’s realignment with the Obama administration on the HHS mandate, the cardinal asserted, “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.”

Placing the current struggle in the context of the Church’s long history of dealing with threats to religious liberty, Cardinal Dolan wrote:

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.

It is clear that Cardinal Dolan is embracing his role as an “American Catholic Bishop,” who recognizes the fact that he can be the Catholic leader that he is in this country because of the Constitution and its framers, who valued religious liberty above all else. It is also clear that, whether the threat to religious liberty comes from outside the nation or within, outside his own church or within, he is not afraid to confront it.