Twice [President Obama] has invited me to the Oval Office, not because of who I am as Timothy Dolan, but the first time because I was the new archbishop of New York and, just at the beginning of November, because I am now president of the [US] bishop’s conference. And he started off both of those meetings by saying, “You need to hear me say I have the highest regard for the work of the faith-based communities, particularly the Catholic Church in the United States.” In November, he said to me, “I have high regard for your work in education, healthcare, and charity. Number two, I don’t want my administration to impede that work in any way whatsoever. And number three, I consider the protection of conscience and religious liberty as one of my highest duties.”
Now when he called me on January 20th to tell me that he was not going to mitigate these strangling restrictions from HHS (Health and Human Services), I said, “Sir, can I remind you of our — of what you told me in the Oval Office — didn’t you?” And he said, “Yes, I did.” And I said, “Can you tell me how what you’ve just told me gels with those three assurances you gave me? This is not… something’s gotta give here.”
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I was asked this morning on a news program: “The White House seems to be hinting at a compromise. Are you open to a compromise?” I said, “I’m not open to a compromise. This is a huge mistake. You don’t compromise with a mistake. There’s no 50-yard line here, and you don’t compromise on principles.
I’m certainly open to an invitation towards a conciliatory approach where we would start afresh and where the President would say, “I want to make this work; how can we do it?” And I said, Father Benedict, “Darn it. He’s already got a graceful exit here.”
In the mandates themselves — which we find terribly choking and restrictive and I think are basically unconstitutional — in those mandates, guess what? The mandates themselves allow for a religious exemption. So they’ve already said, “We will grant a religious exemption.” Our problem is the exemption is so restrictive that nobody can meet up to it. You know what they’ve said? “We’ll exempt you from what we consider these immoral policies if you only hire Catholics, you only serve Catholics, and one of your major purposes is to convert people to the Catholic faith… not just Catholic, but any religion.”
We’re saying, “Wait a minute. We don’t serve people, teach people, feed people , heal people because they’re Catholic; we do it because we are. Alright? We don’t ask for baptismal certificates at the soup line down at St. Francis. Your friars don’t ask, do they?”
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…They’ve already admitted that a religious exemption is called for. It’s just so strict that who can obey it? Sister Carol Keehan herself — as you know, she’s terribly disappointed because she had been cooperative with the President earlier on the healthcare stuff — she said, “Maybe a Catholic housekeeper would fit into this.” This might apply to housekeepers in a Catholic parish. Other than that nobody’s going to comply. And Father Larry Snyder, the president of Catholic Charities USA said, “Even Jesus wouldn’t meet those requirements.” He didn’t ask for religious identification when he fed the 5,000.
But my point, Father, is that if he’s looking for a… graceful exit, he’s already admitted that an exemption is called for. Just give it latitude. And the federal government shouldn’t try to define the exemption. The federal government should simply say, “We would respect the right of religions to absent themselves from these requirements because they find them unconscionable.” Doesn’t that make sense to you?
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When the President — on January 20th, when he was kind enough to call me with the disturbing news that he’s going to leave these mandates in — he says, “But Archbishop, don’t worry. We’re going to give you a year to decide how you can obey these.” And I said, “Sir, wait a minute. Be precise now. What’s the nature of this year before these mandates take effect? Does that mean we as a church can approach you for exemptions?” Now, I’d have trouble with that, because it’s not like… I mean, what have we come to: some grand government now that we have to go to them for permission to practice our faith? We’ve been through that, alright, in history, and that doesn’t work. That’s why this country was founded, to avoid that kind of stuff. I thought, “Does he mean that?” I said, “But sir, you’re saying that we’ve got a year now where there might be some opening to a wider exemption?” He said, “Oh, no no no. The mandates are going to go into effect; you’ve just got a year to figure out how you can abide by them. ” I said, “Sir, you’re telling me you’re giving me a year to figure out how to violate my conscience. Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t need a year; I need 10 seconds. We can’t do it.”
Now if this happens, and we disobey, there are fines. Father Larry Snyder of Catholic Charities USA has said that as far as he can figure out, if Catholics Charities said “We can’t obey this. We can’t supply this type of insurance to our employees and our people, that we feel would violate our conscience,” the fines for Catholic Charities alone would be $140 million dollars a year. Money that could go you know where.
Arcbishop Dolan’s account of how the President described the purpose of the one year delay doesn’t really square with how President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius described it on February 10.
The full interview between Archbishop Dolan and Father Groeschel is worth a listen.