Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the highest ranking Roman Catholic official in United States, has said that the church faces the dangerous prospect of having to end its services to the poor over the Health and Human Services mandate requiring employers to cover contraception, sterilization and some abortifacient drugs in their health insurance policies.
"If these mandates click in, we're going to find ourselves faced with a terribly difficult decision as to whether or not we can continue to operate. As part of our religion, it's part of our faith that we feed the hungry, that we educate the kids, that we take care of the sick. We'd have to give it up because we're unable to fit the description and the definition of a church given by, guess who? The federal government," Dolan said in a video aired Tuesday by MSNBC on Martin Bashir's program.
Bashir then turned to a panel of commentators asking them to explain how Cardinal Dolan's comments could be justified. The MSNBC host wondered if a compromise could be reached between the Catholic Church wishing to adhere to its beliefs by not allowing artificial birth control methods, while at the same time respecting women's rights to have access to such drugs.
"Clearly they're not interested in compromise," offered Jonathan Capehart, an MSNBC contributor. "They're interested in maintaining and safeguarding what they view as their beliefs, their teachings, and, you know, for a group of people who constantly, you know, talk about religious freedom, it's always their freedom to practice their religion as they see it, and anyone else who wants to practice their beliefs and their religion, well, sorry, you're out of luck. If you don't fit in our box, you know, we don't care."
The discussion on Dolan's remarks comes only a day after 43 Catholic agencies filed lawsuits in 12 separate federal courts on Monday, May 21.
"We have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with the Congress – and we'll keep at it – but there's still no fix," Dolan, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed in a statement on the issue. "Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now."
"It is also a compelling display of the unity of the Church in defense of religious liberty. It's also a great show of the diversity of the Church's ministries that serve the common good and that are jeopardized by the mandate – ministries to the poor, the sick, and the uneducated, to people of any faith or no faith at all," the Cardinal added in the statement, again hinting that services to the poor might be in jeopardy if the HHS mandate is not repealed.
Cardinal Dolan also said that it is possible the Obama administration does not fully understand the consequences and the conflict the issue has created between Catholic institutions and the federal law.
"I worry that members of [Obama's] administration might not particularly understand our horror at the restricted nature of the exemption that they're giving us, that for the first time we can remember, a bureau of the federal government seems to be radically intruding on what the term of a church is," Dolan explained.