Archbishop and the President

Timothy Dolan’s account of what happened between him and the President … well, you can read it all at, but here is the opening:

The president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops is careful to show due respect for the president of the United States. “I was deeply honored that he would call me and discuss these things with me,” says the newly elevated Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. But when Archbishop Dolan tells me his account of their discussions of the ObamaCare birth-control mandate, Barack Obama sounds imperious and deceitful to me.

Mr. Obama knew that the mandate would pose difficulties for the Catholic Church, so he invited Archbishop Dolan to the Oval Office last November, shortly before the bishops’ General Assembly in Baltimore. At the end of their 45-minute discussion, the archbishop summed up what he understood as the president’s message:

“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.

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


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  • Ancius

    I’ve been unable to find a way of understanding Archbishop Dolan’s behavior as reasonable; I expect that many Catholics are in the same boat.

  • David Himes

    Ancius … does that mean you find President Obama’s behavior reasonable?

    At the very least, Archbishop Dolan is consistent. Which is something that cannot be said of President Obama. Unless you say he is consistently unsympathetic to anyone who does not agree with him.

  • Ancius

    David H., Consistency can actually be a bad thing (as in your hypothetical example). Dolan objects to the HHS policy in terms of “religious freedom,” but it’s surprisingly difficult to specify what the conflict with religious freedom is actually supposed to be. I don’t think His Eminence has come anywhere close to identifying a sharp conflict on which to base a principled objection.

  • Richard

    @ 2

    If being sympathetic with someone means conceding to their way, I would contend that we are all consistently unsympathetic to anyone who does not agree with us.

    I’m not sure I see an inconsistency with the President’s stance in November vs January. If anything we saw him find an alternative that has been acceptable to many Catholic leaders in having the insurance providers pay it themselves, the Bishops being a vocal exception to that compromise position.

  • Mark Brown

    Unreasonable? Archbishop Dolan reiterates what he heard which are completely reasonable expectations. So reasonable in fact that the president says please share that summary. He is reasonable in that he gives everyone the time and place to double-check him – did AB Dolan at the general assembly say roughly what he’s summarized here? When confronted in January with a government command to get in line that is 180 degrees the opposite of expectation, he gives the president the benefit of the doubt – “we can change this, right?” Only after being surprised and told no changes possible, does AB Dolan get more direct – we don’t need you’re 6 months as 60 years wouldn’t be enough to comply.

    The unreasonable party isn’t AB Dolan.

  • It will be interesting to track the comments concerning this post Scot…I imagine that those who are not from an ecclesiastical world will side with the Prez because they don’t completely “get it”…that’s not meant to be demeaning as much as it is not being able to see how the Government is intruding further and further into the freedoms specified for religious organizations to embrace. Mr. Obama is completely consistent with HIS agenda…the Arch Bishop is defending what he assumed would never be tampered with…the “church’s” right to make calls on its own about what it believes and how it lives out those beliefs. If anything, I think the AB made assumptions about believing any politician’s word about anything. That isn’t cynicism…it simply is reality.

  • Jon Altman

    Well, we certainly know that the head of an organization that tolerated and covered up the rape of children for decades on end and now leads an effort to harass the victims should ALWAYS be given the benefit of the doubt about “moral” matters.

  • Chuck Murphy

    Too much of this comes back to Archbishop Dolan’s inner state. Can’t he deal with a give and take, a back and forth? He’s used to taking orders from the pope and then barking to his minions. I’d like the details of private meeting with +Timothy to be revealed in the public press because someone’s feelings were hurt. Grow up, Junior!

  • Diane

    This seems a classic case of the same words meaning two different things to two different people. The cardinal spoke in vague, general terms–Obama agreed. Who wouldn’t–having “immense regard” for charity work and supporting protecting rights of conscience is as easy as advocating for Mom and apple pie. The devil is in the details–and apparently Obama and the archbishop were thinking differently about these topics. I certainly would not have understood the cardinal to be talking about birth control, and if I had, I would have understood “protecting the rights of conscience” to have meant allowing the woman the dignity of making her own decision about an intimate area of her life. Perhaps if the cardinal had said specifically what he meant, he and Obama could have had a meaningful discussion of their differences.

  • Scot, thanks for this. I had missed it. Been away from your blog for a spell doing some writing of my own, but glad to be back. Easter blessings to you and yours.

  • Amos Paul

    The ‘President’ here does not respect the Constitution of this land, let alone the people in it. End of story.