Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Forced to Provide Contraceptive Coverage, Sins Not

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Forced to Provide Contraceptive Coverage, Sins Not May 29, 2013

Negligence.  Ignorance.  Inertia.

These are some of the reasons why Catholic dioceses might offer employees’ health insurance plans which include coverage for contraception which violates Church teaching, according to Dr. Janet Smith.

Dr. Smith, who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, was Al Kresta’s guest on “Kresta in the Afternoon” May 28.  She was responding to a New York Times article which reported that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, is providing contraception coverage to his own employees, while campaigning against such coverage on the national level.

Dr. Janet Smith

Is the Archdiocese of New York, as the article implies, being disingenuous or less than transparent by providing contraceptive coverage while opposing the HHS Mandate?  No, explained Smith.

  • For one thing, state law in New York mandated that employers provide the coverage; and many U.S. bishops have assumed control of dioceses in which longstanding insurance policies include birth control and abortion coverage.
  • Secondly, some in the Church during the years following the Second Vatican Council may have expected that canon law on the subject of contraception would eventually change; and insurance policies which anticipated that change by offering contraceptive care may not have raised concern at the time.
  • A third explanation which Smith cited is that Cardinal Dolan’s and the USCCB’s resistance to the HHS Mandate has caused some to review their existing health care policies.  As a result, many Catholic dioceses may only recently have “discovered” that the standard group insurance package which they purchased for their employees includes coverage for contraceptive services.
  • And Cardinal Dolan may simply be directing his energies where he feels they can have the most impact.  As head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Dolan has decided to fight the HHS Mandate on the national level.  If he wins at that level, it will be easier to win at the state level, not only in New York but around the country.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan

In the Archdiocese of New York, the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor did, in fact, resist the state’s requirement that all employers provide insurance which included contraceptive services.  After efforts in the early ‘90s to eliminate birth control coverage from the archdiocese’s medical plan, he eventually decided that there was no other option, if the Catholic Church was to continue to provide health care to its union-affiliated employees in the city of New York.

Not all the staff employed by the Archdiocese of New York currently have contraceptive coverage.  However, workers in the Catholic Health Care System, also known as ArchCare, do receive coverage for contraception and abortions because they are members of SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, a healthcare workers’ union.   ArchCare belongs to the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes; that organization negotiates a joint labor contract with the union.

Of the 3,000 unionized full-time workers in ArchCare, it is not known how many have chosen to avail themselves of the contraception benefit.

One last question raised by Al Kresta concerned the issue of intrinsic evil.  Is the Church cooperating with evil if it affiliates with hospitals whose health care plan for unionized employees includes contraceptive coverage?

Dr. Smith laughed, noting that God gave us everything we have, even while knowing that some humans would do some terrible things:  God provided Adam and Eve with the tree and the apple, and He gave them the possibility of eating the apple from the tree.  God was not, however, complicit in their sin.  Similarly, if a thief puts a gun to your head and demands that you drive him to the airport, you are under duress and are not guilty of material cooperation for driving him.  Likewise the Catholic Church, if required to include birth control and abortion in their insurance coverage, is not culpable if the insured then utilizes that coverage.

*     *     *     *     *

This article appears concurrently on the Kresta in the Afternoon blog.  Check it out here.


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  • michigancatholic

    So, if you’ve presided over the sins of a predecessor and done nothing, you don’t have to fix anything, because guilty automatically turns innocent if you inherit it and you can’t bear to break it up, right? Grandfathered stuff doesn’t count. I don’t think I agree with this. In fact, I know I don’t.

    Shut it all down. Do the honest thing.

    • kathyschiffer

      Shut it down? Isn’t it part of the mission of the Church to feed the poor and comfort the sick? The Catholic Church has, since the time of the apostles, reached out to help those in need. And what, we should throw up our hands, give up, and give that singularly important ministry away to the Obama Administration? I respectfully disagree.

      • michigancatholic

        No. That’s a consequence of the mission. The mission of the Church is given very clearly in scripture at Matthew 28:

        “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

        This is the mission given to the apostles by Christ, and when our pet projects get in the way of the mission, the projects have to go. That’s what it means to be disciples.

      • michigancatholic

        When did the mission of the Church become social work?

      • AquinasMan

        Christ paid the infinite price for just one of those children destroyed by abortifacient. The Church risks compromising her ENTIRE mission with this kind of thing. We are “set apart”; and society, in some small way, still agrees to that. Part of that being “set apart” is the obligation to stand up for Truth, no matter the cost. Martyrs went to their death in lieu of offering up “a pinch of incense” to the emperor.

      • Maggie Goff

        Is the alternative then for the Church to pay for coverage of abortions, sterilizations, and birth control? Bishop Olmsted, God bless him, took away the Catholic status of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix because of this being done there. He has not restored it.

      • Madzi

        What is your alternative to shutting these institutions down, heavenly1? Continue to participate in intrinsic evil?
        One is either a Catholic full time or one is not. And our Holy Father has already admonished us that one cannot be a part-time Catholic. It’s all or nothing. Period.
        Cardinal Dolan: do the right thing. We will support you. We WILL.

  • Maggie Goff

    It seems that there are differing opinions on this. I am confused and dismayed, to tell the truth. It seems rather hypocritical to me to provide the coverage. Dr. Smith laughed? I stood in 110 degree heat for over an hour and a half for something that doesn’t matter? I stand for many hours longer in heat and rain and cold, when I’m on a Patriot Guard Mission, but I know for sure that *that* matters, most especially to the families. I’m pretty disillusioned, to tell you the truth.

    • askingquestions

      I also do not find this a laughing matter, but it hasn’t been a laughing matter for decades. And it didn’t just start to be a problem when we got caught. We’ve been doing this for ages.

      All these institutions were founded when the Church had religious who would work for nearly nothing and now, if we want to keep up this front–and the USCCB desperately does–we have to do things like this. We do not have the staff to fill these institutions as a religious group otherwise. These institutions have also been kept carefully separated from our parish structure, because they are supposed to project an image, an image which has been faltering at the parish level for about 2 decades and that is accelerating now. It’s easier to put on a show than fix the problems, though.

      I feel a cave-in coming on. I honestly think that’s what’s going to happen and this highly placed opinion cited here only confirms that impression that I have.

      The only problem the powers-that-be are going to have is explaining this to the people in RCIA classes and Catholics on the Internet. Most people in the parishes want the focus on birth control to go away anyway because they’d rather not discuss it, so they’ll be a pushover if this happens. No problem for them.

      The alternative to caving in is to hit Catholics where they really live, which is not ethics or discipleship but the Catholic schools and other institutions like colleges and football teams. If they were actually to start closing those things down, all hell would break loose and they know it.

  • AquinasMan

    Is Dr. Smith indicating that SEIU 1199 is the equivalent of having a gun to the head of the Church? Her notion that “God is not complicit in their sin” is incredible, for the fact that 1) God can’t sin or be complicit in sin, by definition, EVER. And 2) Human beings are not God and are, guess what, subject to Final Judgment.
    Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the Church has a duty to avoid presenting an occasion of mortal sin to its employees, whether directly or indirectly. If you had a child in the house would you be careful what TV channels were included in your cable package? If your cable provider refused to let you opt out of LOGO or adult channels, would you keep your subscription (hey, it’s not YOUR fault), or would you protect your children and turn it off altogether?

    • michigancatholic


      I agree with you to some degree, but that’s not what gets me about this. What gets me is that the whole thing has been totally misrepresented to the Catholic laity.

      1. To cover up the fact that the Catholic Church is in *free-fall* and has been for years, we maintain an impressive collection of institutions and real estate acquisitions, which by all normal measures operate as secular institutions. These once belonged to religious but we do not have the religious to run them anymore. Yet, we are supposed to patronize them and consider them religious institutions; they are held up to us as paradigms of virtue. Laypeople don’t even own most of these monstrosities, although they are often run by secular lay boards. Go into a “Catholic hospital” and try to find a sister who’s not an elderly volunteer, or try to find the chapel. Get a load of the speakers at “Catholic Universities” every spring. Most of the employees are non-Catholics in many of these places.

      2. Instead of emphasizing the true mission of the Church, we have been
      told that it’s a collection of other things, social work being one of
      the big ones, probably to support the previous statement (#1). Huge numbers of Catholic laypeople can’t even figure out why to go to Church anymore.

      3. All the while, these institutions have been kept carefully separate from parish life almost everywhere and managed like CEOs manage things. Laypeople in parishes are supposed to limp along the best they can with what attention they can get after the “big business” is taken care of. As though growth in holiness, the everyday life of Christians and the conversion of the world is an afterthought.

      4. The USCCB was absolutely complicit in the passage of Obamacare which spawned this mandate, but we’re supposed to conveniently forget that. The USCCB has been in bed with political interests for decades in this country. There is no subtlety or thought that goes into most of this. Even at the highest levels many of our leaders cannot separate their political views from their ecclesial views. And I have no idea why. Aren’t these supposed to be holy, highly trained people, who can see careful distinctions and relate them to theology, scripture and church teaching? Instead we get these blunt appeals, or nothing. Tilt.

      5. We’re supposed to go out and protest over this. We were supposed to fast and all that for this–remember all those initiatives that no one hears about anymore? There were all these big “We will not COMPLY” boasts. We were supposed to get all lathered up about this. Where are we now? Will we actually comply or not? It looks, according to this interview and others I’ve see this weekend as though we will comply. ***Not only that, but we’ve been complying all along, it turns out!***

      6. On top of it all, small employers have been told to put their livelihoods on the line for this and many of them have out of the goodness of their hearts, and then I see articles like this. Oh well, nevermind. “Oh, you lost your business? You had to retire? You had to fire half you employees? Oh gee whiz, golly gee, sorry about that.” The Nerve.

      I’m really disgusted. I’m disgusted with the HHS department and the government. I’m disgusted with the USCCB. I’m disgusted, period. The only ones who have come out of this not smelling like sewage are those outfits like Hobby Lobby & Tynedale Bible Publishers and who are acting out of convictions that are clear, have always been clear, and that they have never violated. I can respect that.

  • Jim Russell

    God bless Dr. Smith’s clear-headed and cogent analysis of this issue, which is by its nature a deeply complex moral question.

    • Strife

      Well no actually, it’s not deeply complex, in fact it’s quite simple: Birth control is an *INTRINSIC* EVIL. Period. End of story. No exceptions. *Hence the word “intrinsic”.*

      It does not matter if that *intrinsic* evil is permanently tied to the denial of health care coverage or even if it is personified and holding a loaded gun to your head, it is never ever ever morally acceptable. Period. See how simple that is?

      See, this is exactly how the Devil misconstrues good for evil: by hijacking morality with false misguided “compassion”. And it is always wrapped up in the same nonsensical feel-good rationalization: “Hey, this is complex, therefore… yada yada yada….(insert acceptance of any number of intrinsic evils here)…”

      Well it’s not intellectually “complex” – it’s morally simple, and it is simply DIFFICULT in practice.. And therein lies the simple distinction and moral clarity that is missing from your convoluted reasoning.

  • Jim Russell

    For anyone looking for Dr. Smith’s reasoning on this issue, this link is exceptionally good:

  • John B.

    So if Catholic organizations are “forced,” whether by a union or state law, to offer contraceptive coverage, there’s no cooperation with evil and they “sin not?” What difference does it make if it’s HHS federal law then? Why all the talk about having to close hospitals and social service agencies rather than violating Catholic consciences?

    • Jim Russell

      The reason one fights against the HHS Mandate is because it tramples upon the rights of Catholics. This is the fight “before-the-fact” so to speak. The moral dynamics are necessarily changed *after* the fact, once our rights as Catholics *have* been trampled upon. Many responses are possible after the fact–including the closing of hospitals, etc., and including participating, completely under protest, once your rights are trampled.
      Consider the example of paying taxes in cases in which you know with certainty that your dollars go toward something evil. What do you do? You can take the more radical step of refusing to pay taxes, or you can pay taxes under protest and attempt to change the situation while doing so. Both are morally acceptable choices. Likewise with this particular battle–which needs to be fought, but it is not inconsistent to have the NY Archdiocese, under protest, permitting participation in a flawed insurance system while *simultaneously* fighting to avoid letting the Federal government trample *further* on the rights of Catholics.

      • michicatholic

        I get that, Jim. It was a strategy, and not a very good one, given all the incredible miscalculations leading up to it. According to these explanations I’m seeing now, they figured they’d try to stave off the feds. They calculated that if they couldn’t stave them off, they’d “punt,” which they have some history in knowing how to do that we’re all aware of now. But to give that away ahead of time would make it harder to stave off the feds. They got all wrapped up in the mechanics of that justification pro & con, both ways, yes. BUT…..

        Did it not even dawn on them that this was coming when they colluded with the feds to pass the thing in the first place? Once done, did they not think that people, including the feds and the news media, of course, would look to see what these institutions were already insuring across the country? I mean, it’s not all that hidden if you look for it. Apparently, when the rubber hits the road, this repugnance for birth control/abortion is less crucial than a lot of things, according to actual demonstrated behavior, which makes it violable, no matter what the USCCB says.

        Did they really believe that they were going to be able to intimidate the feds with massive protests from Catholics who were against birth control, of all things? Really? With 20% of the population at best, most of whom use birth control if they’re young enough to breed? Disconnect. Ignorance about your own flock. Total ignorance about your own flock. These men need to spend more time with laypeople and less time being rich powerful guys. They’d learn a lot. They’d learn that all their bluffing and messing around has cost people jobs and businesses and insurance coverage.

      • Strife

        “The reason one fights against the HHS Mandate is because it tramples upon the rights of Catholics.”

        Actually no. The most basic primary reason one fights against the HHS Mandate is because it forces the acceptance of an INTRINSIC EVIL. And therein lies the violation of our religious liberties as Catholics. Catholic institutions have the right not to be forced into these false convoluted choices that force the toleration of an inherent evil wrapped up in the delusion of a supposedly “lesser evil” for the sake of the overall good.

  • Taylor Slow

    The fact that state law mandated such coverage does not change whether the archdiocese may provide it. In fact that’s begging the question. But I suppose Thomas More would have appreciated Dr. Smith’s advice when he thought he thought he was morally obliged to refuse the oath even though the government mandated that he make it. Too bad for his family…

    Secondly, the archdiocese is not justified because the providers expected a change in the Church’s teaching. This is a bad argument for so many reasons. Reason one: the Church ruled on the matter over 40 years ago. Perhaps if it were 1969, we could talk about the possibility for such confusion. It’s not. Reason two: even if canon law were to change in some way, the Church’s teaching does not change. Is this a debate?

    Thirdly, I am sure that the USCCB’s recent work on the HHS mandate has brought to light the problems with insurance policies paid for by many dioceses. One would expect that the leader in the effort would have also looked into his policy and discovered the inconsistency. But really, that’s not the issue. Either way, the archdiocese cannot continue to pay for contraceptives through providing such insurance coverage.

    The three arguments I just answered only serve to obfuscate the issue at hand. I’ll let Steve Long explain what is at issue, since he is so clear:
    “[I]t is immoral to provide insurance coverage for vice. Period. It is something that no one should do. This is the nature of grave evil, to be something that no one should do. That one ought not to do it is not determined by the Obama administration, nor by HHS; it is determined by the eternal law. Providing insurance to cover vicious activity is an evil; providing access to gravely vicious activity is gravely evil, and one way that one provides access to such activity is to cover it with insurance.”

    Dr. Smith doesn’t even discuss this issue as it stands.

  • stephen

    I missed the last point. Was Dolan driving somebody to the airport?

  • Jessie Beard

    Intrinsic evil is still intrinsic evil REGARDLESS of who is supporting abortion with his time, tallant, and treasure. Abortion is an intrinsically evil act REGARDLESS of the opinion of anyone and you can read that in Pope John Paul’s encyclical The Splendor of Truth!

  • David

    This seems to be a diversionary tactic to deflect the real issue here. The scandal is not necessarily whether Dolan personally commited a sin, and I haven’t seen the media making this out to be the issue. Even if he did not sin, the Archdioceses’ own statement says they were faced with the option of providing insurance coverage to employees or acting against Church teaching: “choosing between providing health care to employees or violating its sincere religious beliefs.” So they seem to openly admit to their choice. And even if they were “mandated”, then the response should be to refuse to comply- just as Dolan and others are rightfully pointing out for the HHS mandate and similar proposals. And ignorance and inertia are no excuse either.
    It is also noteworthy that the insurance and union reps. have publically stated that even in recent meetings regarding renewal of the policy that the Archidocese did not bring this up as an issue. It seems the usual crowd is out to circle the wagons and at great pains to explain this away. The fact that Smith insists that there is no possible problem and tries to forestall all objections is revealing; that only means all the more there is something and we are being told to look away.

    • enness

      Yeah, what happened to “We will not comply”?

  • Satan Wins

    Cardinal Dolan has taught us you can be a Catholic (Gov. Cuomo) who promotes the unlimited and legal killing of babies by abortion, a Catholic who uses their political power to promote homosexual marriage and you’re still a Catholic in good standing.

    Cardinal Dolan has taught us it’s OK to pay for abortions and contraception if you have an excuse.

    Cardinal Dolan has set a standard for every Catholic in America to participate in things like the HHS mandate as long as you say you object to doing it.

    Cardinal Dolan has taught us that if employees of a Catholic institution demand that the Catholic Church pay to murder their babies – the Church can comply.

    Cardinal Dolan has taught every enemy of the Church that Catholics will go along quietly and participate in contraception and abortion programs as long as we say we object to it.

    Cardinal Dolan has made null and void Cardinal George’s statement concerning secular forces attacking the Church and our need to be brave,

    “I expected to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” No need now to stand-up for any principles. If Cardinal Dolan, the head of the Bishops Council can pay for abortions and tell us all we have to do is say we object to it, no Catholic need to take a risky stand to defend Christ or life. Cardinal Dolan has taught us we can go along with the culture of death as long as we object to doing it.

    Cardinal Dolan has taught the Supreme Court whose members may have seen these situations in the news and will be hearing the HHS mandate cases that it is really no big deal for the head of the USCCB to allow his Archdiocese to pay for abortions and contraception as long as he can publicly say he objects to it.

    Cardinal Dolan has taught politicians, voters, the abortion industry, and the media that the Catholic Church will pay for abortions and contraception as long as we can say we object to it.

    Cardinal Dolan has taught us that the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is far from over. While the tragedy of sexual abuse is being dealt with head on we now have been taught by Cardinal Dolan that a Catholic in good standing can support and make possible the murder of babies in the womb and an Archdiocese can even pay for these abortions. The murder of babies in the womb is the ultimate child abuse.

    • Jim Russell

      (Sigh)–Why are we so quick to form the circular firing squad when there is a morally legitimate explanation for the situation in NY? Cardinal Dolan is not only our brother in Christ, but also is a successor of the Apostles whose job is likely more complicated than that of anyone else who may be reading this blog (unless Pope Francis does… 🙂 )
      Pray for him, please.

      • Strife

        There is no morally legitimate explanation for allowing intrinsic evils. Period.

        To those who are given the authority to teach and to lead the flock – much is required in return. They are to be held to a much higher moral standard than the rest of us, which is exactly why Dolan’s ridiculously flawed reasoning is so reprehensible and why it must be called out and criticized in no uncertain terms. Our Lord makes this fact clear. He has no tolerance for squishy moral reasoning whatsoever:

        He said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” – Luke 17:1-3

  • Jim M.

    So once he knew what was happening, Cardinal Dolan stopped immediately to co-operate because it would be better to break immoral contracts and pay fines than to be complicit in killing children in their mothers’ wombs, right? (right?)

  • Woody

    How many times does God give us the opportunity to do what is right and we do not do so because……it’s complicated or there are other issues or it’s messy or it’s hard to do the right thing. How many Catholics are in the presence of God because they chose rightly and paid with their lives? What would happen to Father Dolan if he said the archdiocese will no longer provide such evils by way of the current insurance policy? Would he be killed? Imprisoned? Thrown out of his home? We all should be more scared of hell than anything or anyone in this country or on this earth. And yet we are not. No wonder we are where we are.

  • cowalker

    “A member of the Catholic hierarchy models the character trait of hypocrisy.”
    In other news, today in the U.S. the day of the week ends in “y” AND there was weather!

  • kcthomas

    Let us be more sensible. Please read the explanation of Dr. Smith . Another thing I would like to say… if a government passes legislation permitting the killing of all above 75 or permitting incest, we Catholics will protest, but committed Catholics will not kill old persons or indulge in incest. Same way the Catholic employees are free as well as under the obligation not to commit these offences. The employers in health care are threatened by a Govt. what is the remedy ? Should they abandon helath care and retire ?

  • kcthomas

    Let us be more sensible. Please read the explanation of Dr. Smith . Another thing I would like to say… if a government passes legislation permitting the killing of all above 75 or permitting incest, it does

  • Strife

    There is no moral justification for Intrinsic Evils. There is no acceptable reasoning for the unreasonable nature of evil. There is no compromising with evil. There is no lesser evils that ever lead to any good. Period.

    Dolan should know this, and if he’s confused, then maybe he should take a break from his media wh*re-mongering and away from the public spotlight he seems to love so much, and spend some time in quite humble isolation before the Blessed Sacrament until he remembers that he is suppose to be a Bishop who humbly serves Truth and not some unscrupulous political hack who serves only his own convenient needs to appease the popular zeitgeist of this lost secular-society hell-bent on the sewage of moral relativism.

    God has no time and no tolerance for this bilge:

    “Ah! Those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness to light, and light into darkness, who change bitter to sweet, and sweet into bitter! Ah! Those who are wise in their own eyes, prudent in their own view!” – Isaiah 5:20-21

    “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe [in me] to sin, it
    would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck
    and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of
    God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’..” – Mark 9:42-48

  • enness

    This does not satisfy.

  • sixlittlerabbits

    The value and soundness of the judgments of Dr. Janet Smith have diminished completely. Her defense of Christopher West’s view that sodomy may be licit as foreplay was off the wall. Now she has fallen off–like Humpty Dumpty–with her specious reasoning in regard to Cardinal Dolan’s decisions..

    It is a cause of scandal to faithful (as opposed to “respectful”) Catholics that Cardinal Dolan has not taken effective action against the evils of abortion, gay “marriage,” and forced payments to support intrinsically evil acts condemned by the Faith. His Eminence acts instead as an apologist for the Democratic Party and other pro-abortion groups. For more details, see