Hillsdale College has long sustained an academic program in Washington, DC, and its physical footprint is now growing. Not so long ago, in a refurbished brownstone located at 227 Massachusetts Avenue NE (opposite the Heritage Foundation), it opened the Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship. There, at noon tomorrow (i.e., on Tuesday), I will be giving a luncheon talk entitled “Obamacare’s Assault on Religious Liberty.” If you are in DC and wish to come, your attendance would be welcome. If you are elsewhere and have the time, you can follow the talk on the web. To do either, all that you need to do is RSVP that you will be in attendance or register for the webcast on this webpage. You can even submit questions online via this link. If you are busy tomorrow at noon but nonetheless interested, the webcast should be archived within a day or two here – where you can find lectures on other topics by a great variety of figures.
In preparing this talk, I turned back to John Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration and his Two Treatises of Government, to the Bills of Rights attached to the original Constitutions of Virginia and Massachusetts, to the Declaration of Independence, to the Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom, and to the Memorial and Remonstrance penned in defense of the latter measure by James Madison – all worthy subjects for rumination. At the same time, I thrashed about in search in search of enlightenment with regard to the present discontents, and there I found one document that you might want to read in full – the Weekend Interview with Timothy Dolan, Cardinal-Archbishop of New York conducted by James Taranto and published in The Wall Street Journal on the last day of March.
Dolan’s remarks are instructive for a variety of reasons. For one thing, they chart the history of his encounters with the President and cast light on what the President is up to. Last November, President Obama invited Dolan in his capacity as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to the White House for a forty-five-minute meeting on the eve of the General Assembly of the American Bishops, which was about to take place in Baltimore. At the end of their meeting, Taranto reports, Dolan gave a brief epitome of what he took to be the message that Obama wanted him to convey:
"I said,” [Dolan told Taranto], “'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.'"
The administration went ahead and announced the mandate. A public backlash ensued, and the archbishop got another call from the president on Feb. 10. "He said, 'You will be happy to hear religious institutions do not have to pay for this, that the burden will be on insurers.'" Archbishop Dolan asked if the president was seeking his input and was told the modified policy was a fait accompli. The call came at 9:30 a.m. The president announced the purported accommodation at 12:15 p.m.
Taranto describes the President’s demeanor as “imperious and deceitful.” I would call it arrogant and tyrannical – for Obama understood perfectly well that the “accommodation” he intended to implement solved nothing: that organizations affiliated with the Church tend to be either self-insuring or to purchase insurance coverage for their employees from Catholic insurance companies such as the Christian Brothers Investment Services or the Catholic Mutual Group, which, as Dolan pointed out, regard the HHS mandate as “morally toxic.” Forcing them to be providers of contraceptive devices and abortifacients such as the morning-after pill is not just akin to forcing Quakers to bear arms and use them against the enemy in combat. It is far, far worse. Joining with one’s fellow citizens in defending their lives, liberty, and property against a foreign invader is a fundamental duty inseparable from citizenship. Absolving conscientious objectors from that duty is an act of extraordinary generosity. Forcing one’s fellow citizens to participate in the murder of innocents, however, is despotic and despicable – the sort of thing that we associate with Communism and National Socialism.
I found Cardinal Dolan’s remarks heartening. When Taranto challenged him, asking, “What about the argument that vast numbers of Catholics ignore the church’s teaching about sexuality? Doesn’t the church have a problem conveying its moral principles to its own flock?” Dolan replied, ““Do we ever? I'm not afraid to admit that we have an internal catechetical challenge—a towering one—in convincing our own people of the moral beauty and coherence of what we teach. That's a biggie.” “For this,” Taranto reports, Dolan
faults the church leadership. “We have gotten gun-shy . . . in speaking with any amount of cogency on chastity and sexual morality." He dates this diffidence to "the mid- and late '60s, when the whole world seemed to be caving in, and where Catholics in general got the impression that what the Second Vatican Council taught, first and foremost, is that we should be chums with the world, and that the best thing the church can do is become more and more like everybody else."
The "flash point," the archbishop says, was "Humanae Vitae," Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical reasserting the church's teachings on sex, marriage and reproduction, including its opposition to artificial contraception. It "brought such a tsunami of dissent, departure, disapproval of the church, that I think most of us—and I'm using the first-person plural intentionally, including myself—kind of subconsciously said, 'Whoa. We'd better never talk about that, because it's just too hot to handle.' We forfeited the chance to be a coherent moral voice when it comes to one of the more burning issues of the day."
Without my having raised the subject, he adds that the church's sex-abuse scandal "intensified our laryngitis over speaking about issues of chastity and sexual morality, because we almost thought, 'I'll blush if I do. . . . After what some priests and some bishops, albeit a tiny minority, have done, how will I have any credibility in speaking on that?'"
According to Taranto, Cardinal Dolan went on to suggest that there is “a hunger, especially among young adults, for a more authoritative church voice on sexuality.” And, indeed, there is.
Cardinal Dolan had more to say – much, much more. As I remarked, you should read the whole thing. The only crucial subject that he did not discuss was the role played by the American Church in helping to fashion the weapons that Barack Obama is now wielding against it. On that subject, as I will argue at the Kirby Center tomorrow at noon, he needs to do a bit of thinking if he has not yet done so. As one can see if one visits churches in Europe or in Quebec on Sundays, there is nothing fortuitous about the HHS mandate. The administrative entitlements state, which has always presented itself to the public as the fulfillment of Christian charity, is, in fact, an attempt to replace Christianity itself. Once we have established heaven here on earth, progressives smugly presume, no one will have further need for opiates of such a sort.