Are more cordial relations possible in the near term between New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and President Obama? The administration and the U.S. bishops have been at loggerheads over a Department of Health and Human Services mandate for cost-free contraception in new health insurance plans and have seemed to have had more than a few brittle moments during the 2012 election. After H.H.S. recently took another crack at revising exemptions and accommodations for religious employers in its mandated coverage, Cardinal Dolan, while not signing on to the latest revision, seemed to tone down the confrontational rhetoric a notch or two, offering to continue to work with the Obama administration to find a resolution that was amenable to the consciences of all parties. That more conciliatory stance was encouraged publicly by two bishops.
On Feb. 22 Cardinal Dolan fired another dove across the administration’s bow, “accepting its invitation” to continue to work on the H.H.S. impasse and offering to work with the president on other issues of public policy convergence between the U.S. bishops and the administration. “These issues of mutual importance are hardly new, as you and I have had the occasion to discuss them in the past,” Cardinal Dolan wrote. “All of them flow from God’s own Holy Word in the Bible, and the truth about the human person revealed in Jesus, as faithfully passed on by the Church. They also resonate, as you have observed, from the most noble values of America, which the founders of our country identified in the Declaration of Independence as ‘self-evident truths.’” (Update, 2/28: Asked if an acutal face-to-face were being considered a White House official would only say, "The White House welcomes His Eminence’s warm wishes and looks forward to continuing our respectful collaboration.”)
While acknowledging continuing disagreements over “the protection of the child in the womb, the defense of marriage … and the grave concerns we have about some recent government actions that violate religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Dolan outlined an impressive list of social concerns where the bishops might “cooperate” with the administration:
• our opposition to gun-violence through reasonable regulation of firearms, and increased attention to the needs of the mentally ill; and our hope, often expressed by the recent Popes, to curtail the international marketing and proliferation of weapons;
• our long-expressed concern for meaningful immigration reform, especially leading to the unity of mothers and fathers with their children, with including a fair path to citizenship for the undocumented, with legitimate provisions to secure our country’s borders;
• comprehensive, affordable, accessible, quality, life-affirming healthcare for all, which we believe includes the pre-born-child, the undocumented, and the dying;
• the protection of international assistance that helps the poorest of nations fend off life threatening hunger, poverty and disease;
• a care for God’s creation, protecting the environment from destruction;
• education-reform, including parental choice, that benefits all our children, which we believe includes the millions of children in faith-based schools, which especially serve families in our inner-city and the disadvantaged;
• development of a financially responsible national budget that protects essential programs serving our poor, sick and vulnerable brothers and sisters; and the duty of fiscal integrity in securing a stable economy that serves and protects the common good today and for the future;
• the welcome conclusion of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with care for those who served so bravely;
• continued attention to the challenges of peace and justice in the Middle East, with particular attention to establishing a viable peace between Israel and Palestine, and a vigorous promotion of human rights, especially of persecuted religious minorities throughout the world;
• the efforts to strengthen family life and uphold the importance of responsible fatherhood.