Cardinal Dolan’s Religious-Liberty Win

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

This has been a fascinating morning. You’d think a leading news story of the day would be: Cardinal Dolan wins in court against the Obama administration, given the Eastern court in New York yesterday issued a permanent injunction against the Department of Health and Human Services abortion-drug, contraception, sterilization mandate.

Wait. Didn’t the president and vice president of the United States tell us the Catholics were all cool with this mandate, that there was no longer a controversy, that their religious liberty had been satisfactorily accommodated? Even before that, didn’t the president of the United States accuse Catholic bishops of bearing false witness in raising conscience concerns about the president’s health-care legislation before it became the “Obamacare” law?

That wasn’t true, of course.  

And where the president has bragged, he has now been slapped down by a court in what’s been a high-profile battle. And yet, it appears a bit muted in the news. 

Given the amount of coverage the media gave to the “war on women” rhetoric during the presidential campaign, given the way the media often parroted White House talking points while misconstruing the robust case Catholic bishops were in the lead making for religious liberty in the face of the mandate, there should be coverage of a federal court weighing in on Cardinal Dolan’s side of the argument yesterday in Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York v. Sebelius. I suspect it would be news to most viewers that there was a lawsuit in the first place.

My friend Ed Mechmann from the Archdiocese quotes Winston Churchill by way of a progress report: “Now this is not the end, it is not the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” (And read Ed Whelan’s Bench Memos analysis here.) There’s a long way to go yet, but yesterday’s news is good.

As a media matter, the spring will mark a springtime for coverage as the Hobby Lobby case hits the Supreme Court (along with Conestoga Woods, see interview here). While MSNBC has a ball with “corporations are people, too” plays, a little more focus on yesterday’s win would be instructive. The mandate coerces conscience violation. The government can’t do that. Not here.

Alas, there was no Cardinal Dolan on The Today Show this morning. There’s a transparency to the media overlooking this story. It may not be conscious so much as it reflects preferences.

Instead of “Dolan’s Win” segments (maybe there was something to all that talk about religious-freedom problems, an inquisitive producer/editor might ask, a host might insist?), I’ve seen segments and headlines on some changes made by Pope Francis at the Congregation of the Bishops at the Vatican. It’s the office that makes recommendations about the next generation of bishops, essentially, to the pope. It’s quite important and influential. As of yesterday morning, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. has been appointed to it in place of Cardinal Raymond Burke, formerly archbishop of St. Louis. With some glee, it has been reported that Burke is “out” at the Vatican, and Wuerl, described as more “moderate” is in. Over the past hours, I’ve heard people mimic this narrative, as if it were a baseball trade with which they were intimately familiar. If you’re calling Cardinal Wuerl a “moderate,” baseball might be the lane to stay in.

Cardinal Wuerl has been ablaze with the Holy Spirit lately. Whether on religious freedom, peace in Syria, or hunger for the Gospel. (Anyone who follows me on Twitter at @kathrynlopez has seen live outtakes from some dramatic moments over the last year or so.) Moderate’s not the word I would use.

As for Cardinal Burke, he’s never been a favorite among American media that covers cardinals. As prefect of the Apostolic Signatura at the Vatican — often described as the Vatican’s supreme court — he is necessarily (and temperamentally) concerned with rules, and this is what he’s known for. (He also has a child-like love for Christ’s Sacred Heart in rebuilding civilization . . . but talk about things that don’t make headlines.) It takes the New York Times today nine paragraphs, by the way, to tell you he still has that key post. And explaining it away by anonymous analysis as to whether being one among consulters on bishops is more important than canon law (different roles, this non-anonymous observer offers).

I love that people are interested in Pope Francis, whose 77th birthday is today. But if you’re going to listen in, really listen in. This conservative-down/moderate-up storyline isn’t even accurate and is a poverty.

This morning, by the way, the pope hosted four homeless men over for morning Mass, to add to a “family” celebration. During his homily, Pope Francis voiced “a Christmas wish” for all of us “to allow God to write our lives for us.”

Letting God write our lives for us means we have to be free to let God be much more than an hour (or less, if we’re walking in late and leaving early), one day a week — or merely what we do in our private time. It means that He’s at work with us, in us. It means we serve because we see the Divine in four homeless men and everyone else the world often has no use for; because we love God. 

The Archdiocese of New York and Catholic service agencies went to court to protect that right to serve in accord with conscience — a principle that used to have some bipartisan following. They were issued a win yesterday, and so were the rest of us, everyone who has a vested interest in religious liberty being protected here. And it’s not just the Catholics who are fighting here. Thank you, Cardinal Dolan, but thank you, also to the Green Family who runs Hobby Lobby and the Mennonites who run Conestoga Wood — the ecumenical coalition that has risen up in defense of religious freedom (see my interview with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore). As we approach the Hobby Lobby hearing at the Supreme Court, don’t see this case through media preferences — or merely politically – but through the lens of he who gives his life for the right to be who God made him to be. As civil stewards, those persecuted around the world for love of God are counting on us to be.

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