New York Cardinal Dolan says Church failed to teach against contraception
Patrick B. Craine
As the Catholic Church in America fights Obama’s contraceptive mandate—perhaps its most vigorous defense of Catholic sexual teaching in decades—the Cardinal Archbishop of New York has admitted that the Church has failed to teach the faithful Catholic teaching on contraception, and so “forfeited the chance to be a coherent moral voice when it comes to one of the more burning issues of the day.”
In a frank interview with the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is increasingly being billed as America’s leading Catholic cleric, says the Church has failed to communicate its moral teachings in the area of sexuality. He says further that the fault lies with Church leaders.
“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,” said Dolan.
“We have gotten gun-shy . . . in speaking with any amount of cogency on chastity and sexual morality,” he added.
The Church’s own failure to communicate its teachings on contraception has been one of the leading tools used against it in its fight against Obama’s mandate, with critics repeatedly pointing out that the majority of Catholic women are using some form of contraception.
The Cardinal told Taranto that the problem arose in the “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,” he said, was Humanae vitae, Pope Paul VI’s prophetic 1968 encyclical reiterating the Church’s opposition to contraception.
Humanae vitae “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’,” said Dolan.
“We forfeited the chance to be a coherent moral voice when it comes to one of the more burning issues of the day,” he added.
Dolan went to explain that the 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?’”
But he said the youth are now demanding that the Church speak authoritatively on issues of sexuality. “They will be quick to say, ‘By the way, we want you to know that we might not be able to obey it. . . . But we want to hear it. And in justice, you as our pastors need to tell us, and you need to challenge us.’”
In the interview, published on Saturday, Cardinal Dolan described his meeting with President Obama in November, at which the president promised to protect religious freedom.
The Cardinal says President Obama told him in November that he has great respect for the Church’s work in health care, education, and charity, and had no desire to impede it. The president, he said, asked him to communicate that to the nation’s bishops.
“So you can imagine the chagrin,” said Dolan, “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.’”
Then, on February 10th, the president called him the morning he announced the modified mandate, which purports to have insurance companies pay the cost of the abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraception, rather than employers.
The bishops and pro-life leaders have rejected this “accommodation,” however, saying it merely repackages the original mandate because insurance companies will simply up the employers’ fees to cover the “free” contraceptive coverage.
On the phone that morning on February 10th, when Cardinal Dolan asked the president if he was open to his input, the president told him the modified mandate was set in stone.
In his interview with Taranto, Cardinal Dolan insisted again that the bishops’ main concern is religious freedom rather than contraception.
“We find it completely unswallowable, both as Catholics and mostly as Americans, that a bureau of the American government would take it upon itself to define ‘ministry,’” he said. “We would find that to be—we’ve used the words ‘radical,’ ‘unprecedented’ and ‘dramatically intrusive.’”