Watching Archbishop Dolan on the CBS This morning, I was a little surprised by how inflammatory his rhetoric was about the HHS mandate. In between his jocular exchanges with “Charlie and Paula” about the green room bagels were pretty strong accusations that the “straitjacketing, handcuffing” exemption for religious institutions is “strangling” (at least four times) and “choking” (at least twice) the church’s ministry.
Dolan was eager to make clear that the bishops were worried about religious liberty around issues of immigration, human trafficking, and soup kitchens–suggesting that these good works are somehow endangered by this controversy, and forgetting that the current administration has actually awarded more funding to Catholic-affiliated organizations for these works than its predecessor. (Sounds rather more like the administration is trying to drown us–in money.)
Dolan goes on to misrepresent even the original exemption the administration carved out–that an exempt organization can employ and serve “only” Catholics, which it never said–and then goes on to suggest that it is “almost like we’re being punished because we serve a lot of people”–as if Catholics are the only people doing just that. Poor us.
All of this is a great communications strategy–and you don’t say “strangling” over and over unless someone has coached you to say it–but I still fear that this is a problematic approach for the hierarchy in an election year. There are many possible avenues of response, several of which do not require appearances on morning talk shows.
I’m not the only one who doesn’t seem fully on board with this particular tack into the winds of presidential politics: Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California is expressing reserviations on behalf of some of his state’s bishops, and I wonder if there aren’t others who fear the hijacking of the religious liberty question by those who wish to defeat the president in November. (h/t to Kevin Clarke at America)
Grant Gallicho over at Commonweal, commenting on Kevin’s blog, notes that there are only 13 dioceses among the now-44 plaintiffs. Not sure why–maybe they are the only ones still self-insured?