HICKSVILLE, N.Y. — Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan told Roman Catholics on Saturday that in an era when the church was fighting the government on several fronts, they needed to make their voices heard more clearly in the political sphere.
Speaking at a diocesan convocation on public policy here, Cardinal Dolan, who is the archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “We are called to be very active, very informed and very involved in politics.”
The cardinal’s speech came in advance of the church’s annual lobbying day in Albany, scheduled for March 13. Several recent government actions have clashed with church teachings, including New York’s legalization of same-sex marriage and President Obama’s mandate that religiously affiliated hospitals and universities cover birth control in their insurance plans, which was upheld on Thursday by the United States Senate.
Though the Obama administration has suggested a compromise that could let employers offer the coverage without paying for it directly, Cardinal Dolan told the crowd at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School that the government sought to make the church do something “we find unconscionable.”
“It is a freedom of religion battle,” he said. “It is not about contraception. It is not about women’s health.” He added: “We’re talking about an unwarranted, unprecedented, radical intrusion” into “a church’s ability to teach, serve and sanctify on its own.” The cardinal mocked a secular culture that “seems to discover new rights every day.”
“I don’t recall a right to marriage,” he said, describing marriage, instead, as a “call.”
“Now we hear there’s a right to sterilization, abortion and chemical contraceptives. I suppose there might be a doctor who would say to a man who’s suffering some type of sexual dysfunction, ‘You ought to visit a prostitute to help you.’ ”
Cardinal Dolan said that the prelates, though, might not be the church’s most persuasive advocates. He told a story about bishops hiring an “attractive, articulate, intelligent” laywoman to speak against abortion and said it was “the best thing we ever did,” adding, “In the public square, I hate to tell you, the days of fat, balding Irish bishops are over.”
Instead, he emphasized the role of the laity. While priests and bishops “stick to principles,” he said, “we leave a lot of the messiness of politics up to you.” The New York State Catholic Conference’s agenda for the coming “Public Policy Day” in Albany includes efforts to persuade lawmakers to reject a bill protecting abortion rights, and to increase poverty aid.
After the speech, a nun from Amityville, N.Y., Sister Kay McCarthy, called the cardinal an inspiration. “He has upheld the principles of religious freedom not only to us as a Catholic church, but to the American people,” she said.
Though he called his flock to action, Cardinal Dolan reaffirmed the primacy of the church’s leadership. Obama officials have pointed to recent polls showing that most Catholics favor the new contraceptive rule, and in a recent blog post, the cardinal wrote that officials in the Obama administration had recommended that bishops “listen to the ‘enlightened’ voices of accommodation” within the church. At a news conference after Saturday’s speech, Cardinal Dolan said, “We kind of got our Irish up when leaders in government seemed to be assigning an authoritative voice to Catholic groups that are not the bishops.”
He added: “If you want an authoritative voice, go to the bishops. They’re the ones that speak for the truths of the faith.”