(EWTN) As controversy continues over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said that separation of church and state should not restrict the Church from offering its valuable contribution to society.
In an interview on CBS News' “Face the Nation” on Easter Sunday, the cardinal described the mandate as “a dramatic, radical intrusion of a government bureaucracy into the internal life of the church.”
He emphasized that while the Church “didn’t ask for the fight” over contraception and religious freedom, “we're not going to back away from it.”
The public square, he pointed out, is enriched when people bring their religious and moral convictions to the discussion of national issues and impoverished when they are prevented from doing so.
Host Bob Schieffer asked the cardinal to respond to John F. Kennedy’s famous campaign speech that endorsed a vision of separation of church and state “where no Catholic prelate would tell the President, should he be Catholic, how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote.”
Last November, Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum said that he “almost threw up” when he read the speech.
He said that Kennedy “threw faith under the bus in that speech,” which he described as “the beginning of the secular movement of politicians to separate their faith from the public square.”
Cardinal Dolan said that he agreed with Kennedy that there should be a separation of church and state because such a separation benefits not only the U.S., but also the Church.
However, he said, Santorum is also accurate in noting the secularizing effects of the speech, which has been widely misinterpreted to require “a wall between one's faith and one's political decisions.”
“I don't think John Kennedy meant a cleavage between faith and politics,” the cardinal said, “but I would agree with Senator Santorum that unfortunately that has been misrepresented to mean that faith has no place in the public square.”
This view misrepresents “what the American genius is all about,” he added.
Cardinal Dolan said that the false understanding of this principle can be seen in the ongoing debate over the Obama administration’s insurance mandate, which will soon require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their conscience.
The cardinal said that President Obama had initially assured him that “the government would do nothing to impede religion” or to prevent the Catholic Church from continuing its valuable work in the areas of health care, charity and education.
However, he said, it’s hard to see how the new regulations “do anything but that.”
Cardinal Dolan spoke out against recent comments by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who said that the mandate does an acceptable job of balancing the Church’s freedom with access to free contraception for women.
While he said that he appreciates the vice president’s counsel, the cardinal firmly disagreed with his assertion.
The mandate is unacceptable from a moral standpoint because it will still force Catholics to fund or facilitate the objectionable coverage, he explained, adding that the Catholic community will continue to speak out against the mandate not only from “a religious point of view but a constitutional point of view.”
But despite the challenges facing the Church in America today, Cardinal Dolan remains optimistic. He believes that religion in the U.S. “is vibrant” and “the commitment of the people is strong.”
Catholics should also remember that “the difficulties can purify us and strengthen us,” renewing the Church as she spreads her message of “light and freedom and hope.”