WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Timothy Dolan, a senior U.S. Roman Catholic leader, said on Thursday President Barack Obama “gave me promises” during a White House meeting in November as Dolan pressed the Church’s criticism of a new Obama administration rule requiring health insurance plans to cover birth control.
Dolan, the archbishop of New York who has been designated by Pope Benedict for elevation to cardinal, said he now questions whether he can work with Obama to settle an issue that has erupted into a political controversy.
The rule requires religious-oriented groups such as charities, hospitals and universities, but not churches, to provide coverage for birth control. The Catholic Church opposes most methods of birth control.
Dolan said he met with Obama in the Oval Office in November to discuss the issue.
“I hope he would understand that I’m a bit skeptical because … he gave me promises. So I’m a little skeptical and I’m saying, wow, I hope I can continue to work with him,” Dolan said on the CBS program “This Morning.”
“When I left the Oval Office, where I was very grateful for his invitation to be there, I left with high hopes that nothing that his administration would do would impede the good work that he acknowledged in the Church. I’m afraid I don’t have those sentiments or hope now,” said Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Dolan said he has not contacted Obama since the president called him on January 20, the day the rule was announced.
The White House has said it aimed to strike a balance between Catholic Church doctrine and women’s right to health care. The administration has said it would work with groups to implement the rule but has not backed away from it.
The issue has created a firestorm during an election year, with Republican presidential candidates and other conservatives casting it as an assault by Obama on religious freedom. Church leaders have strongly objected to the rule and urged U.S. Catholics to protest it.
Dolan gave an account of his meeting with Obama.
“He said, ‘I don’t want anything we do to be an impediment and I take the protection of conscience and religious freedom as one of my highest responsibilities,’” Dolan added.
“So I shared with him my consternation. I said, ‘Sir, I was so bolstered by your assurances, the same assurances that you gave at Notre Dame (a Catholic university) in your address, the same assurances you gave the Catholic Health Association. What has happened? Why would you back down from that?’ … It left me very unhappy.”
The Catholic Church rejects unnatural forms of contraception such as birth control pills but does condone the “natural” or “rhythm” method.
“He’s sensitive to some of the concerns expressed by religious groups,” Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday.
The regulation, required as part of the 2010 healthcare law, requires health insurance plans to cover basic preventative care for women. The Obama administration, acting on recommendations from experts at the advisory U.S. Institute of Medicine, included birth control as part of that but exempted houses of worship.
Most employers and health plans have until August 1 to implement the new rule, but religious affiliated groups have until next year.
(Reporting By Susan Heavey; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Will Dunham)
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