Religious Freedom and Protecting Healthcare for Women and Children

“These are the ones most grateful to you for the new well . . .”

With that, the chieftain of this Islamic village in Ethiopia, not far from Meki, took me over to meet about twenty beaming young girls, all who looked to be about the age of my niece, Grace, seven or eight years old.

I was in the village with a delegation from Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the acclaimed international assistance agency supported by the Catholic community of the United States.  We had just been enthusiastically welcomed to this small village to bless and start-up their new well, dug and outfitted by CRS.

The hundred-or-so inhabitants were all ecstatic over the new well . . . but the happiest, the leader told me, through the translator, were the little girls.  Why? I inquired.

“Because up to now everyday was the same for them, as it has been for centuries of our women.  The girls are the ones designated to walk the daily two-hour trek to the river, to fill up the buckets with water- – enough for their hut and family – – and walk two hours back.  Each day,  the men go out to the fields; the boys go off to school; the women stay in the village to care for their families . . . and the young girls ‘take the walk.’  They’ll do it until they marry and have a baby.  The survival of the village depends on them.  But this means,” the chief wrapped-it-up, “that they can never go to school.  If they did, who would get the water? But now” he pointed radiantly to the jubilant girls, “they can go to school because we have good water right here because of our new well.”

Episodes like that occur all over Ethiopia, as well as other impoverished, thirsty countries throughout the third world, because of CRS “fresh water projects.”  Villagers benefit; crops flourish; livestock fatten; all the people drink; but the girls are the happiest because they’re free and can now improve their lives.

When it comes to the health of women, their babies, and their children, the Catholic Church is there, the most effective private provider of such care anywhere around.

Another example:

We bishops of New York sponsor an agency called Fidelis, which provides health insurance to low-income folks.  I’m told we’re the largest such private provider in our state.

A recent physician survey of Fidelis showed that we got the highest ratings of anybody else in the area of – – guess what? – – supporting healthcare for women and children.

Here’s another illustration:

A couple years ago, I visited India, and travelled to particularly poor areas.  At one stop my host-brother-bishop asked me to visit a convent nearby.  “The sisters will appreciate your stopping-by,” he told me.  “They’re scared, and they might be harmed, run-out-of-town, or even put in jail!”

“Whatever for?”  I asked.

 “A couple years ago, they opened a residence for young girls.  Nearly a hundred of the girls, all Delats (“untouchables”) from the surrounding villages, live there, and go to school, learn handicrafts and skills, and are loved and cared for by the sisters.

“And that’s earning them threats?” I wondered aloud.

“Yes it is,” the bishop explained.  “Seems as if the wealthy people depend upon these young girls to clean their houses, cook, and baby-sit their own infants.  Now they’re losing this cheap labor source.  They’re mad.  They don’t like this social upheaval.  As one of them yelled at the sisters, ‘You take these girls, who will prepare my tea!'”

You getting a pattern here?  I could go on and on:  if you want to see creative, daring, lifegiving healthcare for women and their children, look at what the Church is doing.

And now understand why Catholics rightly bristle when politicians and commentators characterize the Church as backwards and insensitive when it comes to women’s health.  Yes, the PR experts advise them that this tactic is a proven ploy to take the attention off the current urgent issue of religious freedom.  The marketers advise them that, if they can reduce the issue to one of contraception, stereotyping the Church as opposed to women’s rights, they have a chance of clouding the towering issue of the First Freedom.

But the Church should not be the ones on the defensive here.  We’re on the offensive when it comes to women’s health, education, and welfare, here at home, and throughout the world.  We hardly need lectures on this issue from senators.

We just want to be left alone to live out the imperatives of our faith to serve, teach, heal, feed, and care for others.  We cherish this, our earthly home, America, for its enshrined freedom to do so.  Those really concerned about women’s health would be better off defending the Church’s freedom to continue its work.

A couple of years ago I visited a woman’s prison. The warden asked me if I wanted to visit the expectant and new mothers’ healthcare center. It then dawned on me that, of course, some women would enter prison pregnant. I was so happy to see the expectant moms, getting good health care for themselves and their unborn babies, and to see the moms with babies under two getting classes in childrearing and parenting skills, with the babies receiving tender care right next to their moms. When I told the warden how grateful I was to see such excellent care for these women and children, he replied, “Thank yourself. Catholic Charities runs it.”

Case closed . . .

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327 Responses to “Religious Freedom and Protecting Healthcare for Women and Children”

  1. Cardinal Dolan,

    Another Fr Z reader here, and I have been praying for you and your brother bishops for a long time. Keep up the fight and we’ll have your backs!

    May God continue to bless you and your brother bishops!

    Deo Vindice!

  2. Cam says:

    Keep up the good work, Your Eminence. Fr. Z sent me!

  3. Jeff Holston says:

    Thank you for your statement – may God be with you and support you and all the Bishops as you seek to educate both Catholics and Non-Catholics about the importance of Freedom of Religion, and, even more importantly, about the Truth of Catholic teaching on Life and how this teaching should be, and is, lived out in thousands of Catholic institutions which serve Christ and our fellow man on a daily basis.

  4. JMJ

    Cardinal Dolan,

    Thank you for this. You have been a staunch defender of Holy Mother Church on this issue. From a traditional Catholic you have my thanks and prayers. Sent from Fr. Z’s site.

    Beneditcite Deum,

    David Homoney

  5. JohnE says:

    Well said Cardinal Dolan.

  6. Teresa says:

    Your Eminence, I am grateful to you for your encouraging words. Thank you and God bless you! My prayers are with you as you lead us in the fight for religious freedom!

  7. Robert says:

    Excellent! Even though we need to fight — and fight hard — remember: we have already won the victory, through Jesus! The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church — and neither will the federal government.

  8. Paul H says:

    Cardinal Dolan,

    Thank you for not backing down on this crucial issue of religious freedom. My family and I have been including you and your brother bishops in our prayers on a regular basis, and will continue to do so.

  9. Joe says:

    Thank you Cardinal Dolan for a point that should be conclusive for anyone w/ a brain and does a little research. Of course, for people with a Totalitarian agenda, logic and facts get in the way. Keep fighting the good fight. Never, ever submit! I am praying for you.

  10. Gretchen says:

    Your Eminence,

    Thank you for standing in the breach. We are heartened.

    From another Fr. Z reader.

  11. Scott Hedges says:

    Your Eminence,

    Thank you for your strong leadership. My prayers are with you and all the bishops, priests, and consecrated religious who preach and live out the Gospel of Christ during this time of attack.

    God love you Cardinal Dolan!

  12. Gloria Thiele says:

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan. Never back down. Never.

    BTW Father Z sent me!

  13. Thanks for your faithful service, Cardinal Dolan! We’re all praying for you.

  14. Jonathan K says:

    Thank you, Your Eminence, for spelling out the issues clearly and succinctly. I scratch my head when people claim that the Catholic Church wants to deny healthcare to women. The opposite has been true for a very long time. And then there’s the issue of pregnancy being a disease, which it is not. I will pray for you and all of our Bishops, particularly those in the US.

  15. Nathanael Block says:

    God bless you, Cardinal Dolan! Thank you so much for speaking our firmly and directly.

  16. Mr. & Mrs. John F. Langsenkamp says:

    Your Eminence,

    Thank you so much for your brave stand against the forces of the Enemy and the Culture of Death.

    May the Holy Spirit continue to inspire you. We will support you always.

    With Great Respect from Green Bay, Wisconsin

    John & Mary Langsenkamp

  17. Yianni says:

    As a Greek Orthodox Christian, I’d like to thank you for your bold leadership against lies and obfuscation, and for the religious freedom of all Americans, of whatever faith or denomination. May God bless not only your unequivocal witnessing to the truth, but your personal gift of doing so in a positive, clear, energetic way. May your example inspire our own Orthodox hierarchs to a vastly more robust and visible defense of our basic freedoms than has been seen to date.

    My prayers are with you and the Roman Catholic and Orthodox bishops – that in your teaching capacity, you may successfully clarify what is at stake here. Even more so, my prayers are with the American people, that we rise from our slumber to meet this challenge. The Christians of the Balkans, Middle East, and E. Europe know what it means to live under anti-Christian tyranny. My deepest gratitude for your important witness in helping to awaken America to the nature of the current threat.

  18. Fr. Joseph Capella says:

    Please keep up the efforts in this matter and continue to educate and inform us all until all of our people join you in speaking out for life. God Bless

  19. Allan S. says:

    Thank you Eminence, for defending the Catholic faith. I fear that your brother Cardinal George is right: his successor will die in prison for the faith, while his successor will die in the public square. It was nice to see you get a wonderful parade, but I despair the punishment our Church will undergo at the hands of secular “liberals” and their Culture of Death. My Rosary is said every Thursday for you and your brother Cardinals and Bishops, that they will be zealous defenders of Truth and human dignity, and total, unswerving fidelity to all the Church holds to be true, regardless of how unpopular (or unlawful) that truth may become. May God bless and keep you, and may Our Lady protect you. Our Lady of Akita, pray for us….

  20. Laura says:

    Thank you so much Cardinal Dolan for your inspirational words and for your wonderful witness in this time of crisis. You and all the Bishops are in my prayers in this fight for our religious liberty. I fear however, that this is only the beginning. May Our Lord give you wisdom and courage in this battle and may he help President Obama see the error of his ways.

  21. George Stephen says:

    Cardinal Dolan, you have expressed succinctly what is at issue in this debate and the dishonest tactics used by the proponents of the culture of death. May God bless and keep you!

  22. Michael M says:

    Thank You, Eminence, for your inspirational defense of Holy Mother Church . You are such a support and joy for all the faithful.

  23. PIOTR says:


  24. JeannieB says:

    An edifying and uplifting example! Thank you Cardinal Dolan for your leadership and commitment to protect religious freedom!
    Prayers from St. Louis…

  25. Craig J says:

    Thank you, Your Eminence. We have needed and are now receiving clear leadership on this topic and others. God keep, protect, and prosper your work.

  26. SH says:

    I am an orthodox Catholic woman who has found great wisdom and love in the Church’s teachings on birth control, etc. Please know we are out here and we support you. Keep fighting the good fight! My prayers are with you and all the bishops.
    God bless you!

  27. Andrew Jones says:

    May Our Lord Jesus bless you and grant you an increase in courage, and importantly faith, hope and charity! You inspire me, a young Catholic adult, to be clear, unashamed and charitable about sharing and defending my faith. Thank you.

  28. John Hinsley says:

    Thank you for you leadership and faithful witness. We will be with you no matter what.

  29. AC says:

    Thank you, Your Eminence, for your strength and encouragement in this time of need. May God bless you richly!

  30. KrisH says:

    Cardinal Dolan, thank you for standing up for Freedom of Religion and conscience! In the midst of all the rancor over this issue, please know that millions of Catholics stand with you and are praying for you and our courageous bishops!

  31. Kay says:

    Thank you for being one of the few Shepherds who stand up for the Truth. Bravo!

  32. J Dudley says:

    You go, Cardinal Dolan! Teach the faith, and be strong. Plenty of people are praying for you.

  33. Steven says:

    Cardinal Dolan,
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for defending our Catholic Church against the lies and spinning of the Obama administration. Your leadership in this fight is crucial to the final outcome…which will be victory! God will win this fight sooner or later. Thanks again Cardinal Dolan and may God give you much strength.

    Milwaukee Wisconsin

  34. jmm says:

    Bless you. True Catholics stand with you.

  35. Richard says:

    Thank you, Cardinal, Dolan, for the concise and insightful clarification of the present issues. I thank God for the solid job you are doing as shepherd of His faithful.

  36. Jack Meyer says:

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan; we NEED your courage and leadership. You have my daily prayers. Go Card(s)!

    Former Glennonite,


  37. Jeff C says:

    Multas gratias, Your Eminence. I will pray for you and for all of God’s priests.

  38. Gary Penkala says:

    Cardinal Dolan,

    As one former NAC-er to another, thank you for your strong and forthright defense of religious liberties in the US and for “exposing” the beautiful work that the Church has always done in the health care milieu.

    NAC Music Director (1991-93)

  39. Dom says:

    Thank you Cardinal Dolan. We will keep praying for you and all the Bishops.

  40. Matt says:

    Thank you for this! May God give you (and us all) continued courage and strength to last though this onslaught… And to emerge victorious.

  41. Jason says:

    Thank you for your strong and outspoken defense of our beloved church. I will keep you in my players.

  42. Ella says:

    I just saw your your post and blog on Fr. Z’s blog. Thank you so much, Your Eminence, for standing up for the the truth of Christ and His Church in an evil world.

  43. Jonathan C says:

    Thank you, Your Eminence, for your courageous stand against injustice and tyranny. Thank you for your words of comfort to the faithful across America and across the world. Be strengthened by knowing the thousands upon thousands who beseech the King of Glory and the Queen Mother for your health, sanity, intentions, and strength daily.

  44. JasonH says:

    Your Eminence,

    Keep up the good fight. I am thankful for you and Bishop Thomas Olmsted here in Phoenix.

    Just to let you know, Father Z sent me here.


  45. MisterB says:

    Your Eminence, thank you so much for your strength and leadership. You are in my prayers.

  46. Chris Beasley says:

    Your Excellency,

    My deepest gratitude for your backbone and voice on this critical issue. My prayers for with you and for all our Bishops to draw a “line in the sand” and stand up to this abuse from our government. God bless and strengthen you!

  47. MB says:

    Thank you and God Bless You, your Eminence!

  48. Blaise says:

    Your Eminence,
    Thank you for your work and your strong voice for the Truth. As an English Catholic I second Katrina’s comments. I will be praying for you, your fellow bishops and your priests.

  49. PAT says:

    I am another visitor referred here from Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s WDTPRS blog.

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan, for your strong and principled leadership! We are ready to stand firm in defense of our religious liberty, which truly is at the heart of this matter. We will not be forced against our consciences to fund an intrinsic evil. We will not comply with HHS mandates!

  50. LaudemGloriae says:

    Thank you for this wonderful story and all you do.