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. Stephanie Wieskamp says:

    Cardinal Dolan – Thank you for your leadership in these dark and difficult times. You, and all our church leaders, are in my prayers. May God bless you

  2. Trish Bevill says:

    Your Eminence,
    Thank you for your courage in speaking out.
    You remain in our family’s prayers.

  3. A Monk of SVA says:

    Your Eminence,

    You are in my prayers. Keep proclaiming the truth.


    A Monk of St. Vincent

  4. John says:

    Cardinal Dolan please continue to lead us against the Marxist attacts on the Church. I read your statement on Fr.Z blog.

  5. Michele says:

    Thank you for speaking the Truth!

  6. NateE says:

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan. I think this is a powerful rebuttal to those who charge that the church is opposed to women’s rights and women’s healthcare. Thank you and your brother bishops for your leadership! I’ll continue to pray for the [complete] rescission of the HHS mandate.

  7. Susan Sauls says:

    Thank you, Thank you for leading us through this time. You and your brother Bishops are in my prayers.

  8. K. Houser says:

    Cardinal Dolan,
    Thank you for your strong leadership. You and all the bishops are in my daily prayers.

    K. Houser

  9. Cindy says:

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan! Continued prayers for you and all the bishops. Stand strong, and we’ll stand with you.

  10. Alan says:

    Your Eminence, I was referred to this by Fr Zuhlsdorf referred me to this. Thank you for your strong and eloquent example. May God bless you and preserve you in your vocation.

  11. mark docherty says:

    Your Eminence,

    Deo Gratias for your strong stance on this issue. We are deeply appreciative of your courageous actions!

  12. Ron says:

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan. Father Z shared your comments on his blog. Our prayers are with you and all Bishops and Priests. Continue to stand strong. We’ve got your back, Your Eminence.

  13. Mary Sorensen says:

    I’ll be taking copies of this article with me to the Stand Up For Religious Freedom rally on Friday (more info here: to hand out to anyone who walks by.

    Thank you, Your Eminence, for everything you are doing for Holy Mother Church in the US. You are in my prayers!

  14. Kay says:

    We continue to keep you in our prayers. Thank you for your courageous leadership in these difficult times. It’s really important for church leaders to engage in education and catechesis. So many people don’t understand what is really at stake here. God bless.

  15. Therese W says:

    Thank you, Card. Dolan, for your fatherly defense of Catholics and your support for religious freedom in America. I ask you to go the extra mile and do all you can to defeat Obamacare itself–many people of good will, including agnostics and atheists who respect religion while holding to none, are fully aware that a violation of conscience is but one volley in the attack being made on human life by the present administration. Our courageous witness as Catholic clergy and laity can break through lies and hype to bring souls to Christ. Seen in this light, the situation we now face is as much an opportunity to tell the truth about the Church as an assault upon Her. May God preserve us in this fight and give the victory. Viva Christo Rey!

  16. Terry Brown says:

    Great work, Cardinal Dolan! We are lucky to have your voice so clear on this.


  17. Vic says:

    Thank you Cardinal Dolan for your leadership. I wish all our bishops were as forthwith as you are. Thank you again.

  18. Jim Dolen says:

    The Church does some wonderful work for women. Ethiopia and some of the other countries do not afford equality to women, much like back in Christ’s time. Just like we observe and fight against the inequality for women in these countries, the Church needs to provide equality for women in the Church. Our society has evolved from Christ’s time so that now women are equal to men. IT’S TIME TO ORDAIN WOMEN AS PRIESTS.

  19. Anne says:

    Thank you for being the strong leader we need in this dark time. I am afraid to think about what comes next if we don’t stand firm against the forces that expect us to change to suit their objectives.

  20. Mrs. McC says:

    Your Eminence,
    Father Z’s posting about your article led me here – THANK YOU! Please stay strong. We are praying and fasting for you, for your brother Bishops and for our priests.
    This is not a battle of flesh and blood but of principalities and powers…

  21. Colleen says:

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan, for your leadership and faith. You have my prayers.

  22. Mrs. B says:

    Your Eminence,
    Thank you for defending the Church. You and all Religious are in my and my childrens’ prayers. Fr. Z led me to this site.

  23. Skiesow says:

    Cardinal Dolan,

    Thank you for defending our Mother Church. May Blessed Mary, ever virgin cover you in her motherly mantle and interceed on our behalf so that all Catholics hearts are opened to hear and understand why this is such an important issue.

    God bless you and Mary keep you.

  24. DianneC says:

    You are in my prayers, Cardinal Dolan! God Bless you for your faithfulness to Holy Mother Church!

  25. Chris says:

    Keep at the good fight, Your Eminence!

  26. Beth says:

    Your Eminence,
    May St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother be great intercessors for you all year long. We need your leadership, strength, courage and humor. Thanking God for that. Father Z sent me to this sight to encourage you to keep on keeping on! May the Holy Spirit touch your spirit with great courage in the months and years ahead.
    Blessings to you.

  27. Shannon says:

    God be praised for your leadership in this tumultuous time in the US! May the Holy Spirit guide us all.

  28. CJ Williams says:

    Thank you for this post, Your Eminence, and for your leadership on this issue. As an Catholic from the U.S. who has lived abroad for many years now, I am following this battle for the Church’s religious freedom in my country with grave concern. It is encouraging to see that bishops leading the fight with vigor and speaking out clearly. you may be assured of my prayers for you.

  29. Ruth Maxfield says:

    Thank you Cardinal Dolan for all you our doing for our Catholic identity and our religious freedom. You are in our daily prayers.

  30. Karen says:

    Cardinal Dolan, thank you so much for your leadership and your voice on this issue. Please continue to lead the fight. Prayers for strength and wisdom.

  31. MarkS says:

    Thank you Cardinal Dolan for your efforts on the First Amendment rights of religion. Father Z has graciously kept his followers informed of your work in this important battle. We are praying for you and all of the US bishops!

  32. Blaine says:

    Your Eminence,

    Fr. Z. pointed out this story. Thank you so much for the work you do most importantly for our souls but also the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. God Bless you.

  33. Melinda says:

    May the prayers of St. Joseph bless you this day and always. .

  34. Julie says:

    Keep up the fight! I’m praying for you.

  35. Filipe says:

    Thank you, eminence, for your witness.
    May the Lord keep you humble and strengthen you for the fight to come.

  36. Michael Sharkey says:

    God Bless you Cardinal Dolan! Thank you for your leadership. I pray that Our Lady Queen of priests will be to you a protector, intercessor, and loving mother.

  37. David says:

    Your Eminence:

    Thank you for your courageous stand in defense of Jesus Christ, the Church, and religious liberty. I will pray for you.

  38. Ginny says:

    Dear Cardinal Dolan – Thank you so much for speaking out on this issue. God bless you for your continued work. Prayers are being said for you on a daily basis.

  39. Anne Tait says:

    Fr. Z sent me.
    Thank you for reminding us of all the Catholic Church continues to do for women and children here and throughout the world.

    May God continue to bless you and give your voice a hearing.


  40. Kevin L. says:

    God bless you, your Eminence. Please for the love of God and his Holy Church keep up your outstanding Ministry!

  41. Tom says:

    God bless you, Eminence. keep up the good fight for God’s Holy Church.

  42. Jennifer Evancho says:

    Dear Cardinal Dolan,
    We pray a Memorare every day for all the Bishops. May God continue to bless us with your witness and protect you as you work out your and our salvation!

  43. John M says:

    My prayers are with you. We can’t give up.

  44. Donna says:

    +JMJ+ Thank you, your Eminence, May God bless you for your fidelity to our Holy Faith. Our family prays for you and your brother bishops daily.

  45. Aimee says:

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan, for your leadership, and for reminding us of why this fight is so important for all of us, Bless you.

  46. Susan Peterson says:

    Thank you for your strong defense of the truth. Your letter which Fr. Zuhlsdorf cited is just what I need for my FB debate with some who think the Church is “against women” -especially the last paragraph! Please keep doing what you are doing, and encourage your fellow bishops to do the same. We so need strong bishops.
    Susan Peterson

  47. Gina says:

    BLESS YOU, Cardinal Dolan. You, my good and holy priest, are a true Kiss from the Holy Spirit. May you forever feel the smile of Our Lady upon you, and may you be granted true discernment and the unshakable inner peace that only Christ can grant.

    Amen, Cardinal Dolan. You are a true beacon of Truth in these dark and confused times.

  48. Mary Conces says:

    Keep it up, Cardinal Dolan! Father Z said you would appreciate support, and I’m happy to oblige. It is indeed religious freedom that is the primary issue in this confrontation with the government. I wonder how much dependence upon govenment money we’ll have to sacrifice in order to be really free. (Ouch!) My hunch is that it might come to more than financial sacrifice. But let’s pray hard for the strength to stand firm–clergy and laity alike. And while we’re at it, let’s try “in house”, as opposed to the public square, to realize that the church’s teaching on sexual morality is indeed the only path to genuine woman’s liberation–as it was from the beginning.

  49. B Knotts says:

    Your Eminence,

    Thank you for continuing to speak out on this!

  50. AngelaR says:

    I thank you Cardinal Dolan, and ask that all bishops speak out for women, children, men, and all Catholics. We want to hear the Truth. We want to see our good shepherds standing up and leading us through the good fight we are called to fight. Thank you, and may God bless and guide you always.