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. dennis neylon says:

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan for your eloquence and your leadership. May God continue to bless you and HIS church.

  2. God bless you, Cardinal Dolan!

    We miss you in Milwaukee, but know you’re where God has called you!

  3. Christina P says:

    Yes, thank you, Cardinal Dolan, for your leadership during this controversy!

  4. janne liu says:

    thank you your Eminence! For all you are finally doing in this battle, for you and your brother bishops and all the priests and religious, I pray that the Blessed Mother intercede for you and for all of us.

  5. Dick Eggers says:

    Your Eminence,
    Our strength is through prayer and the Holy Spirit, led by yourself! We all need to speak up – in love – and the enemy will flee! The ONLY choice is life!

  6. Helen says:

    Thank you so much Cardinal Dolan. I was sent here via Fr. Z and I’m so glad I read this. My prayers are with you.

  7. Mark says:

    Thank you for your leadership and standing up. God bless you.

  8. Mark says:

    At a time when the church despirately needs leaders, thanks for stepping up. God Bless.

  9. Mark says:

    At a time the Catholic Church needs leaders, thanks for stepping up. God Bless

  10. Your Eminence,

    Thank you for your honesty, your courage, your commitment and your leadership. I’ve been studying ‘Epic: A Journey of Church History’ and learning about the courageous leaders that God sends to us during our hour of need. I believe, sir, that with the risk of religious liberty hanging in the balance, that you are one of those sent to lead in our hour of need. Thank you for your faith and your ‘yes’.

    God Bless You.

  11. Dave says:

    Thanks for holding and teaching the faith in tough times. You are in our family’s prayers.

    Fr. Z sent me…

  12. Traditionalist Catholic mom says:

    Thanks and prayers.

  13. mike cliffson says:

    Ipray God give you and Bishops everywhere the courage and faith and love shown By Saint and Bishop Fisher.

  14. SS says:

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan! I’ll be praying for you.

    Oh, and greetings from Fr. Z and his readers, of whom I am one.

  15. John Cahill says:

    Where authentic dissent is virtually unrepresented, truth vanishes — and I believe that is the case with this blog. Our new cardinal must decide whether he is going to foster a cult of sychophants or a culture of truth where differing views are encouraged — and published for discussion. I do not believe that more than 98% of the comments received by the webmaster are “Thank you” notes, as indicated by the published comments. There seems to be unhealthy censorship here and we already know the kind of corruption that fosters.

  16. Jeff says:

    God Bless you, Your Eminence, for boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Life and defending our Religious Liberty to boot! It seems as if Divine intervention has placed you at the head of the Catholic Church in America at just the right time. Again, God Bless!

  17. Anita says:

    I truly hope your courage in speaking up will inspire others to do the same. Clergy and laymen alike. Unfortunately, I believe most of the country doesn’t see the real problems. How come there isn’t any talk about how these ‘services’ are going to be provided for minors WITHOUT PARENTAL CONSENT? If this goes through, then what else will our children have to be subjected to?

  18. Irene says:

    @John Cahill. I agree with you that this blog is an echo chamber. I’m not sure about the censorship, it might just be a self-selecting audience: all of the Cardinal’s conservative political posts generate validating comments by conservative Catholics. As a member of the Archdiocese of NY, though, I am certain that the comments on this site do not reflect the thinking of the overall Catholic community here. We actually do count a few progressive (gasp!) Catholics among us in NYC.

  19. John says:

    I do not doubt the excellent work of Catholic Charities in providing healthcare to women, men, and children and hope that the work will go on. It is difficult for me. however, to understand, even after reading Cardinal Dolan’s online text, in what ways the Catholic Church’s freedom to perform these works is being challenged. This has been an ongoing problem with the entire “religious freedom” position of the Church; no specific examples of how any Catholic’s right to practice his/her faith is in jeopardy. The US Constitution prevents the government from “prohibiting the free exercise” of one’s religion. How do any of the current US healthcare laws “prohibit” a Catholic from going to Mass, receiving the Eucharist, becoming baptized, attending religious schools, marrying in a religious ceremony, etc.?

  20. John says:

    A further note: a recent “New York Times” article listed several Catholic universities, hospitals, and institutions that pay for birth-control pills in their insurance plans. One of them was Cardinal Dolan’s Archdiocese of New York. Can anyone from the Archdiocese verify this?

  21. Concerned Female Catholic says:

    “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.” The previous statement does not ring true for those of us working in the church, with the current threat of our health care being eliminated if the government backs the church into a corner. It’s been hard enough to secure a job that provides health care with the job market and economy as it is. Women’s health care is even more expensive than men’s to purchase on your own. I used to feel working for the church was a safe haven, now I just feel it’s like any other corporation using my benefits as pawn in a political game. There are too many variables in this fight…at the cost of what?

  22. Steven says:

    I can’t believe you fail to believe the exercise of religious freedom is being violated here! It’s amazing:) The Federal government is mandating to the Church you don’t have freedom to exercise your religious belief about contraception and abortion. If that isn’t restricting the free exercise of religion..then what is? It is a clear violation of the 1st amendment in which the State or Federal government is mandating a coverage which goes against our religious beliefs. That is preventing the Church from practicing our Faith fully! The haven’t shut down the Mass but who knows what is next from Liberal Americans. It always starts out small John…so small that some people can’t see it…like you.

  23. mary gibbs says:

    thank you, cardinal dolan, for leading this effort to secure our religious rights under the first amendment. However, I received in answer to my request, from The Newman Society, three pages of catholic colleges, hospitals, etc. (institutions) which currently supply their employees, patients, etc., with contraceptives or contraceptive insurance coverage, approximately fifteen in number. I do not understand this at all. However, there are many things about the Catholic Church of the past forty-five years that I do not understand. Obama was right when he said Catholic priests no longer preach against contraception. When I was young, and even while I was raising a young family, Msgr.Thos J. McCarthy, would instruct the ushers to close the front doors of the church so passersby would not hear him haranguing and berating us parishioners for contracepting & other sins against the 6th commandment. What’s changed?

  24. Steven says:

    To John Cahill,
    If there is censorship on this site…then how come your comment got on here?? It just could be that many people from around the USA and the world agree with Cardinal Dolan.

  25. Nicole says:

    Another young woman here to say “Thank you!”

    I took oral contraceptives for many years (for legitimate, but mild, medical problems). I had vague misgivings about being on hormones, and the more I learned, the less I liked it. It took me two tries to go off — the first time I lasted about a year and then went back with my tail between my legs. I finally did it, the last straw being an article about how it passes out of the body and doesn’t get removed from the water, where it mutates fish and other aquatic life. Now I’m managing.

    Taking these pills to keep from getting pregnant is a bit like smoking to keep from gaining weight, no? And as with cigarette smoke, people may have thought it only affected them, but it turns out that’s not true.

    Anyway, I certainly am in no place to throw stones at anyone, and I won’t stop them from going down to Walgreens or Target if they don’t want to listen. The problem is when they want it for free, and insist that objectors provide it to them. That is a phony “right.”

    Thank you again. I feel like I know who is REALLY on our side. (For those of you who don’t know, the Church does not just do a little good here and there, it’s one of the largest, most active huanitarian organizations in the world, and if forced out of her broad outreach you will likely miss her in ways you are not even aware of).

  26. Nicole says:

    One last parting thought:

    “Religious Freedom should be a personal right, not an institutional right.”

    No, it’s both or neither. You cannot have one without the other. And the funny thing is, our opponents will argue either way when it suits them; as of right now the administration is at least pretending to care about the institutions, but individuals have been left in the cold.

  27. john639 says:

    I actually do not believe there is any war on religion. This country has many different faiths and practices. To say that this one single male dominated belief (of prohibiting BC) should rule the land seems to be more of a controlling issue than any sort of religious war. Our country prohibits many other religious beliefs. I personally don’t like one sigle faith ruling our countries healthcare issues. I think that is dangerous and a very bad precedent. Tomorrow another faith could decide women have no right to work and will demand their companies stop employing women. Already over 1,500 bills to limit or deny women’s rights have been introduced on every level. This War on Women is a very dangerous road to travel indeed.