Catholic ministries are among the world's foremost providers of women's health care around the world, New York's Cardinal Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan reminded the public on March 16.
“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 cardinal and U.S. bishops' conference president declared Friday in a post on his “Gospel in the Digital Age” blog.
“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.”
Cardinal Dolan's comments came amid continuing controversy over President Obama's contraception insurance mandate. The federal rule has been denounced by the U.S. bishops, along with a broad coalition of religious groups and others, as a threat to religious freedom.
Debate over the contraception coverage rule has intensified recently, with some supporters of the mandate accusing opponents of a “war on women.” The Obama administration has rejected any change to the mandate, while announcing an upcoming “Women’s Week of Action” to support the president.
In Friday's post, Cardinal Dolan indicated there was no basis for any charge of hostility or indifference to women on the part of the Church.
“Those really concerned about women’s health would be better off defending the Church’s freedom to continue its work,” he wrote.
The cardinal recalled his trip to an Ethiopian Muslim village, where Catholic Relief Services dug a well to assist the young girls who once walked long distances to collect water. Now, a village chief told the cardinal, “they can go to school because we have good water right here because of our new well.”
On another trip to India, the cardinal was told about a group of nuns who were helping young women of the Dalit population – the group once known as the “untouchables” – to learn crafts and job skills, allowing them to rise beyond their positions as poorly-paid domestic servants.
Closer to home, Cardinal Dolan noted that the bishops of New York sponsor the Fidelis agency, said to be the state's largest insurer of low-income individuals.
“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.”
The pattern, he said, is clear – and shows a deep concern for women's well-being.
“If you want to see creative, daring, life-giving healthcare for women and their children, look at what the Church is doing.”
He rejected characterizations of the Church “as backwards and insensitive when it comes to women’s health,” describing the “tactic” as “a proven ploy to take the attention off the current urgent issue of religious freedom.”
Cardinal Dolan advised the public to see past this smokescreen, and look to the real issues at stake in the contraception mandate dispute.
“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.”