Meanwhile, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, the top U.S. Catholic bishop, vowed that there would be legislative and court challenges to the health care mandate compromise.
Dolan, who heads the USCCB, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he trusted Obama wasn't anti-religious and intended to make good on his pledge to work with religious groups to fine-tune the mandate.
“I want to take him at his word,” Dolan said in Rome, where he will be made a cardinal Saturday. But he stressed: “I do have to say it's getting harder and harder,” to believe Obama's claim to prioritize religious freedom issues given the latest controversy.
The mandate also raised greater philosophical questions about which institutions would qualify as religious and could therefore be exempt.
“Does the federal government have the right to tell a religious individual or a religious entity how to define yourself?” Dolan asked.
Initially, Dolan had termed Obama's compromise as “a first step in the right direction” after hearing about it Feb. 10. But later that day, Dolan's USCCB issued a statement rejecting it, saying the arrangement was unacceptable and raised “serious moral concerns.”
Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said the main concern is that the so-called “choking mandates” remain. Like Weisenburger, Dolan said many Catholic entities are self-insured. It remains unclear how they would get around the mandate to provide services that they consider morally illicit.
“Was what was intended to be a concession, and what gave us a glimmer of hope at the beginning … really just amount to a hill of beans? And it seems as if it does,” Dolan said.
He vowed to support legislation under way in Congress that would allow any employer to deny birth control coverage if it runs counter to their religious or moral beliefs. The White House on Monday termed the proposed legislation “dangerous and wrong.”
Dolan said the U.S. bishops will now work hard to support passage of the new legislation.
Separately, he said, the bishops will back court challenges to the mandate being undertaken by others. He said he didn't think the USCCB itself, however, would sue the government over the issue.
Dolan spoke at the North American College, the U.S. seminary in Rome, where he was a student in the 1970s and served as rector starting in 1994.
Loutitia Eason, chancellor for the Oklahoma City Archdiocese, said a prepared statement from Dolan and the USCCB has been distributed to priests throughout the archdiocese. She said many of the priests will likely post the letter in their parish bulletins and on parish websites to let parishioners know the bishops' continued dissatisfaction with the mandate.