Today the whole Church, especially the Church in the United States, rejoices as Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, has been named a cardinal.
Among the Mass-attending Catholics to whom I spoke at my parish outside of New York City this week, expectations for Dolan's tenure as cardinal-archbishop, and de facto leader of the American Church, could not have been higher. Upon his return to New York, Dolan must take up a heavy and challenging burden. Most obviously, he must face down a president determined to marginalize the Church and tame it under the whip of the state.
The most immediate issue before Cardinal Dolan, of course, is the Obama health insurance mandates for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs. Much has been said about the need to argue against the mandates on the basis of the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment, and rightly so. But for the man to whom many will look to make the case against the mandates, it is essential that Dolan craft a broader message.
Although Dolan's principal concern is obviously the prerogatives of the Church, the challenge to the mandates cannot appear simply to be an effort of Catholics to secure a special privilege, granted at the discretion of the state, for the Church's institutions to avoid a policy that is objectionable only in so far as it offends religious idiosyncrasy.
Rather, Dolan ought not concede the legitimacy of the policy in any regard. Of course, he should push for "conscience protections" for religious organizations, but he must bear in mind that religious liberty itself is merely a form of individual liberty, ordained by natural law and promised in human law by the Constitution.
The Church has long been the guardian of the natural law and the freedom and dignity of the individual human being. As such, in the face of the aggressive statism of Obama, the Church cannot acquiesce in the general infringement on the right of individuals to craft employment and contractual arrangements as suit their needs. It is not enough that Catholic institutions are, in general, left alone.
The Obama Administration should remind Dolan, and all of us, that "limited government" is not simply a theoretical good, but a practical virtue. Allowing the government to disregard the dictates of natural law and the strictures of the Constitution threatens the liberty of the entire society, even if, for a little while, the state suffers the institutions of the Church a beneficent reprieve from its control.
Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, and the Holy Apostles, to whom he is successor, may God grant Timothy Cardinal Dolan the grace, zeal and wisdom to lead the Church in America.
Gaudeamus et Deo Gratias!
Coming Next: The Incredible Political Idiocy of Mitt Romney