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The President’s HHS Regs, Bishop Olmsted and the GOP Campaign

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‘[I]t’s a very hot, hot issue on the right,” the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza told me on yesterday’s program, referencing the exploding controversy over the president’s attack on the Roman Catholic Church via the HHS regulations. “And you know,” he continued, “I don’t know where it goes from here.”

Lizza continued:

You have liberal Catholics like Michael Sean Winters and E.J. Dionne, both friends of mine, who are obviously deeply concerned about this, and have criticized the White House for this. So it seems like a case where the White House…but it also seems like a case where the White House knew what they were getting into. They didn’t do this haphazardly, right? They thought about it, they had a process, and the highest levels of the White House were involved.

(The complete transcript of the Lizza interview is here.)

Where it goes is the ballot box. Here is the key exchange I had with Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted on my program yesterday:

HH: No, it’s not. Last question, Bishop. Could you personally, as Thomas Olmsted, Bishop Olmsted, could you vote for someone who stood behind this policy?

TO: I could not vote for someone who’s in favor of any intrinsically evil thing.

HH: And this policy is intrinsically evil?

TO: Well, this policy means that we are forced to subsidize things that are intrinsically evil.

“Intrinsically evil” are the words that will drive many Catholics in this election, and the electoral realignment those words presage is long overdue.

I reproduce immediately below the conversations I have had with the bishop, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney on the issue of the HHS regulations. Newt Gingrich believes exactly as Romney and Santorum do. If the Republican nominee wins in November, the Church’s freedom of conscience will be protected. If the president wins re-election, we know that the Church will be forced to submit or close the doors of its colleges and universities, hospitals and social service agencies.

The choice could not be more stark, and the so-called “compromise” being pursued by the president’s political team is worth as much as the president’s assurances to Cardinal-designate Dolan in the fall.

Rick Santorum 2/1/12:

HH: Now I want to talk to you about two substantive issues, Senator Santorum. The first are these new regulations from the Obama administration. I read the letter from Archbishop Olmstead of Phoenix on the air. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has written a new article in First Things. It’s shocking, actually, what’s going on. Should this be a centerpiece of whoever the nominee’s campaign is?

[# More #]

RS: I talked about it in every speech I’ve given today. And here’s what I said, though, Hugh. I said that I took issue with the Catholic Bishops Conference, because Hugh, you may remember, they embraced Obamacare.

HH: Yes.

RS: They embraced it and said…here’s what I said to them. Be careful when you have government saying that they can give you rights, that you have a right to health care, and government’s going to give you something, because once you are now dependant on government, they, not only can they take that right away, they can tell you how to exercise that right, and you can either like it or not. And that’s the problem. That’s what the Catholic Bishops Conference didn’t get, that there’s no free lunch here, folks. If you’re going to give people secular power, then they’re going to use it in a secular fashion. And that’s why, you know, I hate to say it, but you know, you had it coming. And it’s time to wake up and realize that government isn’t the answer to the social ills. It’s people of faith, and it’s families, and it’s communities, and it’s charities that need to do this as it has in America so successfully for so long.

HH: Rick Santorum, what do you advise Catholic hospitals, Catholic colleges, Catholic…the centers of poverty assistance, the adoption agencies? What do you advise them to do in the face of, as Archbishop Olmstead said, we cannot comply with this unjust law?

RS: Civil disobedience. This will not stand. There’s no way they can make this stand. The Supreme Court, eventually, this thing’s going to get to the Supreme Court just like the ministerial hiring issue that was just decided by the Supreme Court the other day. And it was a 9-0 decision that said the Obama administration can’t roll over people of faith when it comes to hiring. Yet in the face of that decision, this radical, secular government of Barack Obama continues to have faith be the least important of the 1st Amendment. And I just think they fight. They fight in the courts, and they fight by civil disobedience, and go to war with the federal government over this one.

Mitt Romney 2/7/11:

HH: Now I want to start with a substantive question, Governor. For the benefit of the audience, President Obama and his Department of Health and Human Resources have issued regulations that would require Catholic institutions like B.C. and Notre Dame and Georgetown, every Catholic elementary and high school, as well as all Catholic hospitals and social service agencies to provide sterilization and the morning after pill through their health insurance plans. If you are elected president, will you suspend those regulations on the first day in office and pledge to revoke them? And prohibit any other similar regulation from going forward?

MR: Absolutely. Yes. Undoubtedly. Hugh, this is an attack on religious conscience, religious practice in America. It is antithetical to the principles of our 1st Amendment, the very founding of our country. It is a continuation of the attack by this administration on religious thought and belief and practice in this country. I find it extraordinary. One of the other decisions, as you know, that they made was to say that the government should be able to determine who qualifies as a minister for a particular faith, and thereby would be able to enjoy the ministerial exemption from certain laws. And that was taken all the way to the Supreme Court, and even with some liberals on the bench, they lost that battle, 9-0. Even the entire Supreme Court thought they’d gone too far. This is one more example of an attack on religion, and it’s got to end. And if I’m president, if you can imagine, it will be over.

HH: Now President Obama called Archbishop and Cardinal-designate Dolan of New York on the morning these issues were, these regulations were issued. And the New York Times today says the Obama administration wants to compromise. Can this decision be understood as anything other than the President’s decision, Governor Romney?

MR: I think you’re absolutely right. This is the President’s decision. This was not something that surprised him. And by the way, if it had surprised him, he could have reversed it immediately upon hearing about it. He knew where this was headed. He knew that this was going to be a big favor among his secular friends who do not like the sense of freedom of religion in this country. And I think he has made an enormous mistake, particularly among Catholic voters. There are a lot of Catholic voters who vote Democrat. You know, I come from a state, Massachusetts. We’ve got a lot of Catholics, and a lot vote Democrat. But this is going to change a lot of people’s minds, and they’re going to realize that this President’s agenda is not just bankrupting the country, it is also changing us from a nation under God.

HH: Now what will your attitude be generally towards the country’s religious institutions if you become the president, because they’re in the tens of thousands. And President Obama clearly considers them some sort of obstacle to be rolled over when they get in his way.

MR: Well, one of the great things about America is that people have confidence in something greater than themselves. And the religious institutions in our country encourage us to be bigger than ourselves, to have purposes that are larger than our selfish interests. And as a result, we are a greater people than we would be if we were an entirely selfish people. And I believe part of the greatness of America flows from the religious convictions of our many citizens. And even those who are not members of any particular faith typically have a vision of something greater than themselves. This is quintessentially an American attribute. And the attack on religion is unseemly, it’s unconstitutional, and I think it’s unwise.

Bishop Olmsted, 2/7/11:

HH: So pleased to welcome to the program Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix. Bishop, welcome, I’m really honored that you would join us today.

TO: Thank you, Hugh, good to be with you.

HH: Your letter to all of the people of the Phoenix Diocese I read on the air, and I posted it. In it, you say we cannot, we will not comply with this unjust law. What does that mean, Bishop Olmsted?

TO: Well, we have to, just because of our own dignity as a human person, and our integrity as a believer, we have to, our faith means something. And if it means something, then it’s connected with our deepest convictions, connected with our commitments. And our commitment is to serve the Lord our God with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul. And so to act against our conscience, what we think is right or wrong, would be to deny something very central to who we are as a human person.

HH: But when you say we will not comply, does that mean that you would get out of all of the institutions that currently operate Catholic Charities, the schools, any Catholic college or institution under your authority? Or does it mean that you would simply refuse to comply, and you would pay whatever fines, or not pay whatever fines were levied against you?

TO: I think that those decisions, we’ll have to make as we get nearer to the time and look at it. Certainly, paying the fines, I can’t imagine how that could last very long, because we have a lot of institutions. But they serve those who need to be educated, those who are poor, those who are elderly, Native American populations, etc. So we couldn’t possibly sustain the fines for a very long time. So I hope we don’t reach that stage where we have to make some very concrete situations. But personally, in terms of our deciding whether or not we will pay for these things as individuals, I think that’s something we can each make and need to make. And then, as a sense of organizations wherever we’re obliged, I would hope that we would stay strong and not comply with this.

HH: Now Bishop, I don’t want to, I’m not asking you a gotcha question. But it’s really the central question. Right now, just on this program, Mitt Romney said he would revoke this on the first day as president. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have said the same thing. So you have the three leading Republicans saying they would end this regulation, and you have President Obama who called Archbishop Dolan and said it’s coming. It’s a clear divide. Will you have to consider the question, I’m not asking you to answer it, but will you have to consider the question on how, on instructing Catholics of good conscience how they ought to vote in the presidential election if this situation doesn’t change?

TO: Well, we Catholic bishops have been trying to do that with every single election, to help our people to vote according to the principles that we believe. We usually talk precisely about those things which are always wrong, always evil. Those are ones in which we really cannot compromise on. And then others, where it’s a question of prudential judgment, whether what’s there or not, these issues are really very basic issues. So these will certainly be principles we will be lifting up for our people as they make very serious decisions of voting.

HH: Can you imagine yourself coming to the point where a letter is read in the Diocese of Phoenix that says a Catholic in good conscience may not vote for President Obama? I’m not asking you answer that question, but do you think you’ll have to consider that level of specificity if this impasse continues?

TO: I would be very surprised that we would ever mention by name. Our usual way of acting is not ad hominem, not directed to particular persons, but as directed to the principles that we need to lift up, which obviously have to do with presentations that politicians are making and others. So people can make their own application from those.

HH: But am I correct, Bishop? Is it your understanding that the President did call Cardinal-designate Dolan and explain his decision to him?

TO: I don’t know if that happened or not. I know there was a conversation back, I think it was in November between Archbishop Dolan then, now Cardinal-elect Dolan, and the President. And at that time, I don’t think he had the impression that this was the direction that things were going to go.

HH: Were you surprised by this decision?

TO: I was surprised by the decision. I don’t understand why we would step away from the 1st Amendment, which is religious freedom. Religious freedom is the first freedom. We were created by God in the image of God, so our relationship with Him is the first freedom that we have. He’s the one who gives us freedom. And so if we violate that first freedom, it’s the first one in our bill of rights, it’s the first one that’s recognized in the United Nations. It just makes sense that it’s the first freedom. So it doesn’t make sense that to me, why the administration would want to take such a drastic act contrary to our human dignity and to our freedom.

HH: I agree with that, Bishop Olmsted, which brings me back around to the question of every coming up against the hard choice to advocate a candidacy by name. But I don’t think unless the bishops say it clearly that the interest groups in the Democratic Party will hear you. To avoid the impasse, they have to know what this means to Catholics. Do you think they get it, that this just cannot stand?

TO: I think it’s very encouraging that we hear statements made by a number of Catholics of all different political persuasions. A number of editorials have come out by people from various political persuasions as well, have seen this as really a major departure from recognition of a right that all of us need to have protected.

HH: Have you heard from the Vatican on this, yet, to your knowledge, Bishop Olmsted?

TO: Well, every…this is the year when bishops go to visit with the Pope. About every five to seven years, all the bishops of the world go to visit with the Pope. And there was a group of bishops from the United States who were there in January. And at that time, there was a statement made by Pope Benedict. I could read part of it for you, if you’d be interested.

HH: Please.

TO: What Pope Benedict says is of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms – the freedom of religion. Many of you, he says, have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoke to me of a roaring tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship, without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience. So he addressed it very directly, speaking precisely about religious freedom, and lifting up what we have seen, sadly, that’s happened with the administration, especially with Hillary Clinton, when they tried to reduce freedom of religion to reach freedom of worship. And that’s a very narrow category. That’s not at all what we’re talking about.

HH: No, it’s not. Last question, Bishop. Could you personally, as Thomas Olmsted, Bishop Olmsted, could you vote for someone who stood behind this policy?

TO: I could not vote for someone who’s in favor of any intrinsically evil thing.

HH: And this policy is intrinsically evil?

TO: Well, this policy means that we are forced to subsidize things that are intrinsically evil.

HH: Bishop Olmsted, thank you so much for joining me from the Archdiocese of Phoenix. I appreciate your time so much.

End of interview

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