January 2012 Church & State | People & Events

President Barack Obama sought to smooth over a troubled relationship with the Roman Catholic hierarchy by holding a private meeting with influential Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan recently.

Dolan, the powerful archbishop of New York City, met with Obama at the White House Nov. 8. The two reportedly discussed a range of issues, including the church’s request for broad exemptions from several provisions of the new health-care law, reported The New York Times.

“I found the president of the United States to be very open to the sensitivities of the Catholic community,” Dolan, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said later. “I left there feeling a bit more at peace about this issue than when I entered.”

Dolan and other church prelates have been critical of the Obama administration over several issues, most notably same-sex marriage, legal abortion and the provision of contraceptives in health-care plans.

In August, the Department of Health and Human Services announced new regulations mandating that all health-insurance policies cover contraception at no extra cost. Although the rules include an exemption for religious groups, the bishops say it is too narrow. They are lobbying the White House for a much broader exemption.

But advocates of church-state separation say an exemption that is too broad threatens the rights of others.

Americans United is asking the administration to retain the current proposal. In an alert sent to members and supporters, AU asserted that if the exemption is too broad, it will deny women access to necessary services.

“After meeting with the Conference of Catholic Bishops earlier this month, President Obama is weighing his options and unsure of whether he will ask HHS to create sweeping exemptions that could exempt a huge number of employers from offering their employees insurance coverage for contraceptives,” wrote AU. “If HHS were to greatly expand the exemption, it could easily end up swallowing the rule, denying women access to necessary medical services.”

As this issue of Church & State went to press, the White House had yet to issue its decision on the matter.