BALTIMORE (AP) — A top American bishop said Tuesday the Roman Catholic church will not comply with the Obama administration requirement that most employers provide health insurance covering birth control.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said church leaders are open to working toward a resolution with federal officials, but will meanwhile press ahead with challenges to the mandate in legislatures and in court.
"The only thing we're certainly not prepared to do is give in. We're not violating our consciences," Dolan told reporters at a national bishops' meeting. "I would say no door is closed except for the door to capitulation."
The bishops have been fighting the regulation since it was announced by President Barack Obama early this year. Houses of worship are exempt, but religiously affiliated hospitals, charities and colleges are not.
Obama promised to change the requirement so that insurance companies, not faith-affiliated employers, would pay for the coverage. But details have not been worked out. And not only the bishops, but Catholic hospitals and some other religious leaders generally supportive of Obama's health care overhaul have said the compromise proposed so far appears to be unworkable.
Dozens of Catholic dioceses and charities have sued over the mandate, along with colleges, including the University of Notre Dame. The bishops have made the issue the centerpiece of a national campaign on preserving religious freedom, which they consider under assault on several fronts from an increasingly secular broader culture. The Department of Health and Human Services adopted the rule as a preventive service meant to protect women's health by allowing them to space their pregnancies.
It's unclear what, if any, influence the bishops have with the administration.
Many bishops spoke out sharply against Obama during the election. The bishops said they were protesting policies, not the candidate himself. Obama won the overall Catholic vote, 50 percent to 48 percent, according to exit polls, but Catholics split on ethnic lines. White Catholics supported Romney, 59 percent to 40 percent. Latino Catholics went for Obama, 75 percent to 21 percent.
A White House spokesman did not immediately comment.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, said the administration should compromise. Although liberal-leaning Catholics disagree with the bishops on gay marriage and other issues, these same Catholics would oppose anything that threatened the church's social service work with the poor, war refugees and other disadvantaged people.
"This is a situation where being a gracious victor is not only the right thing to do, it makes good political sense," Reese said.
Dolan, archbishop of New York, would not say whether bishops would disobey the mandate if the lawsuits fail or church leaders can't resolve their disagreements with Health and Human Services.
"It's still not doomsday yet," he said.
Separately, the bishops voted to shelve a statement on the economy that they'd been working on for months. The bishops voted overwhelmingly to draft the document last June, after objecting to social services cuts in the budget proposed by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who was the Republican vice presidential nominee. This statement was intended as a brief message of concern and encouragement to Americans. But bishops meeting in Baltimore couldn't agree on the wording or emphasis and rejected the document.
Also, the bishops endorsed the effort by the Archdiocese of New York to seek sainthood for Dorothy Day, a social activist and writer who converted to Catholicism as an adult. She was a founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, which advocates for social justice and aids the poor.