The news was buried in most press accounts of the meeting between the two international spokesmen, but the Vatican Secretary of State blasted the Obama administration’s HHS mandate in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The Catholic News Service buried the information in the second half of a story on the meeting as well. But what it does report is that Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, who as secretary of state is considered the highest Vatican official, met with Kerry on January 14. While they naturally discussed other political topics, Parolin used the meeting as an opportunity to blast the Obama administration for forcing religious groups to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortions.
So it was no surprise when the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, reported that the two secretaries of state had discussed common concerns on Syria, as well as Israel and Palestine, and other questions of foreign policy. The attention-grabbing anomaly in his account of the diplomats’ talk was a U.S. domestic issue.
Father Lombardi said the two men “also discussed the United States, especially the themes that have been the object of concern and discussion by the U.S. bishops: the health care reform and its relationship to guarantees of religious freedom.”
That was evidently a reference to the contraceptive mandate: the Obama administration’s requirement that nearly all health insurance plans, including those offered by most Catholic universities and agencies, cover sterilizations, contraceptives and some abortion-inducing drugs — all of which are forbidden by the church’s moral teaching.
While legal challenges to the mandate are making their way through the U.S. courts, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the bishops’ conference, asked President Barack Obama Dec. 31 to exempt from fines religious institutions who believe funding contraception and sterilization violate their religious principles.
If there were any doubts about the Vatican’s support for the bishops’ stand, they were dispelled by Cardinal-designate Parolin’s decision to include the contraception mandate in a discussion of geopolitical priorities with Obama’s top diplomat — and then have the Vatican spokesman tell the press about it.
With the Supreme Court slated to take up the Hobby Lobby case in March, the Vatican’s support for the Catholic bishops’ opposition to the mandate here int he United States is much-appreciated.