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E.J. Dionne wonders whether Catholic bishops are more interested in protecting religious freedom or attacking President Obama, in his column, “Catholicism Is Not The Tea Party At Prayer:”

When the Department of Health and Human Services initially issued rules requiring contraceptive services to be covered under the new health care law, it effectively exempted churches and other houses of worship but declined to do so for religiously affiliated entities such as hospitals, universities and social welfare organizations.

Catholics across the political spectrum — including liberals like me — demanded a broader exemption, on the theory that government should honor the religious character of the educational and social service institutions closely connected to faith traditions.

Under pressure, Obama announced a compromise on Feb. 10. It still mandated contraception coverage, but religiously affiliated groups would neither have to pay for it nor refer its employees to alternatives. These burdens would be on insurance companies.

The compromise was quickly endorsed by the Catholic Health Association. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the bishops’ conference, reserved judgment but called Obama’s move “a first step in the right direction.”

Then, right-wing bishops and allied staff at the bishops’ conference took control. For weeks, Catholics at Sunday Mass were confronted with attacks that, at the most extreme, cast administration officials as communist-style apparatchiks intent on destroying Roman Catholicism.

You think I exaggerate? In his diocesan newspaper, Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, wrote: “The provision of health care should not demand ‘giving up’ religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship — no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long Cold War to defeat that vision of society.” My goodness, does Obama want to bring the Commies back?

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