Cardinal DiNardo talks about his meeting with the pope
Apr 22, 2012
Area Catholic leader continues to resist Obama mandate, and reveals what he gave up for Lent
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, is the first and only cardinal from the Southern United States. He oversees 1.2 million Roman Catholics in the largest and oldest diocese in Texas - one that is growing rapidly.
DiNardo, 62, also chairs the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is resisting a White House mandate that most employers provide health-care coverage that includes contraception and sterilization. These practices are forbidden by Catholic teaching. In March, DiNardo returned from a visit with Pope Benedict XVI. During Holy Week, he sat down with Chronicle reporter Lomi Kriel.
Q: Tell us about your visit to Rome.
A: It's supposed to be every five years to report on the condition of your local church. The first thing you do is visit the tombs of the apostles, Peter and Paul. It's important for us to get a sense of spiritually why we are there. The second aspect is to meet with the Holy Father. We had about 35 minutes with him.
Q: What was it like to meet the pope?
A: The pope is very shy. But when you get into a discussion with him, Pope Benedict is very animated.
Q: What did he say?
A: He was delighted that we have large numbers of young people … we have growth. Part of it is people moving here from other parts of the United States. A large portion of it is immigration from Mexico, Central and South America. But also we are getting more Catholics from the Pacific Basin. We even have a Chinese parish here that celebrates Mass alternate weeks in Cantonese and Mandarin. We celebrate Mass every week in between 14 to 16 languages in this diocese.
Q: How big an issue was the health care/contraception mandate?
A: The archbishop in charge of that section was pretty well aware of what we were doing and simply encouraged us.
Q: When the Obama compromise on contraception first came about, it was endorsed by the Catholic Health Association, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan (of the Archdiocese of New York) called it a "step in the right direction." What has happened since?
A: Cardinal Dolan immediately received a call from the president and he called the heads of the various committees, including me. We had not seen what the rules were … so our initial statement that morning was that this could be a step forward but we're concerned.
Q: What is the concern?
A: This federal mandate has a very narrow definition of what constitutes a religiously exempt institution. Colleges, universities and hospitals are not exempt because their major service is not just to Catholics, nor is their major service to impart just the doctrine of Catholicism. We do not consider our universities and hospitals to be adjuncts. We consider them instead to be part of the very definition of who we are. Also outside of the mandate would be individual conscience.
Q: As part of the compromise, third-party companies could administer coverage for self-insured faith-based groups.
A: Yes, but we still pay for it. In effect, by this government mandate, what constitutes a religious institution is willy-nilly being defined. Secondary is, of course, being forced to pay for what is, according to our teaching, not a moral activity.
Q: According to a 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute, sexually active Catholic women use contraceptives as often as non-Catholics.
A: That a number of people use it, including Catholics, that is not the point of this issue. The point of this issue is the religious liberty of institutions to define its teachings and its objections.
Q: What is the church's teaching on contraceptives?
A: That contraceptive actions - let's say, using the pill - that they help to pull apart the unitive and procreative dimensions of sexual activity in marriage, that they are wrong.
Q: In all instances?
A: We're speaking about the use of contraceptive drugs in sexual activity for reasons of avoiding pregnancy. There are a wide variety of natural family planning options. We are not opposed to family planning, per se. What we are opposed to are those chemical methods.
Q: What's next?
A: We continue to be involved in discussions with the White House, but simultaneously we have been working with (Congress). They can pass laws that take precedence.
Q: What did you give up for Lent?
A: I usually give up Snickers. People kid me about that mercilessly. But I also do some things for Lent, not just negative things. More time for prayer. More attention to people in need.
Q: What is your message for this particular Easter?
A: My message is that Christ is always at work in the world.