Dozens of Catholic charities and dioceses, along with evangelical colleges and others, are suing the Obama administration over a requirement that employers provide health insurance that includes contraceptive coverage. The bishops say the religious exemption to the rule violates the religious freedom of nonprofit and for-profit employers. The issue is expected to reach the Supreme Court.
Dolan said in a news conference his speech was not a shift away from that fight — but an expansion of it. "It's almost raised our consciousness to say we can't stop here," Dolan said.
But Mathew Schmalz, religious studies professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said highlighting the fight with the Obama administration would be seen as out of step with Francis' message, especially at a time when the Vatican is moving away from a European focus. Francis is the first pope from Latin America.
"The bishops realize that they themselves are going to have to change their tone if they are to become more inclusive and complement the new tone coming from Pope Francis and the Vatican," Schmalz said. "There is definitely something going on here: The American hierarchy is going to have to change its style or be left behind."
The bishops had early in the meeting prayed for the thousands of victims of Friday's typhoon in the Philippines and also discussed the response to the disaster by Catholic Relief Services, the bishops' international relief agency.
But after a presentation on overall priorities of the U.S. bishops, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, a former president of the conference, rose to say it was "missing this essential element" of a focus on the poor.
"It would help our conference be on record as trying to achieve what Pope Francis has put before us," said Fiorenza, who retired as archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas.