Chicago Cardinal Francis George, leader of the U.S. bishops conference, yesterday warned that Obama’s move to lift a last-minute Bush “conscience clause” regulation for health-care workers would be “the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism.”  

Today, Cardinal George met with the man behind the despotism at the White House. Apparently they got along well enough. Which is encouraging. Though the statements were pretty clipped. Was anyone out there a fly on the wall? 

The White House said: “The President and Cardinal George discussed a wide range of issues, including important opportunities for the government and the Catholic Church to continue their long-standing partnership to tackle some of the nation’s most pressing challenges. The President thanked Cardinal George for his leadership and for the contributions of the Catholic Church in America and around the world.”

The USCCB said: “The meeting was private. Cardinal George and President Obama discussed the Catholic Church in the United States and its relation to the new Administration. The meeting lasted approximately 30 minutes. At the conclusion, Cardinal George expressed his gratitude for the meeting and his hopes that it will foster fruitful dialogue for the sake of the common good.”

The conscience clause is becoming the bishops next great bogey man. (Maybe the FOCA thing isn’t panning out?) One question: Why wasn’t America moving toward “despotism” during the eight years when Bush did not have this regulation in place? And, indeed, all the years before that? There are longstanding consicence protections in place. I’m all for bolstering them. But what is the goal of the over-the-top rhetoric?  

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