The archbishop of Washington on Sunday accused the network news programs of having "missed the boat" by largely ignoring lawsuits filed this past week by Catholic institutions challenging the Obama administration's so-called contraception mandate.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," was responding to an analysis by the conservative Media Research Center of how the networks' evening newscasts treated coverage of the dozen federal lawsuits filed Monday. According to the center, CBS spent 19 seconds on the story after it broke, while the other networks gave it no coverage.
"It is puzzling, particularly since they're focusing so much attention right now on the pope's butler," Wuerl said, in reference the scandal in which the pope's butler Paolo Gabriele was charged with stealing sensitive documents and is suspected of leaking them.
"It seems to me that somehow they've missed the boat. They've missed the story," Wuerl said.
The story, the archbishop said, is "religious liberty."
Wuerl adamantly defended the lawsuits, which were filed by dozens of Catholic-affiliated institutions including schools, charities and the Archdiocese of Washington.
Asked about speculation that the suits were just a vehicle for conservative members of the church to go after President Obama -- considering dozens of dioceses did not join the suit -- Wuerl said the Catholic community is unified.
"I have yet to see among the bishops any split at all," he said.
The contraception mandate was originally a requirement on religious-affiliated institutions to provide access to free contraceptive coverage, as part of the federal health care overhaul. After outcry from Catholic leaders, the administration tweaked the rule so that insurers would be responsible for providing that coverage directly.
The Obama administration argues in defense of the rule by noting that almost 99 percent of women have used contraception and many struggle with the cost, and that a majority of states already require insurance to cover birth control.
Wuerl, though, said this has never been applied at the federal level. "This whole lawsuit isn't about contraception. It's about religious freedom," he said.
He also challenged the administration's "accommodation" to religious groups, noting that many archdioceses are self-insured.
"We are the insurer," he said. "There's no accommodation."