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Amid birth control debate, Obama sending delegation to watch O'Brien become a cardinal

President Barack Obama is sending a presidential delegation to the Holy See this weekend to watch the elevation of Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien and another American to cardinal, the White House said Thursday.

Both O’Brien, spiritual leader of the Baltimore archdiocese’s half million Catholics, and Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan have been occasional critics of Obama, most recently over a rule that would have required Catholic hospitals, universities and other institutions to provide health insurance to employees that covered contraception.

The church opposes artificial birth control. In a letter read at Mass this month, O’Brien said the archdiocese would not comply with “this unjust law” – even if it meant dropping coverage for its 3,500 employees.

"The Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our nation's first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty," O'Brien wrote.

Obama offered a compromise last week in which the insurers would be required to provide contraception to employees at no cost to the Catholic institutions.

In a statement last week, Dolan, the president of theU.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the revision “a first step in the right direction,” but said the bishops would “reserve judgment on the details until we have them.”

In an e-mail just now, O'Brien spokesman Sean Caine wrote that O'Brien "echoes the concerns articulated by the USCCB ... and reiterates that the mandate violates religious freedom, as well as his great desire that it be rescinded or that congress act to override it."

The White House said Thursday that Kenneth F. Hackett, president emeritus of Catholic Relief Services – the Baltimore-based international relief and development arm of the bishops’ conference – would join Ambassador Miguel H. Díaz, the U.S. representative to the Vatican, at the consistory Saturday, when O’Brien and Dolan are to be elevated to cardinal.

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