BALTIMORE, November 16, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The head of America’s Catholic bishops’ conference declared Tuesday that the Catholic Church will “not obey” the Obama administration’s HHS mandate, a policy he classified as “immoral.”

The mandate, which takes effect in eight months, forces employers to cover sterilizations, contraception, and abortifacient medications. Although churches themselves are exempt the mandate applies to religiously affiliated institutions such as hospitals, colleges, charities, and social service agencies.

Asked if the Church is prepared to close its hospitals and other agencies, or instead pay the exorbitant fines levied for non-compliance, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said, “The only thing we’re certainly prepared to do is not give in, not violate our consciences, and not obey what we consider to be something immoral.”

“How we do that and what doors would remain open to us to see if there’s some way consonant with our high moral principles to be able to do it, that’s something we’ve got to start to tackle…and we’re prepared to tackle,” added Dolan, who serves as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The prelate noted that the Church had taken “a bit of a breather” on the issue before election day because the result “could have changed the playing field.” But in the end, he said, “it didn’t.”

Obama’s Republican challenger Mitt Romney had pledged to overturn the mandate within days of taking office.

“We better get back to work and decide just what we’re going to do,” said Dolan. “No door is closed except the door to capitulation.”

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Cardinal Dolan was speaking a day after Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore had pledged that the bishops were prepared for a “long-term” fight for religious freedom in his address as head of the U.S. Bishops’ religious liberty campaign.

Commenting in the wake of Obama’s re-election, Lori said, “In the short- to mid-term … the political landscape is the same, but so also is the resolve to eliminate the HHS mandate and most especially the four-part definition that it contains of what constitutes religious activity such that a church or a church institution could qualify for an exemption.”

That four-part definition “draws lines in our mission where we do not draw them,” he said.

Asked in a follow-up press conference whether the bishops would be willing to shift their position on the mandate, he said, “As it stands certainly we would not be able to live with it.”

“I think as this evolves, as the rule making process gets a little more clear and as we study this and monitor it, as we see how the court cases are proceeding, then our range of options will probably become a little more clear,” he added.