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Scott Satchfield / Eyewitness News
Email: ssatchfield@wwltv.com | Twitter: @satchfield

KENNER, La. -- Kenner resident Michael Varino wanted to hear from the president regarding an aspect of the health care debate that affects large Catholic institutions like Loyola University.

In an exclusive interview with President Barack Obama, Karen Swensen asked the question for him, and let him view the president's response.

For Varino, issues affecting his religious beliefs are critical.

'I was raised Catholic, my dear mom and dad were devout Catholics, and I'm a devout Catholic,' Varino said.

Monday night, he got a chance to ask President Barack Obama about one of his biggest concerns, a mandate affecting large Catholic institutions like hospitals or universities that calls for contraception coverage for employees.

'We tried to strike a balance,' Obama said. 'Obviously there's gonna be some disagreements, but ultimately I think our goal here is not to in any way encroach on the Catholic church or any other religious institution. It is to balance their interests with the interests of women, so that they can control their own health care choices.'

The president explained that an exemption for churches is part of that balance -- also noting that many employees of larger institutions are not Catholic.

Still, Varino strongly opposes the president's position.

'It's an attack, I feel, on my religion and it upsets me tremendously,' he said. 'I have to go by the Ten Commandments and there's no compromise, in my opinion, it's an examination of conscience, it's not a choice, it's moral values.'

Despite the strong disagreement, Varino said he's more flexible regarding other aspects of the health care debate, and said he was appreciative of the opportunity to hear directly from the president.

'I do wish everybody had access to health care. I truly believe we should all be able to afford health care,' Varino said. 'I'm glad he did accept, or even answer the question, so I do give him respect. I respect the office of the presidency, but I do disagree with a lot of the things that are going on right now, especially that involve the Catholic church.'

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