Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, congratulated President Barack Obama on his Nov. 6 re-election.

The pope - in a Nov. 7 telegram to Obama, which was sent via Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the United States - said that he prayed the ideals of freedom and justice that guided America's founders might continue to flourish.

"In the message, the Holy Father sent his best wishes to the president for his new term and assured him of his prayers that God might assist him in his very great responsibility before the country and the international community," the Vatican said in a statement.

The pope also told Obama he was praying that "the ideals of liberty and justice that guided the founders of the United States of America might continue to shine" as the nation goes forward, the statement said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, voiced hopes that Obama would also promote "a culture of life and religious freedom."

It is the hope of everyone that President Obama "respond to the expectations" of the American people and "serve law and justice for the well-being and growth of every person, by respecting essential human and spiritual values and by promoting the culture of life and religious freedom, which have always been so precious in the tradition of the American people and their culture," the priest said.

U.S. Catholic bishops have been at odds with Obama over his support for legalized abortion and his administration's plan to require that the private health insurance plans of most Catholic institutions cover surgical sterilization procedures and artificial birth control, which are forbidden by the church's moral teaching.

In a Nov. 7 letter to the president, Cardinal Dolan said, "The people of our country have again entrusted you with a great responsibility. The Catholic bishops of the United States offer our prayers that God will give you strength and wisdom to meet the difficult challenges that face America."

Cardinal Dolan added the bishops pray that Obama will "help restore a sense of civility to the public order, so our public conversations may be imbued with respect and charity toward everyone."

He said, "In particular, we pray that you will exercise your office to pursue the common good, especially in care of the most vulnerable among us, including the unborn, the poor, and the immigrant. We will continue to stand in defense of life, marriage and our first, most cherished liberty, religious freedom."

In the press release containing the text of the letter, the words "our first, most cherished liberty" were in italics. The bishops and Obama administration have clashed for the past year on a federal Department of Health and Human Services mandate that would require most religious employers to provide contraceptive access to their employees, allowing for few exceptions.

With 270 electoral votes needed to secure a presidential win, Obama, a Democrat, had 303 to 206 for his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.