Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

The Al Smith Dinner: Good Humor?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 08, 2012

President Obama’s appearance at the Al Smith Dinner is confirmed. He was invited by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York. This annoys (and in many cases alarms) serious Catholics everywhere. What can be said about it?

As our news reports emphasize, the invitation is traditional—but there have also been some notable exceptions, especially where the abortion issue is concerned. The decision to honor President Obama at Notre Dame last year was extraordinarily controversial, drawing the ire of many bishops, and the American bishops as a body have placed themselves squarely in the path of Obama’s assault on religious liberty. Cardinal Dolan himself has questioned not only the President’s policies but his veracity on these issues.

Archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling explained that “it is the tradition of the Smith dinner to invite the presidential candidates in the presidential election years in the spirit of nonpartisanship, good humor and good fellowship.” But surely there are limits to “good humor and good fellowship”. At a certain point, if the Church is serious about opposing the assault of anti-Christian powers and principalities, the Church cannot set this seriousness aside in the name of “good humor and good fellowship.” If she does, she will never be respected as a defender of her own prerogatives or of the rights of the faithful.

One could generously speculate that Archbishop Dolan sees an opportunity here to influence the President in a direction favorable to the Church, but if he sees such an opportunity then my opinion is the same as it was when I commented in January on his statement that he was “terribly let down, disappointed and disturbed” by Obama’s duplicity and hostility toward people of Faith (see Archbishop Dolan’s Letdown, and Job one). Once again, there seems to be something pathetic in even suggesting that such an opportunity is present here.

It is not hard to figure out who is going to benefit from this invitation—the Church in bending the President to her will, or the President in seeking more of the Catholic vote. So one can only ask: Is Archbishop Dolan merely revealing, once again, that he is possessed by an inner Democrat as yet only marginally transformed by his own religious beliefs? Or is he betraying the time-honored episcopal tendency, so often denounced by the saints as worldliness, to want to be “a player”, to be able to extend invitations to those in power and have them accepted? Only God knows. But as in all such matters, we can take a certain amount of solace in the certainty that He really does know: “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord. “I will repay.” (Rom 12:19)

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: susana8577 - Dec. 10, 2016 2:33 PM ET USA

    Excellent! Especially: "Such pressures carry grave dangers[....] First, the failure to prioritize the spiritual and salvific mission of the priest in favor of popular causes which are usually quite worldly; second, the failure to ensure that priests understand that they cannot confuse Christian virtue with popular movements, for it is not for the priest to attempt to seize the moral high ground the way politicians do." Thank you!

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Dec. 09, 2016 8:15 PM ET USA

    It took me years to earn a Ph.D. in atmospheric science. Likewise for my FSSP pastor, who has a Ph.D. in physics. Yet neither of us has the time nor interest to waste on the political football that currently goes by the name "climate change." In the 1960s it was "global cooling" and a polluted Lake Erie. Well, nature's God fixed the problem of global cooling, and God's creatures fixed the problem of Lake Erie. As a "man-made disaster," the nuclear meltdown at 3-mile Island caused no deaths.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Aug. 11, 2012 11:09 PM ET USA

    President Obama calls himself "a Christian" as I recall, therefore: 1Cr 5:11-12 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?" Obama is betraying this Constitutional Republic and Christianity itself. It is NOT to be "joked about..."

  • Posted by: chasann113163 - Aug. 11, 2012 12:04 PM ET USA

    This Invitation was a mistake and no one wants to admit it. Pres. Obama is going to get his photo op with the Cardinal and the Catholic Church is once again made to look foolish and out of touch.I don't believe for one minute the Cardinal will have anything to say that will Change the President's mind. Its an Obama, win, win and a sad day for Catholic's who are trying to be true Catholic's.

  • Posted by: filioque - Aug. 10, 2012 7:00 PM ET USA

    The dinner is not an opportunity to speak to the president about anything serious. If Cardinal Dolan has something he thinks the President would listen to, he should ask for an appointment. The dinner is only a spectacle that the candidates will try to use to their political advantage. Otherwise they would not be spending the time there less than three weeks before the election. Cardinal Dolan is being naive or worse. I don't think the possible motives mentioned are out of bounds.

  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Aug. 10, 2012 3:48 PM ET USA

    Jeff, your speculations about the Cardinal's motives are downright nasty. The fact is that since he has invited Obama to the dinner and since it is an opportunity for him to speak one-on-one with him, we should be like the Jews in Esther's time, fasting and praying for three days straight to turn the heart of the king against the Jews' enemy, Haman. In this case, the "king" himself is our enemy, but we should not doubt that if we fast and pray, God will hear and answer.

  • Posted by: brenda22890 - Aug. 09, 2012 11:10 AM ET USA

    Thank you Dr. Mirus for having the courage to say what needs to be said about this scandal. I don't think Cardinal Dolan can be let off the hook for this one. There is no excuse plausible.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 09, 2012 10:15 AM ET USA

    Tim Tebow recently responded to Boomer Esiason's calls for the Jets to cut him thusly: “I've heard nothing but great things about Mr. Esiason,” Tebow said. “I know he was a great player here, and I just wish him nothing but the best in his announcing and God bless him.” What's my point? We are Christians, the light of the world (??? ??? ??????). We are different. Archbishop Dolan is demonstrating the difference. If it seems foolish to you, think of 1 Corinthians 4:10. ?????, indeed.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Aug. 09, 2012 2:16 AM ET USA

    As long as Pres. Obama is not using the dinner directly as a forum to promote abortion and gay marriage, and it is done for humor's sake to raise money for a good cause, I don't think it is a big deal. Perhaps sharing some good-natured chuckles with the President is a way to "love your enemies".

  • Posted by: - Aug. 08, 2012 11:40 PM ET USA

    I pray to St. Ambrose for his intercessory prayers that our bishops find the wisdom and courage (I was taught that these are the two ingredients of true maturity) to stand up to this imperial government.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 08, 2012 8:09 PM ET USA

    Can't we all get along? The conclusion is ominous. The new orientation is not producing the longed-for results. The Church is transcendent; Our Lord instructed Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world." Sometimes true charity is painful, particularly for those who are the most faithful and who strive tirelessly to maintain respect and docility to those in authority. But reality sometimes demands we ask: "What are you thinking?!" Prelates ascend to an office much greater than themselves.

  • Posted by: St Thomas More Pray for Us - Aug. 08, 2012 5:26 PM ET USA

    9/09-Cardinal O'Malley's blog on Kennedy funeral: "I had the opportunity to speak briefly with President Obama, to welcome him to the Basilica and to share with him that the bishops of the Catholic Church are anxious to support a plan for universal health care, but we will not support a plan that will include a provision for abortion or could open the way to abortions in the future. The President was gracious in the short time we spoke,he listened intently to what I was saying."

  • Posted by: - Aug. 08, 2012 4:56 PM ET USA

    Is Catholic Charities paying for abortion drugs, sterizations and birth control right now? Will O write a $3.00 check and pat himself on the back? Will Sebilius shut down Catholic Charities in the future?

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Aug. 08, 2012 3:38 PM ET USA

    St. Paul said that our preaching of Jesus and Him crucified is supposed to be a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles, not walking all over what we believe to be sacred in order to please men. Let's repent of our previous stupidities and start standing up for God's Law.

  • Posted by: shrink - Aug. 08, 2012 3:03 PM ET USA

    The Lord works through all kinds of jackasses and fools. We can now count Cdl Dolan among the fools.