Here’s an idea: just cancel the Al Smith dinner

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 25, 2016

You say you weren’t happy about the Al Smith dinner? Neither was I. Neither was John Gehring.

Yes, I’m writing about that John Gehring, the liberal political operative who did PR work first for the US bishops’ conference, then for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, the group that Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta boasted about establishing.

Maybe you thought it was grossly inappropriate for a Catholic institution to provide a forum for Hillary Clinton, whose hostility toward the Church is only barely concealed. Gehring had a different complaint, he complained on the Commonweal site that “the idea of watching Donald Trump yucking it up with the cardinal of New York in a room full of wealthy Catholics turns my stomach.”

”The Catholic Church should play no part in the mainstreaming of Donald Trump,” Gehring argued. You might prefer to see Hillary Clinton’s name at the end of that sentence. Or you might agree with me that the names of both presidential candidates belong there. The point is that you and I and John Gehring all agree that it’s inappropriate for the New York archdiocese to provide a PR opportunity for a candidate whose views are incompatible with Catholic teaching.

We may disagree, of course, as to which candidates should be excluded from the annual funfest. But now that the New York archdiocese is catching flak from both ends of the political spectrum, maybe it’s time to question whether the Al Smith dinner should be abandoned.

It’s already safe to say that four years from now, if the tradition endures, there will be heated debates about which presidential candidate(s) should not be invited. Why should the archdiocese invite that sort of squabble? Why is it seemingly written in stone that the Democratic and Republican candidates will be present? The implicit message is that although we may differ on some superficial issues, deep down we’re all friends who agree on the really important issues. Well, frankly, we aren’t.

(Just by the way, I wonder what would happen if a 3rd-party candidate become a viable possibility for election in 2020; would that candidate be invited as well? If so, would the Democratic or Republican contender be dropped? It was a challenge for Cardinal Dolan to sit between two candidates, but not even he could sit between three people; it’s a physical impossibility.)

Apart from the confusing and even disturbing political messages sent out by the annual event, there is also a major problem with the images broadcast from the dinner. Millions of Americans saw the pictures of the Archbishop of New York flanked by the two presidential candidates. Surrounding them, they saw dozens of wealthy corporate executives in white ties, seated in tiers at a swanky New York hotel. Is this the image of Catholicism that we want to send out to the world—the image of a comfortable Church, living in luxury, at ease with the workings of the Establishment?

Yes, I know; the event raises a great deal of money for organized charities. But is the money worth the cost?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 7 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: mwean7331 - Oct. 28, 2016 10:13 PM ET USA

    Yes thus political show piece should be abandoned. It is too political and it is ALL about money' Let the fat cats donate to the Church as they should (tithe) without all this opulent scene. Of course Bishop Dolan just loves all this limelight, It is right up his alley. Very sad

  • Posted by: Travelling - Oct. 28, 2016 7:20 PM ET USA

    The dinner is the epitome of what my good Catholic friend calls "social Catholicism", basically, sucking up the the "establishment". We are supposed to be in the world but not of the world. This dinner is an embarrassing, public escapade into the world.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Oct. 27, 2016 2:40 PM ET USA

    I agree that the gathering did not look like a field hospital for the spiritually ill.

  • Posted by: thomas28899 - Oct. 27, 2016 7:50 AM ET USA

    Please add to my previous sound off. "Agree strongly with you Phil that we should stop feeding their egos... because it's the christian thing to do".

  • Posted by: thomas28899 - Oct. 27, 2016 7:46 AM ET USA

    So they raised $6,000,000 from the Al Smith dinner for charity. I commented to my wife that would be a lot of money for us, but for all those wealthy people who attended the dinner, it would be like us putting one dollar in the collection basket. Not much of a sacrifice in my opinion. Seems like they are feeding their egos more than the poor.... JMHO

  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - Oct. 26, 2016 3:02 PM ET USA

    Phil, I could not agree more with you on this. Kudos. In no way is the money raised for charity worth the cost.

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Oct. 25, 2016 8:51 PM ET USA

    My criticism of the Al Smith Dinner goes back to 2002, when the Cardinal Egans's pick was Colin Powell, at that time, Secretary of State. He was then and is now a pro-abortion Episcopalian. The defense given then by the Archdiocese would probably be the same as now: what could replace the money the dinner raises for Catholic Charities if we stopped?