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Cardinal Dolan defends decision to invite President Obama to Al Smith dinner

August 16, 2012

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has defended his decision to invite President Barack Obama to the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner.

Emphasizing that Americans wish for greater civility in politics, Cardinal Dolan said that

for seven decades, the Al Smith Dinner here in New York has been an acclaimed example of such civility in political life. As you may know, every four years, during the presidential election campaign, the Al Smith Dinner is the venue of history, as it is the only time outside of the presidential debates that the two presidential candidates come together, at the invitation of the Al Smith Foundation, through the archbishop of New York, for an evening of positive, upbeat, patriotic, enjoyable civil discourse. This year, both President Obama and Governor Romney have accepted our invitation. I am grateful to them.

“I am receiving stacks of mail protesting the invitation to President Obama (and by the way, even some objecting to the invitation to Governor Romney),” Cardinal Dolan continued. “The objections are somewhat heightened this year, since the Catholic community in the United States has rightly expressed vigorous criticism of the President’s support of the abortion license, and his approval of mandates which radically intruded upon Freedom of Religion. We bishops, including yours truly, have been unrelenting in our opposition to these issues, and will continue to be. So, my correspondents ask, how can you justify inviting the President?”

Cardinal Dolan offered several reasons:

For one, an invitation to the Al Smith Dinner is not an award, or the provision of a platform to expound views at odds with the Church. It is an occasion of conversation; it is personal, not partisan.

Two, the purpose of the Al Smith Dinner is to show both our country and our Church at their best: people of faith gathered in an evening of friendship, civility, and patriotism, to help those in need, not to endorse either candidate. Those who started the dinner sixty-seven years ago believed that you can accomplish a lot more by inviting folks of different political loyalties to an uplifting evening, rather than in closing the door to them.

Three, the teaching of the Church, so radiant in the Second Vatican Council, is that the posture of the Church towards culture, society, and government is that of engagement and dialogue. In other words, it’s better to invite than to ignore, more effective to talk together than to yell from a distance, more productive to open a door than to shut one. Our recent popes have been examples of this principle, receiving dozens of leaders with whom on some points they have serious disagreements. Thus did our present Holy Father graciously receive our current President of the United States. And, in the current climate, we bishops have maintained that we are open to dialogue with the administration to try and resolve our differences. What message would I send if I refused to meet with the President?

Finally, an invitation to the Al Smith Dinner in no way indicates a slackening in our vigorous promotion of values we Catholic bishops believe to be at the heart of both gospel and American values, particularly the defense of human dignity, fragile life, and religious freedom. In fact, one could make the case that anyone attending the dinner, even the two candidates, would, by the vibrant solidarity of the evening, be reminded that America is at her finest when people, free to exercise their religion, assemble on behalf of poor women and their babies, born and unborn, in a spirit of civility and respect.

“Some have told me the invitation is a scandal,” Cardinal Dolan added. “That charge weighs on me, as it would on any person of faith, but especially a pastor, who longs to give good example, never bad. So, I apologize if I have given such scandal. I suppose it’s a case of prudential judgment: would I give more scandal by inviting the two candidates, or by not inviting them?”

Cardinal Dolan concluded his statement by asking for prayers, for himself and other bishops and priests, "that we will be wise and faithful shepherds as God calls us to be."


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  • Posted by: impossible - Aug. 18, 2012 8:25 PM ET USA

    Cardinal Dolan's invitation of Obama to the Al Smith dinner meshes seamlessly with the USCCB's most recent "Faithful" Citizenship document's message, particularly with sections 35 and 42 which put a candidate's promotion of racism on a par with promoting abortion (when have you ever heard of a candidate promoting racism? The FF document provides the rationale for supporting our abortionist-in-chief.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 18, 2012 7:35 AM ET USA

    "And, in the current climate, we bishops have maintained that we are open to dialogue with the administration to try and resolve our differences." There is an implication here that we are dealing simply with two opposed opinions that are both open to modifications, and that dialogue in friendship will somehow bring about an amicable resolution. It is as if both sides are evolving in their ideation and might one day be synthesized in some amalgom of truth acceptable to all. It is fantastic.

  • Posted by: chasann113163 - Aug. 17, 2012 2:34 PM ET USA

    Hooray, Mgreen - You have the perfect solution but I don't believe the Cardinal will do it. God help us !

  • Posted by: mgreen32234 - Aug. 17, 2012 11:48 AM ET USA

    Dolan is wrong. It looks like he won't step back from this dumb decision. How about he announce that the dinner is closed to the press, cameras, videos, etc. That it will be strictly private to raise money and share fellowship with those who want to be there and not give an occasion of scandal to the outsiders. Think he'll do that?

  • Posted by: Joseph Paul - Aug. 17, 2012 3:33 AM ET USA

    Sorry Cardinal Dolan but you are creating a scandal. Obama will milk his appearance with you for all the Catholic votes he can get and laugh behind your back. You have to begin to appreciate that Obama and his ilk are about as cold hearted and determined as they come on the anti-life issues. "Dialogue" doesn't mean anything to this type. In any case the type of dialogue possible at an evening like this is somewhat shallow which will suit Obama well as he doesn't really want to engage with you.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Aug. 17, 2012 3:13 AM ET USA

    I think Cardinal Dolan did the right thing. Jesus dined with sinful tax collectors, and sometimes we have to love our enemies in the same way.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 16, 2012 10:06 PM ET USA

    The reasons offered by Cardinal Dolan are obviously heartfelt and sincere. He cites Vatican II and the actions of recent popes, again in heartfelt sincerity. If his words are sound in their logic there is a very big problem. If they are in fact both logical and true there is an even bigger problem. Regardless, Judy Brown has apparently made no impression in her own heartfelt and sincere personal plea to His Eminence to reconsider the prudence, justice and efficacy of his intentions and actions.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 16, 2012 8:17 PM ET USA

    It is hard to understand why a religious leader would want to be paling around with someone who is actively advancing intrinsic evilness. It sends the wrong message. Dialogue is wonderful but not at a public venue where any friendly bantering could be misinterpreted as moral tolerance or acceptance. Cardinal Dolan should realize that the Church is under attack from Mr. Obama and his radical secular administration and given their extreme anti religious actions to date, the Church should be doing everything it can to deny Mr. Obama a second term.

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Aug. 16, 2012 6:47 PM ET USA

    OK, Cardinal Dolan,You've convinced me,I think your right. Civility is unheard of in Presidential campaigns,it would be refreshing to see it. (Remember,keep one's enemies close?)

  • Posted by: gshanley8181 - Aug. 16, 2012 6:19 PM ET USA

    Dolan is the poster child for all that's wrong with the Church in America. While the Church burns Dolan sucks up to the political elite who set the fire. Rally the troops for combat Cardinal just don't forget the marshmallows and the sticks.

  • Posted by: lauriem5377 - Aug. 16, 2012 6:12 PM ET USA

    And what does the Cardinal say about the babies who will lose their lives in such gruesome ways and be discarded in the trash during the very time he's eating and drinking and joking with the President? Nobody is taking time out for 'civil discourse' with these Holy Innocents. Cancelling what has become a a mockery of an event and praying a public rosary instead to the end the pain and suffering of abortion procedures would send a much stronger message to everyone involved.

  • Posted by: sarsok8679 - Aug. 16, 2012 5:23 PM ET USA

    A Cardinal consorting with an enemy of the Catholic Church is so untoward.. don't you think?

  • Posted by: - Aug. 16, 2012 1:51 PM ET USA

    Cardinal Dolan wants us to believe that his invitation to Obama to the Al Smith Dinner is no different that Pope Benedict's reception of Obama at the Vatican? The Pope DID NOT invited Obama to the Vatican, Obama requested an audience. The event was NOT A PARTY and an opportunity for photo-ops and yukking it up over drinks. And the event WAS PRIVATE and not an opportunity for Obama to speak to anyone but the Pope. Dolan comments are incredibly disheartening. Very sad.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Aug. 16, 2012 12:40 PM ET USA

    The simple fact that cardinal Dolan felt compelled to defend his decision is telling. Obama doesn't care as long as he gets his picture with a smiling Dolan, yucking it up. The Pope gave Obama a copy of Dignitas Personae, Eric Metaxsis gave Obama a copy of his book on Bonhoeffer. What will Dolan give him?