Doubts About Dolan’s Defense of Dinner

Cardinal Dolan has come out with a blog post explaining the decision to invite President Obama to the Al Smith dinner .  We are glad that Cardinal Dolan has at last given an explanation in his own words.  But, his defense still leaves us, along with many Catholics, shaking our heads with doubts about the decision. Below are excerpts from the blog post by Cardinal Dolan, with our commentary inline. We would like to give Cardinal Dolan the benefit of the doubt, but we remain skeptical.

Last week I was out in Anaheim for the annual Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus. It was, as usual, a most uplifting and inspirational event.

In his rousing address to the thousands of delegates, representing 1.8 million knights, Dr. Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight, exhorted us to a renewed sense of faithful citizenship, encouraging us not to be shy about bringing the values of faith to the public square…

He then went on to announce a promising initiative of the Knights of Columbus to foster civility in politics…

[BCI] Where has the civility displayed in recent years by the Knights toward pro-abortion, pro-gay-marriage politicians who are also members of the K of C gotten them? Has it changed any hearts, minds or votes of these so-called “Catholic” Knights in elected office who consistently act in defiance of our moral principles? If it was producing some impact, then great–by all means keep at it. But if it is not producing any change, maybe displaying yet more civility towards them is not a winning approach. If the “carrot” approach does not motivate change, then try the stick instead.

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.

[BCI] With all due respect, so what if the dinner has been an example of civility in political life for seven decades? What became of the civil discourse with candidate Obama 4 years ago at this same dinner? Now his policies that violate our religious freedom and mandate contraceptive coverage could result in the shut-down of Catholic Charities, a beneficiary of the dinner.  We have never had as anti-Catholic a President as we have today, who is working as actively and in as un-civil a manner as Obama to oppose all of our moral principles and religious freedoms. If the dinner now causes scandal by the invitation and presence of Obama or other pro-abortion anti-Catholic politicians, should it continue this way just because it has been held for a while?  

…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).

[BCI] Glad to hear the mail is getting through. In Boston, our mail to the Cardinal does not get through to him at all.

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.

[BCI] The objections have been massively heightened this year. We appreciate your vigorous criticism of the President’s support of the abortion license and your criticism of his mandates that radically intrude upon our Freedom of Religion.  Do you plan to be unrelenting in your vigorous criticism of the President’s support for abortion and intrusion on our Freedom of Religion in your public comments at the Al Smith dinner?

So, my correspondents ask, how can you justify inviting the President? Let me try to explain.

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.

[BCI] No one has said the invitation to the dinner is an award. But the USCCB, of which Cardinal Dolan is President, has also said we should not honor or give platforms to those who act in defiance of our moral principles, which Obama clearly does. How is it not an honor to be the keynote featured speaker at a nationally-known fundraiser?  How is it not an honor to be the dinner guest of the Cardinal Archbishop of New York and President of the USCCB? And even if Obama does not use this specific dinner as an occasion to expound views at odds with the Church, the dinner by this Catholic organization and hosted by the Catholic Archbishop of NY is still is giving Obama a public platform that suggests support for his actions. The Foundation website says, “Indeed, the occasion has evolved into something of an opportunity for speakers – particularly ones whose mien is typically quite serious – to show, through quips and slightly irreverent humor, that they can poke fun at a political issue, an opponent, or themselves.” This sounds like a platform.  To honor or give a platform to those who act in defiance of our moral principles is contrary to the direction from the USCCB in their 2004 document, Catholics in Political Life.

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.

[BCI] Interesting how the spin about the purpose of the Al Smith dinner keeps changing. The Foundation says the dinner is “a living memorial to an uncommon public figure.”  The Foundation also says, in the days before Saturday Night Live, the Al Smith dinner served as a kind of “proving ground for the candidate as entertainer,” as one reporter described it.

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?

[BCI] With all due respect, this seems to be comparing apples and bananas. Recent popes have received leaders who visited the Vatican and asked to meet with the Holy Father.  These one-on-one meetings have taken place in a private audience behind closed doors and are an opportunity to engage in dialogue. Sometimes photos have not been allowed (e.g. with Nancy Pelosi).  The very public Al Smith fundraiser dinner is hardly an opportunity to engage in discourse and dialogue to try and resolve differences with the administration.  Furthermore, by not exercising the option to invite Obama, that does not say you are “refusing to meet with the President.” If the President invites you to the White House to meet with him to discuss how to resolve our serious disagreements, by all means you should accept the invitation and meet with him.

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.

[BCI] So the dinner will include Cardinal Dolan vigorously promoting values including the defense of human dignity, fragile life, and religious freedom? Does anyone really believe that Obama will come away believing that America is at her finest when people, free to exercise their religion in ways that the President is actively taking away from us, assemble on behalf of poor women and their unborn babies that Obama uses taxpayer dollars to kill in the womb? Did attending the dinner in 2008 as a presidential candidate change Obama and make him more supportive of Catholic moral principles? If what we have seen since then from Obama is a reflection of what he got from the 2008 dinner, can we take any more?

Some have told me the invitation is a scandal. 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?

[BCI] We appreciate that you have come to see that the invitation is seen by many faithful Catholics as a scandal, and we also appreciate your apology.   There was not scandal in past years when pro-abortion candidates were not invited to the dinner, so it seems that you have indeed given more scandal by inviting the two candidates. The question now is, what do you plan to do since you have given such scandal to the country?

No matter what you might think of this particular decision, might I ask your prayers for me and my brother bishops and priests who are faced with making these decisions, so that we will be wise and faithful shepherds as God calls us to be?

[BCI] You have our prayers.

In the end, I’m encouraged by the example of Jesus, who was blistered by his critics for dining with those some considered sinners; and by the recognition that, if I only sat down with people who agreed with me, and I with them, or with those who were saints, I’d be taking all my meals alone.

[BCI] With all due respect, this example of Jesus, who dined with sinners in private to try to convert them is being used once again to compare apples and oranges. Judie Brown, of the American Life League, put it well in this column, What Would Jesus Do?

While it is true that Jesus dined with sinners, it was for the purpose of converting their hearts, of teaching them His laws, and of inspiring them to change sinful behaviors. President Obama has been invited to dine with Cardinal Dolan and others, but the goals of this dinner are not the same goals Jesus held. Today’s commentary addresses this and explains why we are beseeching the cardinal to have his own change of heart. 

Immediately after we launched the No Dinner for Obama campaign, a concerned Catholic wrote to us and said:

      Did not Jesus Himself dine with, seek the company of, and take audience with sinners, tax collectors, rabbis, and Pharisees who all believed and preached falsities? Who are we to stray from His example? Who are we to discriminate against a leader of many instead of dining with him, and trying to convince him of the true word of Jesus Christ?

My initial reaction was to feel sorrow for this fellow because he was sincerely trying to excuse the public embrace by members of the hierarchy of a man who has done nothing to advance any precept of the natural law. Obama is not confused about what he is doing to the Church. His actions are, and have been, intentional.

Furthermore, as author and columnist Phil Lawler wrote recently,

      When Jesus sat with tax collectors, the dinners were private. They were not “photo ops” for political candidates. The Lord could speak directly to the hearts of his dining companions, and convert them. Remember, St. Matthew left the tax-collecting business to follow Christ. Does anyone believe that after the Al Smith Dinner, Obama will decide to rescind the contraceptive mandate?

Following the dinner, America will see front-page photos and stories that feature Cardinal Dolan sitting with Obama, laughing and having a great time. Such images send a message to America that all is well between the leader of the United States of America and the leader of the American Catholic Church.

I am not sure who will be the most gravely scandalized by the photo op, but the point is that Obama is a danger to freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and all that we hold dear as Christians in America. Our campaign is not a campaign of discrimination or negativity, it is an effort to follow Christ’s admonition to his disciples (Luke 17: 1-2): “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.”

We are all called to be faithful, and sometimes that means making difficult decisions or taking unpopular actions in order to defend Christ and His Church. This is not a time for squeamishness or half-hearted attempts to uphold a tradition which, in the case of the Al Smith Dinner, needs to be broken.

[BCI] BCI thinks Cardinal Dolan faces any of several choices to eliminate the scandal created by the 2012 Al Smith Dinner:

  1. Uninvite President Obama
  2. Cancel the dinner
  3. Continue with the dinner as planned, but Cardinal Dolan mitigates the damage and scandal by not personally attending–and the media is banned from the dinner, with no photo opps or cameras permitted

What do you think?

28 Responses to Doubts About Dolan’s Defense of Dinner

  1. Ray Neary says:

    This afternoon at Mass I heard the child in Revelation was with an iron rod. How energizing it was! (Was it Rev 11?) Instead our prelates want to imitate by carrying a feather. It affirmed my belief once again that the real strength is in the laity. I sing Allelluias.

  2. Michael says:

    What a load of crap. Cardinal Dolan thinks we are all fools. Worse, I think he is delusional in that, it appears, that he thinks God is a fool as well. What a joker. He thinks he can legalistically avoid responsibility for his decision and he thinks that if he just squeaks by with an explanation and a half-hearted apology, then he has succeeded. Sorry to inform the “good” Cardinal, but God will be asking him for a better explanation than the one he just threw at us.

    How much of his crap will stick? Depends on whether you are a fool or a conscientious Catholic.

  3. jbq2 says:

    Good comment Michael! I would add what if Joseph, the father of Jesus, had agreed to dialogue with King Herod? Mr. Obama has many, many parallels to the good king.

  4. Dan B says:

    Cardinal Dolan apparently learned nothing from the Notre Dame debacle. I thought he was brighter than that. His reasoning is faulty. The decision to invite Obama to the Al Smith Dinner flies in the face of what he pointed out with the Knights of Columbus not achieving anything from “dialogue” with those in sharp disagreement with Catholic teaching. Rescind the invitation.

  5. David S. says:

    If Cardinal Dolan and the US Bishops were clear and consistent in teaching the faith, if they enforced Canon 915, and if they were aggressive in ending liturgical abuses, then I (and I suspect many others) would give him the benefit of the doubt on this.

    This invitation to Obama is just a symptom of the larger problem in the Church.

  6. qclou says:

    how about the good Cardinal giving a emphatic refutation of the candidates’ objectionable ideas ? and by that I mean ,after the usual polite acknowledgments of dignitaries present, etc. a short and clear and ‘stinging’ [ but civil !! ] absolute rejection ??? no PR sensitive wordsmiths ‘softening’ of the condemnation ? let it be perfectly clear and every candidate hearing loudly in a broadly viewed venue our objections to their stands on these sensitive issues !!

  7. It was despicable of the Cardinal to send out Bill Donahue, who used the same polemical tactics he uses sparring with anti -Catholics,against faithful Catholics who oppose his invitation. Donahue spewed venom,castigating the “piety police” on Fox News’ Lou Dobbs show. The bishops coddle dissenters while using an iron fist with faithful Catholics.

  8. A Priest says:

    What if the guest was not President Obama, but instead a priest accused of some kind of abuse? Would Cardinal Dolan welcome the accused priest with the same embrace that he welcomes President Obama? I doubt it. He would throw the priest out like yesterday’s garbage.

    Oh, but for President Obama, who himself actively defends and promotes the worst kind of child abuse imaginable (abortion), Cardinal Dolan will roll out the red carpet, chill with him, have some fine drinks and laugh.

    Bottom line: FOLLOW THE MONEY!

  9. Bill says:

    Just think of the thousands of Right to Life Marchers who have travelled to Washington in January for the last almost forty years. Is this the way THEY are encouraged for their efforts?

  10. boston tom says:

    Who is kidding who. This is about the highly placed money folks like Jack Connors and so many other “catholic” who support Obama making sure Obama has a place in a high profile event weeks before the election. Dolan fears denying them may impact the money – nothing more or less going on here.

  11. William Harcourt says:

    “Civility” is a new gospel. It is the gospel that the Church Milquetoast preaches, and it’s heralds are all wearing red, purple, and black. Gone are the days of Bishops like St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom (exiled numerous times), St. Ambrose and St. Thomas Beckett (rebuking emperors and kings), and even Cardinal Van Galen of Germany or Cardinal Stepinac of Croatioa who stood up to Nazis and Communists. All bishops fear only one thing: the “displeasure” of their episcopal country club. His Eminence is simply paying homage to the club–and he will have to answer for the destruction souls that occurs when anyone invites a demon to dinner.

  12. mary c. says:

    love the comments. but it wont change our stubborn bishop. We need to go to Our Lady in prayer, and have her fix the woes of this situation. AND our country that is embracing more and more evil. Our leading bishops sure arent doing any fixing. So many are taught back in the days of “everything for social justice”, and forgot intrinsic evils.

  13. Angry Parish Council member says:

    Excellent post–I couldn’t agree more with you BCI!

    George Neumayr debunked the tired Vatican 2 argument that Cardinal Dolan now uses that the Church needs to engage and dialogue with culture and society. Same blather that Fr. Bryan Hehir says all the time:

    “Catholics have heard this prattle for decades and find it very tiresome in light of its pathetic results. When has “engagement” and “dialogue” ever strengthened the Church? All it has produced is a steady stream of pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage Catholic pols who slamdunk secularism over timid bishops. The need to “engage the world” has in short made the Church worldly, leading to endless compromises within Catholic institutions, all of which signaled to secularists like Obama that the American Church was ripe for a statist hijacking.

    Cardinal Dolan is kidding himself if he thinks the evening will involve “dialogue” that changes Obama’s mind about the mandate. The Church will not be roasting Obama; Obama will be roasting the Church. That’s why he scooped up the invitation so happily. Photos of Obama chuckling with churchmen will appear everywhere after it, signaling to confused Catholics in swing states that Obama poses no threat to their freedom.

    Notre Dame fell back on the same “dialogue” rationale when it granted Obama an honorary degree. No dialogue, of course, took place. Obama did all the talking, even lecturing Notre Dame graduates on the superiority of secularism to faith in public life. Prize “doubt,” he told them.

    Cardinal Dolan rejects any comparison to the Notre Dame debacle, but he finds himself in a similar box of contradiction, asserting at once that the invitation lacks any significance while defending it as an important moment of “engagement” and a fulfillment of the Church’s mission as determined by the spirit of Vatican II. The irony is that if he sincerely intends to straighten Obama out at it the dinner will cease to be the harmless, jovial, civil evening for which he says it exists. He can’t have it both ways. Is it roast? Or is it a moment of evangelization?

    Cardinal Dolan frets that he might have caused more scandal by not inviting Obama. He can’t be serious. Does anyone blame the late Cardinal John O’Connor for scandalizing Catholics by not inviting Bill Clinton to the Al Smith dinner? Or Cardinal Egan for denying an invite to John Kerry? Cardinal Dolan’s notion of “scandal” is very confused if he thinks so.

    Cardinal Dolan concludes his defense by suggesting that Jesus Christ would approve of his decision: “In the end, I’m encouraged by the example of Jesus, who was blistered by his critics for dining with those some considered sinners; and by the recognition that, if I only sat down with people who agreed with me, and I with them, or with those who were saints, I’d be taking all my meals alone.”

    But this ignores the reason Christ ate with sinners: not to pose for a photo op with them but to convert them to his teachings. The moment they rejected him he ceased the dinners, telling his disciples not to “cast pearls before swine” and “shake the dust” from their heels and leave.

  14. Mack says:

    Anglican writer Leanne Payne about how the devil tries to deceive us through useless attempts at “dialogue.” : “A principle to remember is that our archenemy seeks to bring us into endless dialogue with himself through those persons he has deceived.” I read her article the other night (link follows, it was when the Anglicans ordained a gay bishop) and then I chanced upon Dolan’s statement, and it was all about – dialogue! And it was strange because I suddenly just knew inside me that he was wrong and making a mistake. It wasn’t a matter of an intellectual process, but I felt it was like the light of the Holy Spirit. And it also told me that we need to pray a lot for the bishops because they can be deceived.

    So now I’m praying that something will happen to prevent Obama from going to the dinner. I think the photo op will indeed bring scandal and may influence some Catholics where swing votes are important.

    Click to access CrisisInAnglicanCommunion.pdf

  15. Stephen says:

    The devil does not need an ‘advocate’ nor does he warrant the ‘benefit of a doubt’.

    John 8:44 Douay Rheims Bible.
    “He was a murderer from the beginning, and he stood not in the truth; because truth is not in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof.”

  16. Phil Steinacker says:

    This dinner is HARDLY an occasion of dialogue with an enemy on any meaningful level, and it is not a battleground worth expending energies to win.

    To elevate this invite to an “honor” on the level of the one bestowed by Notre Dame is a joke, and may lead others to wonder about our ability to mount cogent arguments in our fight over religious liberty. Perhaps receiving absolution or Communion at Cardinal Dolan’s hands would be an honor, but If so then this invite must be even further downgraded from there.

    So what if this manipulative liar poses for a few pictures and tries to convince Catholics to vote for him as if there is an endorsement in there somewhere? He’s going to tell far more substantial lies to make that case.

    Folks, we have so many battlegrounds on which to wage ware against Satan’s work through Obama et al that to get bogged dwon in something relatively worthless threatens todo more harm than good.The result is to treat this dinner of satire and humor as equivalent to the scandal of Obama’s honorary degree at Notre Dame. Clearly you can see that this is not so.

    Finally, I see no humility and deference to the authority of this Cardinal to determine his path in this and any other matter. In attempting to explain himself he has shown greater humility in this matter than his critics, who behave as if is THEY (or YOU, as the case may be) who must be satisfied.

    You should be ashamed that your words bear a striking similarity to the teen-age whining found on the pages and in the comboxes at the National Catholic Fishwrap (reporter), America, and Commonweal. Just keep the adjectives and the outrage and replace the various nouns – the resulting text is virtually the same.

    • Stephen says:

      The backlash has arrived, and Voris preaches to a choir of thousands.

      The days when faithful catholic men are satisfied being patted on the head for being ‘good guys’ are over.

      Dolan drinking Scotch with Obama at the Waldorf is pathetic. This type glad handing is a cancer in our church, especially in America.

      If attending a $2,500 a plate fundraiser is not an honor of some sort then what is it? An expensive night out? So they don’t hand Obama a plaque, big deal. To suggest it is not an honor is disingenuous, get real.

      True humility is based on an accurate assessment of ones state in life. Ironically Obama may display more humility than Dolan, Obama is Commissar and Dolan shall symbolically kiss his ring.

      As far as photo ops go, love him or hate him Dolan presents as a good’old frat boy. A joyful hearty laugh and red-faced smile certainly has its place but what we have here is “fraternization with the enemy”. One photo can win or loose an election, If Obama attends watch for it.

  17. Michael says:

    Phil, the laity have an absolute duty to keep out of line Bishops in line. That is what we are doing. You need to study up on how out of line Dolan is. Then come back and point fingers in the right direction.

  18. Jack O'Malley says:

    There is a critical dichotomy here, brought to light now by the dastard Dolan. There has always been a conflict between faith and reason but the Catholic Church has historically attempted to conciliate the two Weltanschauungen.

    But, given the general apostasy on the the part of the bishops of the American Church, not to mention those of Germany and Austria, the magic circle, and those dolts down under, what is the rational and faithful Catholic to do?

    This dinner and other issues starkly highlighted by Michael Voris, and especially the treatment of the FSSPX by Rome since John Paul II “the great”, can this last straw not finally convince one that that the Roman Church has apostatised, abandoned the Faith in practice if not in principle, Her deeds not buttressing Her words?

    Contrast the flaccid stance of Dolan with the hardline orthodoxy of Kirill, who was instrumental in gaining prison time for the skanky Pussy Riot group. Perhaps the Orthodox have been right all along. It is a question worth pondering. Besides, the Orthodox Divine Liturgy is truly the praise and adoration of God. So much cannot be said of the novus ordure, even when celebrated “reverently”.

    In the meanwhile, as I’ve said before: Don’t trust them with your money. Don’t trust them with your children. Don’t trust them with your soul.

  19. Fred says:

    I Corinthians 9-13.

    • Fred, For the benefit of our readers, could you please clarify your scriptural reference? Do you mean, 1 Corinthians 9:13, or 1 Corinthians 9: verses 13 to XX?

      • Fred says:

        I’m sorry; typo. I Corinthians 8: 9-13.

      • No problem. Very appropriate. For those who do not want to take the time to look up the passage, here it is:

        I Corinthians 8: 9-13 But make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak.If someone sees you, with your knowledge, reclining at table in the temple of an idol, may not his conscience too, weak as it is, be built up to eat the meat sacrificed to idols? Thus through your knowledge, the weak person is brought to destruction, the brother for whom Christ died. When you sin in this way against your brothers and wound their consciences, weak as they are, you are sinning against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause my brother to sin.

  20. Sugel says:

    Some argue that money is raised by this dinner to help the poor. Blessed John Paul the Great said: “You cannot do good with one hand and evil with the other.,” Obama’s position on abortion was known in 2008 and he should not have been invited then. Obama has since attacked pro-life citizens labeling them terrorists, shut down Catholic Charities in Illinois, shredded the Constitution on freedom of religion and currently is forcing a government takeover of health care, read here socialized medicine. In short, he is the enemy of freedom and religion. To invite Obama to this dinner would be the same as if the Jews were to have invited Hitler to a fundraising dinner in the late 30’s. Judas sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. The only difference with the Al Smith dinner is the current rate of exchange.

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