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:
- Uninvite President Obama
- Cancel the dinner
- 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?