Aug 142012

Cardinal Timothy Dolan discusses his decision to invite President Obama to the Al Smith fundraising 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.

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. 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?

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?

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.

I can understand the Cardinal’s reasoning and can even agree with to some extent. This though is not simply eating with sinners, it is inviting somebody to a fundraiser for an organization that could be financially ruined by the HHS Mandate and put out of business and has been the most ardently pro-abortion President in history. Mainly what his eminence id not address was the fact that two previous Cardinals did indeed not invite Presidents or Presidential nominees because of their stands. Are these two Cardinals to then be criticized for not “eating with sinners”?

I still don’t agree with the decision (if it matters), but I applaud the Cardinal for addressing his reasons on his blog.

  24 Responses to “Cardinal Dolan discusses his decision to invite the President to the Al Smith dinner”

  1. I wonder if Obama is going to get ripped to shreds by the Cardinal. I don’t take the Cardinal for being this, well, blind to the incredible scandal being caused.

  2. I want to say “he’s dead to me” but that’s unchristian so I’ll just say he’s not anyone I’ll listen to anymore. It’s never a waste of time to pray but the Fortnight for Freedom was based on a lie.

  3. Lynne,
    I hope and pray that you will reconsider your statement. Of course you are free and welcome to disagree with the Cardinal’s decision and his explanation above may be insufficient to you, but it is easy for us to make mistakes when only partial information is available. So, your condemnation of the Cardinal may be premature and possibly ill advised.
    I know this from personal experience. We had a major problem/scandal in our parish that involved both our then pastor and our bishop (on opposite sides). At the beginning I sided with my pastor and concluded that the bishop was an untrustworthy person, unworthy of his post. As things progressed I found out more information that made me change my mind. I still do not have ALL the information (and never will), so I cannot say that I would now side with the bishop, but I have a much better appreciation of the difficult situations in which high level people, like bishops, can find themselves and of the many factors they must weigh when making their decisions.
    Are you sure that an initiative you do not approve is enough to make the Fortnight for Freedom into a lie? Is it possible that it was, and is, a sincere effort? Would you be willing to eat your words if further evidence come out? And, most of all, are you willing to condemn the man on the basis of your perspective on the issue?
    We Catholics are often asked to not express our opinions on the basis of “Judge not, lest you be judged”. That is a baseless challenge when applied to opinions, but it has merit when it applies to our condemnation of people. Are you sure you want to go there?
    My prayers go to you and to all who are struggling with the aftermath of this issue.

  4. You can’t dialogue with the devil – or his son in the Oval Office. It’s that simple.

  5. This post reminds me of an old song that I still sing now and then when I take out the old guitar out .

    I hear ya! Maybe it is better to invite them than to ignore butt to be on the safe side, I think that I’ll just pray for them all from a loving distance if ya get me drift NOW? 🙂


  6. Perhaps if the Pharaoh had gone to a dinner party/fundraiser with Moses between the frog plague and the mosquito plague he would have not remained obstinate and let the Israelites go. Nah. It wouldn’t have made a difference and Mr. Obama probably won’t change his plans of attacking and destroying the Catholic Church. Politicians have not been invited in the past because of their support of killing babies in the womb. This I fear will be a photo op for the President but I hope and pray that the good Cardinal can, with the help of Heaven, bring about some change in this man occupying the White House. Inviting Obama to a Catholic charity fund raiser is not equal to Jesus dining with a group of tax collectors that were considered sinners.

  7. When Jesus ate with sinners, he also told them they needed to repent and change their ways. Will the good Cardinal do the same?

  8. CCC 862 “Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops.” Hence the Church teaches that “the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ.”

    Lynne, I don’t know if you are Catholic, but if you are please consider the paragraph that I quoted from the CCC. You could also check out Lumen Gentium, particularly paragraph 20. May God’s peace be with you!

  9. […] Responding to Cardinal Dolan’s Explanation – Jeff Miller, The Curt Jester […]

  10. I find it interesting that among those who are so willing to give His Eminence Cardinal Dolan a pass on the Al Smith Dinner invitation, they hearken back to the scriptures and the fact that Christ would not hesitate to sit down to a meal with sinners – the implication being that Obama is a sinner and so Christ would want an opportunity to effect a change of heart in the person.

    Now I have no qualms at all about the reference to Obama being a sinner. Anyone who advocates that it is morally right to take a full term otherwise-healthy baby, allow its head to emerge from the birth canal and then proceed to use sharp scissors to pierce the base of its skull to make a hole in its cranium in order to insert a tube used to suck its brains out in order to render the baby dead is indeed a sinner.

    But there are other people in the scriptures whom the Lord loudly denounces and whom he chooses not to sit and eat a meal with – those who are rich, powerful and who lord it over others. Those who cause harm to small children and he says should have a millstone tied around their neck and thrown into the abyss. Obama also fits into these categories.

    This is a man who lords it over others and uses his power to do so. He tramples on the religious rights of others and rather than working to solve the economic miseries his policies has caused, has managed to take in more than 40 rounds of golf in the past 4 years and innumerable vacations. Among the millions of people his policies have put out of work and have had their houses foreclosed on and who have had to declare bankruptcy, how many have played 40 rounds of golf? No, Christ did not hob-nob with the powerful who lord it over the weak and vulnerable, the poor and the children. He rightfully condemned them. And this, our dear Cardinal just doesn’t get.

    And while ‘being nice’ is a lofty Catholic virtue, zeal for the faith and courage in the face of evil are even loftier. Cardinal O’Connor simply refused to invite Clinton to the Al Smith Dinner that election year. That silent witness was very powerful indeed. He refrained from causing any confusion in the minds of the sheep he was called to shepherd.

    If the Cardinal feels he is forced to invite the candidates for a very expensive dinner at a fancy NY hotel (while people all over the country are hurting so much financially) in order to slap each other on the back and make jokes, then at least do NOT let the candidates speak. Rather, use this as a time to fulfill one of the three munera of the episcopacy: to teach. God knows the culture is in dire need of much more than what we now have.

  11. Ioannes, the devil is a pure spirit his will is irrevocably set in evil; the president is a man, all living men are capable of conversion.

  12. Obama has been invited to dine, he is NOT receiving an award!!! I think Cardinal Dolan has sumptin up his sleeve eh….

  13. The trouble is not the intent, but how it is perceived. Cardinal Dolan cannot control how the Obama team will spin this, probably as ‘all is forgiven, happy together, please like us Dear Leader, we didn’t mean those things we said’ along with the photo op of laughing together. The impression is that Obama can act/decree with impunity. I don’t let my children get away with that, he shouldn’t either. If you misbehave you are not allowed to go to the party.

  14. The “eating with sinners” thing is hollow, if we don’t actually pay attention to why Jesus ate with sinners (and thus “scandalized” [used wrongly here, as it always is…] those leery of his being something special).

    It’s about engagement. Christ ate with sinners because it was an effective way to engage sinners, bringing about their conversion. If we keep President Obama at arm’s distance, can we engage him in such a way that the Church becomes a conduit for that, even if he himself chooses to deny that grace?

    With respect to Deacon Ed above, there was nothing more universally despised in their wickedness than a tax collector. These were Jews who “lorded” their wealth and their power (granted by the state) over the people, well-known for their swindling greed. So you’re… well, wrong to assert that Jesus did not eat with these types, the ones universally loathed for their willful lack of virtue.

    Jesus denounced them. Jesus ate with them.

    My point here is that a spirit of fraternal correction demands both. This is something about the Christian life a priest is constantly taught, and a lesson the Religious lives out daily; we may not honor, may not support our brother in his stupidity, but we do everything we can to draw him into goodness by our charity. That’s what prompts conversion, should the individual be open to grace.

    This is ultimately much ado about nothing. Neither candidate — both of whom disagree with core tenants of the Catholic faith — is going to use this as an opportunity to speak out against the Church, and thus Cardinal Dolan isn’t providing them a platform to do so. The tone of these things is always very collegial, and that’s the point: to build a little fraternity in the spirit of charity, so that we might work together moving forward.

  15. I am with the Deacon (above) on this. President Obama’s actions toward the Church are more akin to the soldiers tormenting and beating Our Lord during His Passion. Jesus pointed out the injustice and hostility of His enemies. He loved them, but he certainly did not invite them to dinner and cocktails.
    Respectfully, a man who wears red should feel the wounds dealt to the Church (especially including the defenseless unborn) as wounds to his own body.

  16. I still think it is a scandal. If the Cardinal wants to show his Christ like attributes to Mr. Obama, then he should go to his house for dinner. That is what Christ did, did he not go to Levi’s house? I think this is a bad move on the part of the Cardinal and it is leaving a very bad impression on the hearts of the faithful. I would rather my flock believe in my words and deeds. I don’t care if the man from the Oval office like us or not. He would like nothing better than to establish a socialist state. With that, the Church would be persecuted. Look around at all the times leaders have used this argument that the Cardinal is using and what has happened. History repeats itself because people do not pay attention to the past. I will pray for the Cardinal and hope that he changes his mind. He still has time. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

  17. The phrase moving forward is equally hollow, Fr. Josh Miller. It is not necessary to have either of these men in the company of the Cardinal for a Catholic Charities fundraiser. Say what you want, but sometime, even the Cardinals make bad decisions. I think this is one of those times. I also want to know why the Cardinal needs to be on some comedy show. Totally inappropriate. Fun and games aside, this HHS mandate is serious stuff and millions of dead babies is serious stuff, and all the contraception babies that will not be able to hold on in the womb is serious stuff. And we should stand firm and strong in the name of the defenseless.

  18. Frankly as I have said on others blogs this continual defense of the indefensible is simply “clericalism” at its worst. Yes he is a Bishop and Cardinal and deserves our obedience and respect, but the sin of Scandal is much worse as Jesus Himself pointed out.

  19. Joannie, You are so correct.

  20. The purpose of the Alfred E. Smith dinner is to acknowledge the contributions of Catholics in government working for the betterment of society. To preserve the integrity of the Al Smith dinner, invitations should be extended only to faithful Catholic politicians like Paul Ryan and not to anyone else who is at war with the Catholic Church’s teachings. If this is not the primary purpose of the dinner, then it should be disbanded.

  21. The tax collectors invited Jesus to supper, Jesus did not invite the tax collectors to a Catholic charity event…just saying.

  22. 1. I just had a GREAT IDEA!!! If Cardinal Dolan wants to show Mr. Obama about the REAL CATHOLIC FAITH…..I have a GREAT IDEA! Cardinal Dolan and Mr. Obama can be the ones SERVING the guests at this GALA Dinner!!! That’s RIGHT! Show Mr. Obama the lesson of Jesus to be the GREATEST in the Kingdom of Heaven you must be THE SERVANT OF ALL!!! Just break the news to Mr. Obama that he is still invited but that the Catholic Church is going to give him an opportunity to get to be REALLY GREAT like the Catholics do it! NO Speeches, No Dinning on sumptuous food or drinking gin toddies…..just GET THE APRON ON and hey! If you want to be REALLY FAIR…invite Mr. ROMNEY to ALSO do this!!!
    Then you invite NOT THE RICH….but you be sure to make a certain number of seats available for the POOR on the Streets of NY! Be sure to invite those that you find on the streets that are there who were once home owners and productive citizens but due to the mishandling of the country’s wealth have lost their jobs and their homes!
    I think it’s BRILLIANT….I think it will WORK…….AND….THE PRESS WILL BE ALL OVER IT!!!

  23. Devastating! What an obvious scandal!!! It is true that Jesus ate with sinners. However, Jesus only ate with sinners in order to attempt to bring about their conversion or, at least, attempt to lead them to conversion! However, in this case, Cardinal Dolan absolutely has no intention of calling Obama or Romney to task for their present support of the wicked homosexual agenda and Obama’s and Romney’s past and present support for the horrific slaughter of untold numbers of unborn babies (Romney through Romneycare).

    A very pointed rhetorical question for all of you. Herod was a “wicked” sinner – we know he slaughtered the innocents at the time of Jesus’ birth. Would Jesus have wanted Mary and Joseph to wine and dine with Herod after this horrific event had occurred, based on the oft quoted reference to “Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors.” The answer, of course, is; “No!” Use common sense. Instead, God guided the holy family to flee from this wicked baby murderer — Herod, into the land of Egypt.

    When dealing with the obviously notorious and reprobate (unrepentent) sinners of history, such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Lenin, Obama, etc., the Church should flee from such wicked political leaders, rather than compromise with them. These evil leaders should be prayed for and told to repent of their wickedness from a very very very safe distance. The “ate with sinners” cliche is being used, I believe, by Cardinal Dolan as a cover for some other hidden agenda.

    Jesus has very clearly warned in scripture that lukewarm Christians will be rejected by him — and of course we should all pray for the conversion of many of our current wayward Catholic leaders within the Church, including Cardinal Dolan.

  24. Dear Cardinal Dolan:
    I have never been to the Al Smith dinner.
    So I have no feedback on the dinner itself.
    What did you say about Notre Dame inviting President Obama?

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