I have very good friends who are upset about it…

…but I’m just not feeling it.  I speak, of course, of Cdl. Dolan welcoming Obama to the Al Smith Dinner.

I see it described as “eating with the enemy”, “scandalous”, etc.

The same things were said, for similar reasons, when Jesus ate with known enemies of God.  We forget that tax collectors and prostitutes were not charming Dickensian rogues with hearts of gold.  They were regarded as scum by decent people because they often *were* scum: collaborators with an occupying military power, homewreckers, thieves who assisted in the oppression of an already oppressed people.  In eating with them, Jesus extended the hand of fellowship to a lot of crap nasty people who had given not one sign of repentance in many cases.

So I have no big issue with Cdl. Dolan eating with this enemy of the Church.  God commends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Cdl. Dolan’s welcome of Obama at table seems to me to be an eminently Christian gesture.  It in no way acknowledges that Obama’s policy is okay.  It merely acknowledges that a) he is to be honored for his office and b) that he is loved by God.  Works for me.

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  • I also think the more face time Dolan has w the President, the better. Our politicians need to get out among faithful Catholics lest they believe Nancy Pelososi is an example of one.

    • Exactly. I don’t think Obama has ever spent any significant amount of time among Catholics who believe in their faith and have integrity. He spends all his time with the Sibelius and Pelosi types, who have spent their lives compromising their faith out of existence. He probably now thinks Dolan is going to compromise his faith too. He’s wrong. I think it will take a while to sink it, but he will get it.

  • Neil P


    It’s a close call, but I don’t think the Jesus ate with sinners, etc. is necessarily a good analogy. Cdl. Dolan is not Jesus and Obama is not a Gaililean prostitute.

    The Church has ecumenical prayer services with liberal protestants who are very bit as bad as Obama. I think that’s closer.

  • Tonya

    THANK YOU MARK…I too have many many friends too..who happen to be of a particular persuasion politically who think this was some kind of show of Dolan’s anti_Christ status-and we were all just duped about him prior.which is crazy.I keep thinking this was not the big fat hairy deal it was made to be on catholic Radio this week.You would have thought the Pope died- there was such a stink.Extra shows, special shows with Al Kresta bright and early on Tomeo’s show to “comfort the scandalized flock of Dolan” or something.They were in fact the ones flipping out about this and implying to the listeners that this was “questionable” of Dolan.I dont like either candidate or party particularly-but this overreaction was insane.They are not looking at the context of this dinner.

  • Jack

    Jesus bravely and shockingly extended table fellowship to social pariahs. Obama is not a social pariah, and sharing table fellowship with him is widely regarded as an honor, not a brave act, however shocking it may be to embattled pro-lifers.

    Precedent is important here. Why did Cardinal O’Connor refuse to invite President Clinton to the Al Smith dinner in 1996? Why did Cardinal Egan refuse to invite John Kerry in 2004? Were these snubs failures by these prelates to reflect the charity of Christ? Or did they recognize that there is a time for putting politics aside and a time for heroic witness to truth?

    The Al Smith dinner is a fundraiser for Catholic Charities NY. President Obama and the HHS have done more to shut down Catholic charities than any other administration in history. How can the president who has done more to shut down Catholic charities than any president in history be the honored guest and speaker at a fundraiser for those very same charities?

    Cardinal Dolan is reputed to be a savvy political player. How will this play in the media and the war on the Church? Catholics For Obama – Biden are trumpeting the invitation and the “meltdown of rage” on the “Catholic right” (i.e., Catholic pro-lifers) as ” further evidence that too much of the Catholic Right is based on hate and extremism,” even claiming that “The Archdiocese of New York has ignored and belittled the critics.”

    Cardinal Dolan once accused Obama of misleading him on the HHS mandate. He has pugnaciously spoken of the Obama administration’s war on the Church. Was that empty rhetoric? Is this wartime behavior? Or does it convey that there is no crisis really, that beyond the rhetoric and hoopla the Catholic Church’s longstanding partnership with the Democratic party (Al Smith was of course a Democrat, and the first Catholic to run for president) continues without issue?

    The Democratic party has placed the greatest moral evil of our day, abortion, at the absolute center of its official platform, its agenda, its ideological commitments. Thanks to the “leadership” of this president, it has now added to that platform a commitment to same-sex marriage — a tool that will be used to destroy the institutions of the Catholic Church in America, thereby crippling the Church’s ability to use its weight to defend life.

    There’s a time for putting politics aside and cooperating for the sake of a common goal, and there is a time for heroic witness, for taking a stand, for suspending protocols and niceties to highlight the urgency of a crisis and call upon people to act. I’d like to think Cardinal Dolan — who was one of the voices speaking out against Notre Dame honoring Obama as its commencement speaker and bestowing him with an honorary degree — knows the times in which we live. I’d like to think so — but if the Al Smith dinner proceeds according to expectations, with Obama and Dolan making nice and joking for charities that Obama hasn’t yet gotten around to shutting down, I don’t see how I can. Perhaps the Cardinal has an ace up his sleeve. I dearly hope so.

    • Nate

      Very nicely said, Jack.

    • Kirt Higdon

      Well put. This will have to go down as one of the few times I disagree with Mark. But Mark, I’ll still probably write you in for President in November.

    • William

      Jack, you nailed it! Thanks!

    • Peggy R

      I’m with Jack as well.
      With this move, the bishops lose the right to criticize or take any action against Notre Dame or any Catholic high school, etc., who “put politics” aside for a night of fun and fellowship, etc, for a good cause. If Dolan uses the occasion to tell Obama a thing or two, that would make it worthwhile. Otherwise, hypocrtical act.

  • Nate

    Reasonable people can disagree here, but I’d argue that this is the wrong decision.
    But we should know that there are many people who disagree about this but are nevertheless not ‘flipping out’.
    (I’m perfectly calm, dude. Calmer than you are.)
    I love Bishop Dolan, and I don’t envy his job in the least. But this is the wrong decision.
    Wrong, wrong, wrong.
    There are folks who suspect that a goodly amount of clergy really don’t give two figs about contraception. We would be uncharitably dismissive if we looked at these folks with derision and eye rolling. Their suspicions are based on precedent, at the very least.

  • Causus Omnium Danorum

    I wish this comment was mine, but it’s too good not to pass on:
    “Jesus ate with sinners, but he didn’t grant them photo opps”

  • Andy

    Inviting Obama to this dinner is hardly an endorsement. The dinner is about raising money for charity, not about scoring political points. If we view everything that involves Obama or Romney through a political lens then we are aiding the continuation of a corrupt system. The more people “wail” about this invitation, and how it is scandalous to the church, the more it sends marginal or not so marginal opponents of Obama to his camp, hardly something I think they want to do. By the way, I am still looking for a candidate to vote for, as neither candidate appeals to me in any way, and I am one of those people who is seriously affronted by the hue and cry over this invitation. Sometimes a dinner invite is just a dinner invite.

    • Nate

      As a Catholic, I care about The Good and the salvation of souls.
      I could care less about politics. This dinner is *precisely* political.

      And anyway, if it was only about raising money for Catholic Charities, then why invite someone, president or not, who disagrees with the goals of the charity? Seems rather odd to me.

      And again: we would do well to not paint those who are against this move as hysterical wailers. Yes, I’m sure that somewhere out there, there’s a fellow who heard of this invite and started ripping his clothes and gnashing his teeth in a fervish fit. But I’m guessing most of the objectors were like me. They heard the news, went “Wow, that’s pretty much fubar,” and then went about their day. Perhaps they took ten seconds to add a comment to a blog, but probably not that either.

      • Andy

        Actually the reason I responded was that in reading several “conservative” Catholic bogs and sites there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Catholics are supposed to trust the bishops, but I guess only when it suits their purposes. That is the reason for my comments.

  • Ryan

    You have a good point. However in my mind it would be one thing if Cdl. Dolan were merely dining with the president. Honoring him with a place at the podium feels more like inviting Herod to Jesus’ 2nd birthday party.

  • NYa

    I can’t go to the Al Smith dinner…but I CAN go to this!!:

    Dolan and Colbert, now there’s a pair.

  • Mark S (not for Shea)

    Well aid as usual, Mr. Shea.

    I tend to listen to a lot of Catholic radio on the way home. I’m disappointed and disgusted at the amount of time this is taking up, because it is all so blatantly partisan. The GOP is no more Catholic or Christ friendly than the Democratic Party. They choose different evils, not lesser evils. But I hear no similar outcries about Romney. It’s sad.

    • Nate

      There’s nothing partisan about not inviting the sitting president to a dinner, if that president has explicitly derided and officially compromised the Christ-friendly goals of the very organization that is being honored at said dinner.
      Whether or not one calls this invite wrong and terrible, one at the very least has to note the ironies and inconsistencies.
      That this president is (it seems, necessarily) part of one party and not another party is incidental to the argument.

      The argument here seem to be, “Not everything has to be political.”
      Actually, I would go one step further and say that *most things* do not have to be political. Lucky for the Catholic Church, we aren’t in the business of worldly politics. All the more reason to not invite the sitting president.

    • Dan C

      I am no friend of the GOP, but it may be more “Catholic-friendly.” It does oppose abortion, officially, too.

  • Dan C

    I think that this is a “what’s good for the goose is what’s good for the gander.” This is exactly what is declaimed when a Jesuit college allows a speaker on its campus that promotes values anti-thetical to pro-lifism. The difference is that this is a Cardinal and he is beloved of the right wing, has done work focusing on standard Catholic right wing concerns about contraception and religious liberty of late, and the Cardinal is clearly popular at the Vatican.

    If the same arrangement were to occur at Georgetown, one would listen to many opinions opposing this, perhaps even Dolan himself. Currently, Catholic power structures will avoid oppposing this function, due to the power of its officiate.

    Cardinal Dolan is a Prince of the Church who has few to whom he is accountable in this country and abroad for such actions. Only the pro-life base will battle this, and leaders in the Church will remain silent on this matter.

    As a disclaimer, while opposing abortion, I find the techniques of promting pro-lifism in the US to have been alienating, focused on power and control as opposed to winning hearts and minds, with the use of the ban of Catholic speakers at Catholic institutions as a typical weapon to beat its opponents, with the opponents often being the powerful leaders of Catholic colleges, a standard foil of the conservative Catholic.

    The conservative movment has lost its attachment to authority, with a new decentralized approach to such matters. The routine assessment of bishops otherwise very conservative as promoting the “culture of death” is a weekly occurrence among the Catholic right wing. (It is as if the pro-life movement is seeking more and more folks to blame for its decades long inefficacy.) The weaponry of pro-lifism is now just being focused on a Catholic leader to which the conservative Catholics are attached. Such criticism of Cardinal Dolan no different than the criticism of reputedly “liberal” bishops which is a routine activity by many conservatives, particularly bloggers. Such a dynamic is an anarchic form of criticism, power, and attrmpt to control which can unsurprisingly be used on just about anyone.

  • Allan

    It’s odd how Dan C considers things like contraception, religious liberty, and abortion to be “standard Catholic right wing concerns”. If they are not also Catholic left-wing concerns, are those on the left even Catholics, or can Catholic be anything we want it to be? Why aren’t those issues also Catholic left-wing concerns? Just wondering.

    It’s also interesting that Dan C will label bishops as very conservative, but decries the criticism of reputedly “liberal” bishops. So there isn’t a liberal bishop to be found in the country. Did that also apply before Cardinal Mahony retired, or was he not even liberal enough for Dan C?

    • Dan C

      I do not think there is a sociological shocker with the primary split of American Catholic voices into a right and a left wing. Their primary concerns differ in substance. Unacceptable to the right wing is a contraceptive pushing political candidate; unacceptable to the left wing is a candidate promoting class war as enunciated as “Makers vs. Takers.” I do not think that is particularly newsworthy, however, it seems so.

      It can be easily understood that any one person or political movement will fail to embrace the consummate beauty of the Catholic faith. The heirarchy of such concerns is the point of difference.

      Also, I did not decry the criticism of any bishops but observed that “liberal” bishops, which in blogland is defined as a bishop upsetting a conservatives such as Bishop Zurek, are often targetted.

      I hold to the main thesis which is that “outcry” against bishops or Catholic institutions depicted as “liberal” is a routine weapon of prolifism, is part of a movement that has changed its relationship to authority dramatically, and that one of the routine tools of whipping up support against such institutions or Catholic leaders has been the ban on speakers antithetical to pro-life matters at Catholic events or Catholic insitutions.

      Cardinal Dolan is just the latest Catholic leader undergoing such critique.

  • Chris

    Where’s the Planned Parenthood/Right to Life picnic being held this year?

  • You are so right, Mark. With all that I’ve read in the last few days, I was beginning to think I was the only faithful Catholic who wasn’t crying, or wringing my hands or ready to leave the Church over this. Cdl. Dolan is my archbishop here in New York, and so I am partial, but much of the criticism of him as some sort of traitor to the cause is way out of line. So what if Cdl. Egan didn’t invite Clinton to the dinner? He did invite both Obama and McCain in 2008 and it was already clear by then how pro-abortion Obama was, if not exactly how anti Catholic he was. He probably would have been called racist if he hadn’t invited him.

    Cdl. Dolan is an outstanding voice for the Church and has been strong in defending religious liberty. He personally has been knifed in the back and betrayed by this sorry excuse for a president in regard to the mandate, so he has more reason to be wary of him than anyone else in the Church. He admits that he himself doesn’t believe what Obama says anymore. He can’t be accused of being naive. In other words, he’s no Fr. Jenkins.

    Stop and think a bit.

    How many people here know if Pres. Obama was even taking Cdl. Dolan’s calls up to now? For some time relations have been freezing between the White House and the bishops – largely on the President’s part. He has written of the bishops. The ability to find a solution, to actually get the President to rescind not just the HHS mandate, but his whole definition of freedom of religion – let’s not even get into the rest of his policies — has come to a standstill. Legislation to defeat the mandate is deadlocked in Congress. Yes, we MIGHT win in court, but almost certainly not before the election. Obama MIGHT not be re-elected, but we can’t count on that.

    Cardinal Dolan may have been hoping for an ice-breaker by extending this invitation. It might re-open communications and lead to talks.

    And let’s not forget that the dinner itself is still two months away. If Obama continues to be the horse’s-you-know-what that we all know he is on these matters, and there is no movement on the mandate or things get worse — I think they are bound to, given Obama’s ideology-driven personality — then there is an easy solution. Cardinal Dolan can gracefully bow out of the dinner himself. So no photo op – and Obama’s naked war on the Church will once again be visible to everyone, right before the election.

    A scenario someone else suggested, that I like. All Cardinal Dolan has to do is announce at the dinner, “Hope you are all having fun, because this will be the last Al Smith dinner. Unfortunately, all Catholic Charities in New York will have to shut down now because of your policies, Mr. President!”

    (Don’t all participants have to make a pretty large donation to Catholic Charities just to get into the dinner? Isn’t that the way it works – $2,500.00 a plate or something? The idea Obama making a large donation to Catholic Charities, knowing that none of it will go to contraception or abortion – now that’s pretty entertaining).

    The most important thing we can do is to pray for Cardinal Dolan, so what whatever he has in mind will work out. And pray for the President too, for conversion of his heart.

    • Chris

      +Dolan will not ambush the president, because that kind of trickery doesn’t play well in any circles. And whether or not it acknowledges Obama’s policy is irrelevant — the public will be told to perceive that it does, and they will. I think there’s a legitimate concern that it will also undermine the hard work being done to educate the public on religious liberty. At any rate, I don’t recall the Apostles pitching horseshoes with the Pharisees after the Ascension. Not that I’m aware of, at least. Were they being un-Christlike, or were they prudently keeping the enemy away from the flock?

      Just my opinion…

    • Nate

      Hi Lori,
      Cardinal Dolan is my bishop too. And I like him a lot, and as mentioned, I don’t envy his job. I like his ‘kill ’em with kindness’ approach. I certainly have my disagreements with him, however, and me thinks that this is one area where he is once again wrong.

      As Cardinal Dolan has himself pointed out many, many times, the HHS mandate is simply an unprecedented act of anti-Catholic injustice in American history. Hence the Fortnight of Freedom, etc. For this reason, it seems problematic to compare invite lists between this and past years. New developments call for new strategies.

      As for strategies, I agree with Chris that Dolan is not going to ambush him; but I do find your other suggestion reasonable–that Dolan might use this dinner as an ice breaker. Quite frankly, it is the only interpretation of this incident that we can give that does not lead us to conclude that our Catholic leaders are..well, I won’t say, other than to repeat that we wrongly call crazy those Catholics who suspect that they are fighting the culture war without the help of the higher ups.

      At any rate, rightly assuming that Dolan cares deeply about squelching the evil of contraception and abortion, I would find the ‘ice-breaker’ plan to be terribly compromising strategy. I like Dolan. I really do. But in this instance, his ‘kill ’em with kindess’ approach is simply going to backfire. He needs to put the smack down.

    • There also may be an element of politics to the image. If President Obama is the speaker, what exactly do you think he is going to speak about? I assume that this speech will be recorded for posterity and I can’t imagine Obama not praising the work of Catholic Charities. SO, if/when Dolan does have to close down Catholic Charities because of the HHS Mandate he will have a fairly large last minute lever to try to get the President to budge.

      I agree that Dolan is unlikely to ambush the President at the dinner. I do think that he is likely to press the point privately that everything the President has praised in his speech is in jeopardy because of the HHS Mandate. Obama is human like everyone else, knowing (personally, with real names and faces) who your actions hurt (even if you still think you are right) will give anyone pause and may yet provide grounds for his conversion (you are praying for Obama’s conversion?).

      • I agree. I “liked” that ambush scenario only as a fantasy/joke. Privately appealing to the President about the work of Catholic Charities, yes, that is Dolan’s style.

        I’ve never watched more than a few snippets of the speeches at the dinner, but it’s my impression that the speeches by both candidates are limited to good-natured ribbing of themselves and the other guy. Will they even approach the subject of the HHS mandate? I don’t see how it could possibly be made funny.

        Back to Dolan’s style. Right after he was made USCCB President, he was giving a press conference and Laurie Goodstein of the NYT was present. She was the author of more than one attack piece on the Church and Pope Benedict that Dolan had decried. She identified herself before asking Dolan her question, and he replied, really with the utmost sweetness, “Yes, Laurie, I know who you are.” No kidding!

  • Andy

    Of course after reflection I wonder – how many people in America really care about the Al Smith Dinner? The media may are, but I doubt that unless Obama or Romney makes a stupid remark, then Colbert and Stewart will be all over it. Really I think this is a dinner invitation – one that asks both candidates to leave politics at the door, to be self-depricating and to raise money for charity.
    The culture war that is on-going – if there is really is one – will not be won by throwing bombs – it will be won by conversation and discussion. If indeed we want to see a change then we have to start small – only GOd can start big – invite a person who does not share what is core to the Catholic Faith – a Culture of Life for a beverage and talk. Get to know the person as a person – it may take time – do not get angry – but attacks and confrontation only cause the other side to become more recalcitrant.

  • I agree, Mark. Although I can’t imagine why Obama would accept.

  • Marthe Lépine

    Since I am not from your country, I am a little mixed up here. Is this not a dinner where both candidates to the presidency are invited? From most of what I read, it sounds like only Obama has been invited, and that he will be given the podium to make the only talk at the dinner. From the start, this smack of “political” reporting, reporting with an agenda. If Obama were the only guest speaker, it would be more understandable. But if I rightly understand that Romney is also invited, I almost see a lot of the “hoopla” against Cardinal Dolan as being dishonest… (sorry if I am ruffling some feathers here, remember, I am just some outsider). Only inviting one of the two candidates could most probably be seen as endorsing that candidate; but if both are invited, where is the fuss about, for example, one of Romney’s businesses earning money for the “safe” disposition of aborted fetuses? If I had the time, I might look for more such examples, but that’s it for now…

  • Marthe, yes, both candidates are invited this year, that is the custom. It was broken in 1996 and again in 2004, when only one was invited, and that in at least one of those cases, apparently led to a backlash, and charges of partisanship, etc. You can see a complete list of all the keynote speakers over the years here: