Breaking Bread With the Enemy: The Al Smith Dinner

Breaking Bread With the Enemy: The Al Smith Dinner August 9, 2012

“So he’s given us a year to figure out how to violate our consciences…”

“You’ve got a dramatic, radical intrusion of a government bureaucracy into the internal life of the church…”

–Most Rev. Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York

Cardinal Egan welcomes President George W. Bush and Al Gore

Cardinal Timothy Dolan has been an outspoken critic of the health care mandate imposed by the Department of Health and Human Services, requiring all businesses (even Catholic organizations) to offer free contraception and abortifacients as part of basic health care for their employees.

Under Cardinal Dolan’s spirited leadership, Catholics have rallied:  More than 130,000 participated in two nationwide rallies in the Spring of the year, expressing concern and outrage over the government’s intrusion into the conscience rights of churches and individuals of faith.  Now this Dinner wipes the slate clean; poorly informed Catholics and others will think, “If the Cardinal can put aside petty differences for a light night of fun and jokes, this must not be very important.”

The Cardinal, flanked by President John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon

I think the Al Smith Dinner could cost pro-lifers the election and put this radically pro-abortion President back in the White House for another four years.  Coming just a few weeks before the election, this will be a singularly important photo op for the President—and the media will do his bidding, showing the Cardinal and the Prez enjoying laughs and cigars like nothing is wrong.

So WHY would the Archbishop of New York and president of the USCCB extend an invitation to President Obama to join him at the podium along with his political opponent, Mitt Romney, at the annual Al Smith Dinner?

The Al Smith Dinner, a major fundraiser organized by the Albert E. Smith Memorial Foundation, is a light-hearted roast—a jocular black-tie fete named for the Catholic statesman who died in October 1944—and it attracts a veritable Who’s Who in American politics.  Since 1945 the Al Smith Dinner has raised millions of dollars for health care causes.  And the Foundation’s tradition has been to invite presidential candidates during an election year.

But there have been some notable exceptions: 

  • In 1996, Cardinal O’Connor did not invite the presidential candidates because he opposed President Bill Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion bill. 
  • Cardinal Egan avoided the presidential candidates in 2004, when Democratic challenger John Kerry espoused strongly pro-abortion views. 

Why Cardinal Dolan, who has led the American Church in its efforts to overturn the unconstitutional HHS Mandate, would overlook the gravely pro-abortion policies of the Obama Administration and the President’s staunch refusal to defend the Defense Of Marriage Act in the courts, and would invite President Obama to rub elbows at this lighthearted Dinner is a mystery to me.  And I am not alone in my confusion: 

  • Father Frank Pavone, head of Priests For Life, has said, “There comes a time when enough is enough and we can no longer afford to give people a reason to doubt our position as a Church.  So no, I don’t think the invitation is appropriate at this time.”  Father Pavone continues, “I’m all in favor of protocol and understand the difference between respecting the President’s policies vs. respecting his office.  But there comes a time when the polite putting aside of differences for a while amounts to scandal.”
  • The Boston Catholic Insider writes, “…This has sparked nationwide criticism and outrage which BCI feels is justified.” 
  • Al Kresta, syndicated talk show host and CEO of Ave Maria Radio, has addressed this on the air with his characteristic eloquence. 
  • Lawyer Michael Gaynor’s column on RenewAmerica pleads, “Cardinal Dolan, please don’t invite President Obama to the Al Smith dinner this year!” 
  • Steven Ertelt, writing in, represents the view of Randy Engel (Director, U.S. Coalition for Life) and others who say, “Better to cancel the event than have it become another cause for scandal in the Catholic Church.” 
  • Jenn Giroux, founder of WIN (Women Influencing the Nation) and former Executive Director of Human Life International, writes, “Three words, Cardinal Dolan: ‘Cancel The Dinner’”

I have always had such respect for His Eminence, admiring his leadership and smiling at his Godly joy; and I can’t believe he doesn’t have a greater good in mind now.  I wonder, Is he having second thoughts, and will the Dinner be cancelled?  Or is there a dialogue going on behind the scenes to which we are not privy?  Keep watching.

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