Controversies and Dinners

There is a controversy brewing in Catholic and pro-life circles over reports that the President has been invited to attend the annual Al Smith Dinner here in New York.  In my opinion, people need to take a deep breath, relax a second, and think carefully about this.

It’s important first to understand what the Al Smith Dinner is, and is not, and then what the invitation means, and what it does not.

The Al Smith Dinner is organized and hosted by the Alfred E. Smith Foundation, which is closely affiliated with but independent of the Archdiocese of New York.  It’s named after Governor Al Smith, an iconic figure in New York politics, who dedicated his life to serving the people of the state, particularly the needy.  He was a classic urban machine politician, but was also committed to working with others across party lines when he saw that it was in the public interest.  He was always proud of his Catholic faith and he defended the Church against attacks against religious bigotry.  He was certainly well familiar with anti-Catholicism, since his own faith was brutally attacked during his run for the Presidency in 1928.

The dinner is not a religious event in any way — it’s a civic/political event that raises money for Catholic charitable institutions.  It’s not held at a religious building — it’s at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  It has no religious component aside from a benediction and closing prayer — much like sessions of Congress.  A large proportion of the people who attend the Dinner are not Catholic, and the list of past speakers shows that only once in its almost 70-year history has a religious figure given the keynote address (Cardinal O’Connor).

The dinner has a long tradition of inviting New York elected officials of all parties, and candidates of both major parties for the Presidency.  It is strictly non-partisan, and an invitation to the dinner is in no way an endorsement of any office holder, or any candidate for office.

It’s also important that the politicians who speak at the dinner are not being given any honor or award by the Church, but are rather delivering an address that is one part jocular remarks written by professional jokesters, and two-parts generic political after-dinner bromides.  Any comparison between the Al Smith Dinner and the honorary degree given to the President at Notre Dame’s graduation ceremony is thus completely off-the-mark.

Everybody at the dinner understands this — it’s a civic event, much like a Veteran’s Day parade (but with a fancier menu and white tie).

Some people have been saying that inviting the President in some way undermines or contradicts the Church’s public witness in defense of life and the family.  There is no question that the President’s political agenda and policy record are deplorable from a Catholic perspective — he is consistently anti-life and is ardent in his promotion and support of abortion, he is in favor of re-defining marriage, he opposes parental choice in education, his Administration is a consistent enemy of religious freedom, and there is good reason to believe that he has dealt with our bishops in less than good faith.

Give the consistency and strength with which our bishops — particularly Cardinal Dolan — have been proclaiming the Catholic view of public policy, it is hard to see how this one Dinner could possibly lead anyone to believe that the Church is softening her defense of life, the family, and religious liberty.  When everyone wakes up the morning after, the struggle will resume.

But, as a matter of fact, an invitation to the current incumbent President to the Al Smith Dinner actually sends a message, one that is important in this time of pathologically toxic politics.  It says to us that we can vehemently disagree with a public official’s positions, but we can still show respect for his office, and for him as a person, and treat him with civility.  It gives us an opportunity to act as Christians, and show some love to our adversaries, and even those whose policies we consider to be immoral and oppressive. After all, even St. Peter told us to “honor the emperor” (1 Pet 2:17).

The message is also that we can set aside our deeply-held differences and leave the partisan politics at the door for an evening, speak nicely and politely to each other, and work together for a common cause in the service of the poor.  That’s a good thing, something that Al Smith would have been proud to associate himself with, and something that Catholics and pro-lifers should also support.


Note:  Some bloggers and other news sources have linked to this blog post, and have said that it is a statement by “the Archdiocese”.  Please read the sidebar to this blog: “The opinions expressed by the Bloggers… are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Archdiocese of New York”.  These comments are not an official statement by the Archdiocese or the Cardinal — they represent my opinions, and mine alone.  Clear?  Okay, fire away — but in a civil way, please.

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564 Responses to “Controversies and Dinners”

  1. Anne Jenkins says:

    Oh come on…. are you all telling me and the rest of the Church that there is not some one far more appropriate to invite? How about Romney instead….. he at least hasn’t attacked the Church out right as Obama has REPEATEDLY….. It is obvious that we all feel the distance is NOT GREAT ENOUGH….. sharing a stage with the nemesis of the Catholic Church is ….. and abomination…. at the very least the Cardinal should not be present….

  2. Jeffrey T says:

    As a 31 yr old I am too young to remember when being Catholic actually meant something in this country. We now have “Catholic” leaders in the highest positions of government[Pelosi, Biden, Sebelius, Sotomayer, Cuomo, etc…] who do nothing but confuse the faithful with their pro-abortion, divorce, contraception, gay marriage positions. Why can’t everyone just pick & choose which positions to hold since it doesn’t seem to matter to our leaders? My generation is hungry for the truth (most of us were very poorly catechized), but all we’ll see from this is that as long as you rise to a high enough position in government it doesn’t really matter what you do or believe; you’ll still be invited to headline a Catholic event and sit & joke with Bishops & Cardinals. Any meeting with Obama should be held in private away from the cameras.

  3. Tony Robinson says:

    We are in a war and someone forgot to tell Cardinal Dolan. This is absolutely pathetic. This dinner will provide a platform for positions in opposition to Church teaching. Let’s all pray that Governor Romney will be wise enough to let Congressman Ryan give a speech at this dinner.

  4. Bob says:


    You and the catholic bishops who are charged with protecting the flock absolutely disgust me. You talk about civility, where is the civility in the abortion of millions of unborn? Where is the civility in the US Government when it violates its own constitution and tries to force catholics to pay for this sinful action? When was Christ civil to Satan? When was he nice to works of evil? Go back and read the bible and canon law on who the leaders should respond to evil. While you say you don’t speak for the USCCB, the fact they let you put this garbage on their web site shows that they are using you as a tool to try to defend their indefensible actions. Stand up with Christ and us true Catholics and urge our leaders to reconsider this abomomination. It truely is the scandal of the decade.

  5. I love our Church, but my wife and I and others are totally frustrated at some American Bishops who appear to not realize a few things (unfortunately).
    1. The average Catholic is much more versed in Canon law, Sacred Scripture, marketing, accounting, and the internet which uncovers allot of what Bishops should and should not be doing for Christ’s Church, currently.
    2. Are not the Bishops aware of the feeling of betrayal the Church going, RCIA teaching, godly people in their churches feel over Bishops as a whole handling things this way?
    3. Are the Bishops not aware of the support that the other Denominations have been giving us right now? How most Reverend Bishops can you not see the Betrayal they will feel.
    4. With the financial, and moral support you are receiving from your church and other Denominations, wouldn’t it serve God better by all of you exhibiting a little Righteous anger like Jesus had when he turned over a few tables?
    5. It is time for more prayer, consistant example and policy and MUCH less concern about doing the politically correct thing, when Jesus is hanging on the cross.
    6. We the Church supporting and loving Catholics are asking you to be a Post Christs Death Peter as a Spirit Filled empty vessel willing to be used, willing to serve and willing to die for Christ and not a Pre Christ’s Death Peter of little faith, and afraid to admit he knew Christ.

    Your Eminence, having the utmost respect for you, are you willing to be cruxified upside down for Christ by saying No to President Obama, trusting there will be a new and godly administration coming. Or will you sink into the sea as Peter did because of his lack of faith?
    We Catholics and those in other denominations need your Spiritual leadership in America, now.

  6. Charles says:

    Please forgive me for not being angry, perhaps I should be. What is the benefit that comes from this invitation? I’ve seen hundreds of posters hurt and disillusioned. What out weighs that?

    Is the benefit to show love to the President? Surely, love requires that we correct his errors as firmly as possible. To show that politics aren’t toxic? Does not inviting him mean the Cardinal is being toxic? To show respect to the office? Can’t we respect the office without inviting him to a dinner? To show that the Church wants to fight poverty? Has that not been proven?

    How does this invitation advance the Church, or save and protect souls. I hope there is a good and holy reason, but it hasn’t been shown yet, and I’m a little worried.

  7. Stephen Montoya says:

    A special thank you to the Archdiocese of New York for posting these diverse comments especially those comments viewed by some as overly critical and pointed. Thank you for not actively silencing the voice of orthodoxy in the Church like, in my experience, so many “catholic” web sites do. May God pour the Holy Spirit out upon us and renew the Holy Roman Catholic Church and grant us the grace of true Christian unity, fellowship and holiness. Amen.

  8. Thanks Cardinal Dolan for remaining charitable and respectful. Your ability both to challenge and to invite others into closer relationship are the hallmarks of a great and Christ-like leader.

  9. Scott says:

    Succinctly–double standard and double rationalization.

  10. João says:

    This is the answer, to this post:

    Feed My Sheep! Feed My Sheep! Feed My Sheep!

  11. John says:

    Feed My Sheep! Do not present the wolf to sheep as friend, confusing catholics.
    Under Hitler’s regime part of the Church (not all… but a big part) did the same You are doing now.


    By giving consent and let the man speak in the pulpit on this event IS confusing Catholics.

  12. Barbara says:

    I can’t figure out if it’s me you’re trying to fool . . . or yourself.
    You must really need the money!

  13. Brian says:

    All this commotion is silly. Are we not supposed to speak to people with different views? Where does it stop?? This is not a dinner honoring those invited. It is an opportunity to break down barriers and have others see

    Cdl. Dolan is doing the right thing to continue the dialogue. Those who want to ‘wall off’ their world are destined for extinction.

  14. SimpleCatholic says:

    I am truly amazed at the absolute hatred spewed by so many who think themselves faithful members of the Catholic Church. The shift from hating the sin to hating the sinner confirms that you no longer should present yourself to receive the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord in the Eucharist. Condemn the decisions, sinful actions and policies of those who go against God, certainly. But when you demonize the person and fail to love him/her, the devil gains a huge victory and the world slides further away from the Kingdom that, we pray, will come “on earth as it is in heaven.” I will continue to pray for you, as I do for myself and all who fall short of doing God’s will.