Cardinal Dolan Responds to Criticism Over Al Smith Dinner

Writing on the feast of St. Maximiliam Kolbe, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan published a response to the criticism he is receiving over inviting President Barack Obama to the annual Catholic Charities fundraiser known as The Al Smith Dinner.

After admitting that he has been receiving “stacks of mail” protesting the invitation to President Obama – and noting that a few people are even objecting to the invitation to Governor Romney – he says this is indicative of the controversy that frequently surrounds the dinner because of the politicians who frequent it.

“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,” he writes. “We bishops, including yours truly, have been unrelenting in our opposition to these issues, and will continue to be. So, my correspondents ask, how can you justify inviting the President? Let me try to explain.”

First, he reminds that 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.

Second, “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,” he writes. “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.”

Third, the teaching of the Church 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.”

It is in this spirit that many of our popes receive leaders of nations with whom they have serious disagreements, such as when Pope Benedict XVI received President Obama at the Vatican. 

“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?” he asks.

Last, 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,” the Cardinal writes.

“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.”

However, he does say that being charged with causing scandal by inviting the President “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 we might think of this decision, the Cardinal is asking for prayers for both himself and his fellow bishops and priests who are faced with making these decisions so that they will be wise and faithful shepherds.

“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.”

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10 Response to “Cardinal Dolan Responds to Criticism Over Al Smith Dinner

  1. This message is utterly confusing. Are we or are we not fighting for our religious freedom at the hands of this President and his ilk? Is Cardinal Dolan expressing more concern here about appearances than he is about standing firm against a barrage of attacks on the Church? We’re in dire trouble and this is no time to dance and make merry with anyone let alone the enemy.

  2. Well, here is the Cardinal’s response. I guess I can understand his reasoning, but I do not agree with it. So many ill-informed Catholics voted for Obama in 2008 and he has been disastrous for the country and for the Church’s liberty. Inviting him and breaking bread with him so close to the election just affirms to those ill-informed, that it’s OK to vote for Obama. Bad decision on the Cardinal’s part, but I guess he’s sticking to it. 🙁

  3. Dear Mrs. Brinkmann,
    I listened to you and Johnnette yesterday on the show talking about Archbishop Dolan’s press release on the Al Smith Dinner. I was surprised to hear your response that you both were please with his letter. Don’t we as faithful Catholics have to stand strong together and for Truth? I have listened also to Teresa Tomeo, and I know that Johnnette and Teresa are on the same page to support our church. But on this point, it seems that one is in agreement with the Archbishop, and one is not. If these two Faithful Catholic women are divided, then how is other lay members of the church going to respond? I wrote Archbishop Dolan and told him that at first glance I thought he was being more Christ like as when Jesus ate and washed the feet of Judas, even though He knew Judas would betray Him. But I also told the Archbishop that was a different day and time. Currently we have the secular media that will spin it as if The Catholic Church and our president are okay with one another. To the non believers and Catholics who are true to our church, it probably doesn’t much matter. But to Catholics who are not grounded in their faith, a message like this contradicts what it stands for. The killing of innocent babies, making us pay for health insurance(that is not for our health) and our freedom to voice our opinion is what our president is promoting. If the unknowing see these two different sides yukking it up in the media, they might think that Our Catholic Church and the current administration are copistetic and all is good. This could help lead to four more years and a continuing decline not only in this country, but more importantly in our religious freedoms. It’s disheartening as fellow Catholic, who is trying to stay faithful, to hear that we just have to play nice in certain circumstances. You know scripture and verse better than I probably ever will. But I do remember something being written “He will spit the luke warm from His mouth”. I am trying to defend my faith and my church, but it sure is getting harder with all the division and not seeing us stand with one voice. I am not one to send letters and get involved, but I feel as if The Holy Spirit lead me to respond. On a positive note, I do love Women Of Grace and the work you all do.
    God Bless,

  4. 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!!!

  5. Wow ! Elizabeth I really think this is a great idea. won’t happen bet a great idea none the less. I am a faithful Catholic and listened to both ladies as well. and read the response from the Cardinal. I don’t quite know how or what to think. God in his wisdom is always in charge , we can be assured of this.

  6. I am impressed with Cardinal Dolan’s response to the criticism he has received for his Obama invitation. His comment needs to be understood by those who don’t understand the need for communication with those who disagree with us: “. . . 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.” Cardinal Dolan is setting an example that all Catholics should listen to and emulate. He is, in my opinion, Catholic America at it’s finest.

  7. Prudential judgements should be exactly that, prudent. This term cannot be used to justify any action that is not intrinsically evil. The point is that many Catholics do not think it was prudent, but scandalous. Just as going alone to dinner with another man’s spouse, by itself is not intrinsically evil, it is not prudent, but scandalous. Even if Cardinal Dolan’s motives were pure he did not choose the right forum for dialog and it is downright scandalous. Fraternizing with the enemy at a dinner party is scandalous especially when you were the one who personally invited him. I believe the problem is that many Catholics don’t think President Obama is a enemy of the Church as evidenced by their voting in 2008. So what was the Fortnight of Freedom all about anyway? I believe many Catholics don’t try to practice their faith 100% and when the Bishops do things like this it somehow justifies their own personal lack of the virtue of prudence. Come on, Jesus dining with sinners cannot be compared to Jesus leaving the Disciples to attend a gala with King Herod.
    It will be interesting to see how our leadership actually responds when the HHS mandate goes into effect. Up to date the concept of The Church Militant has been nonexistence in the U.S. and we have been pandering to the current culture in the name of Social Justice. Eventually, as the culture continues to encroach upon our faith, the line between faithful Catholics and the not so faithful will become clearer. I heard that a majority of U.S. Bishops voted for Obama in 2008 and the Catholic swing vote secured that election for him. President Obama is using the dinner to win votes for 2012 and Dolan by inviting him is abading him. I don’t see pictures of Maximilian Kolbe at dinner with Nazis. If you think comparing the Democratic party with the Nazi Party is not fair there is no reaching you.

  8. Well stated, John. I also strongly disagree with the Cardinal’s decision, but I am shocked at how many fellow Catholics have taken me to task for voicing such an opinion — accusing me of disrespect for the man and his office. It’s not like I disagree with any Catholic doctrines; we are talking about a prudential matter. I simply think that the Cardinal took the “charity” approach rather than the “spiritual battle” approach. This may be well intentioned but in this culture of death it is not wise to yuk it up with the leader of the culture of death at a fancy dinner. Oh how I wish Cardinal Dolan had taken the stance of his two predecessors when they faced similar presidential candidates who were also hostile to innocent life. The spiritual warriors out here in the field would have been much more uplifted, and the media would not have their photo op at the upcoming Al Smith gala.

  9. The comparison of our Dear Lord eating with sinners and equating that with Dolan’s invite of the most pro-abortion, pro-gay so called marriage, pro-culture of death, pro-contraception, anti-religious freedom, and anti-Catholic president in modern U S history beggars description. There exists no biblical example that even compares, we would need to invent one. Say for example the Lord Jesus sitting down with Herod after his murder of the innocents in his attempt to kill a potential threat to his throne; and the Lord publicly singing, dancing, feasting and yukking it up with Herod. Or the Lord Jesus attending one of Nero’s celebratory feasts and visibly making merry after Nero had the Christians blamed and murdered for his own actions in burning Rome. Dolan through his actions has undermined the Church’s, Bishops, pro-life movement and faithful Catholic’s who actually adhere to Church teachings and the Magesterium. This man has given Obama the photo op of the century, and a tacit reward in light of all Obama has done or is responsible for. This will be exploited to the hilt in an effort to swing as in 2008 the catholic vote his way. Comparing this to the Lord Jesus’ ministry among sinners in any way is ridiculous. The Notre Dame Obama-culation did the Church allot of good didn’t it? What a lovely picture Obama and Dolan (Chief Church American pastor) yukking it up over drinks and cigars. The message conveyed to the world: Mr. President the issues we have with your actions against religious freedom, against traditional marriage and for the abortion holocaust are actually secondary to a good dinner, good booze, good cigars and good jokes! Right the Lord Jesus would act this way? Spare me!

  10. As Catholic concerned with the great decline in the Catholic Faith around the world, I was thankful when Cardinal Dolan was elected Bishop because of his faithfulness and great leadership, which has been so sorely lacking in many of our bishops in the last 30 years. So I was extremely disappointed that he chose to attend the dinner to which such a pro abortion man, President Obama was invited. Our Lord’s message when he sat down with sinners was to tell them to go and sin no more. We know that if elected President Obama will continue with his policies. It would have been better for Cardinal Dolan not to attend the dinner if he was afraid of offending President Obama. It is a bitter blow that he attended – and the photos of him laughing with such a man can only be seen as an endorsement of him. What hope has the Church now if someone like Cardinal Dolan who is President of the Bishops Conference couldn’t see that it was wrong to attend?