Blog Post

Al Smith Dinner Controversy Takes a New Turn

The controversy over President Obama's invitation to speak at a Catholic Charities fundraiser in October took a new turn yesterday when an employee of the Archdiocese weighed in with a more detailed explanation of the even in question.

Edward Mechmann, who works with the New York Archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office on public policy issues and serves as Director of the Safe Environment Program, posted a blog in which he asks people to "take a deep breath, relax a second, and think carefully about" Cardinal Timothy Dolan's invitation to the president to speak at the upcoming Al Smith Dinner. 

"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," he explained. 

"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)."

In addition, the dinner has a long tradition of inviting elected officials of all parties, particularly candidates who are running 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," Mechmann writes.

"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.

"Given 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."

He goes on to say that inviting the president sends an important message during a time of "pathologically toxic politics."

First, it allows members of the Church to act like Christians and treat an adversary with respect and civility. "After all, even St. Peter told us to 'honor the emperor' (1 Pet 2:17)," he writes.

Second, it gives us the opportunity to "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."

He adds: "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."

Mechmann says these comments are his own and should not be construed as an official statement from the Archdiocese.

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