Of Card. Dolan, Pres. Obama and the Al Smith Dinner

I have received at least a hundred emails asking my opinion of the situation. Having turned it over in my mind, I originally thought that if Pope Paul VI could met with Idi Amin Dada, Card. Dolan could meet with Obama. I reconsidered that analogy: Paul VI was a head of state meeting another head of state. Thus, I remain at a loss.

I know all the arguments on both sides.

Given the fact that the invitation has been extended and accepted, and given that it is not going to be rescinded, I can only say I hope for the best with this intensely irritating development.  Obama and his dupes among catholics will try twist this to his advantage and there is pretty much zippo any of us can do about it. But, hey, we call this life a vale of tears, don’t we?

That said, I sincerely hope that something takes place along the line of what happened at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast.  Eric Metaxas gave a great talk about Dietrich Bonhoeffer as Pres. Obama was sitting next to him.  Metaxas, in the most charming and disarming way, worked his way around to the concept of the dignity of human life and, in doing so, in the nicest possible way, tore Obama to shreds.

In any event, at the National Catholic Register Pat Archbold has a commentary on the invitation His Eminence Timothy Card. Dolan extended to the Hopefully-To-Be-Defeated First Gay President Barack Hussein Obama for the Al Smith Dinner.

Here is part of Archbold’s piece with his view:

A Warning For The Cardinal
by Pat Archbold


Cardinal Dolan, We trust you. I trust you. But I also have a warning for you.

You wrote about what the perception would be if you refused to meet with the President saying “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?”

We understand your point, Cardinal. [GRRRR!  When will people learn that “Cardinal” or “Bishop” is not a proper form of address?  In the USA we properly say or write respectively, “Your Eminence” and “Your Excellency”.] But you must remember that dialogue is a two way street and so is perception. President Obama’s Chief of Staff has made it clear that the President is done compromising. The President is also the same man who gave a speech at Notre Dame touting his commitment to conscience protections. He is the same man who looked you in the eye last year and promised the same. This is the same man whose own Whitehouse website still falsely claims the endorsement of the Catholic Health Association. He lied. He lies. [When I consider Pres. Obama in his dealings with the Church… indeed the country… I am reminded of Mary McCarthy’s famous quip, mutatis mutandis of course: Every word he says is a lie, including “and” and “the”.]

Cardinal, [GRRRR!] our ongoing concern is not merely that this opportunity for dialogue and civility will be wasted on the President. If that were the worst that could happen, I think we could all live with that. Our real concern is that the President will use this opportunity to convince as many people as possible that the Church isn’t really serious in its opposition. One can easily imagine a picture of you and the President smiling arm in arm being posted to the Whitehouse website right next to the false CHA endorsement the morning after the dinner.

Our ongoing concern Cardinal Dolan is that this will not just be a wasted opportunity for dialogue, but an un-wasted opportunity for the President to sell his lies, to the detriment of faith and liberty for all.

Cardinal Dolan, we trust you. But do not ever trust President Obama.

The combox moderation feature is on.  I will be severely selective.  I will read the comments, but probably pass along very few.


Fr. Byers of Holy Souls Hermitage has posted his view of the situation HERE.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    I have to agree with Cardinal Dolan here. I realize how bad it could look, and how it might be twisted for use by the Democratic machine, but since when were Catholics supposed to avoid anything that “might look bad.” I realize it is the world’s oldest counter-point, but Jesus did eat with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. Why can’t His Eminence do the same?

    Unlike the Notre Shame debacle, there is no honor being bestowed on Obama here, no award given out (so far as I am aware). He has simply been invited to a charity dinner, a dinner that has traditionally played host to the sitting president, regardless of position or party.

    And as far as the president’s stance on not compromising, are we supposed to just sit down and accept that? Or are we meant to continue knocking and asking and protesting. This could be seen as rolling over, or it can be seen as taking the higher ground. Cardinal Dolan, and by extension, all Catholic bishops will be seen to be willing to talk and work. Obama and his democratic party will be seen as unnecessarily stubborn, unable to meet at the table. The REAL “party of no”

  2. Geoffrey says:

    I support His Eminence. God chose him as a bishop and prince of the Church for a reason. I have faith in the hierarchy. I hope the event is televised… Cardinal Dolan has the guts to really get his point across with Obama sitting right there, with all the press corps to see. His Eminence will not disappoint.

  3. frjim4321 says:

    The Cardinal is probably aware that there is a growing likelihood that the incumbant will be reelected and probably does not want to alienate an administration that he will have to work with for four more years.

    Also to disinvite President Obama would provide more evidence for those who claim the US hierarchy is working in cahoots with the RNC.

    It really is a “Sophie’s Choice,” but really he opted for the only workable alternative.

  4. contrarian says:

    I remember when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came and spoke at Columbia University. The president of the university, in his introductory remarks, basically called him out and insulted him. Weird as it this is, I agreed with Ahmadinejad, who said after this ambush, ‘Look. I didn’t have to come here. I didn’t have to accept this invitation. This is discourteous.’
    Ahmadinejad was ambushed. Bad form.
    I’d be greatly surprised if His Eminence ambushed the President Obama, and if he did, I would call it bad form. Some of the opposition to this dinner stems from the knowledge His Excellency knows this. No ambush will take place. That would be far worse than not inviting him. Instead, there will be cigars, food, drink, and laughter. Not as bad as an ambush, but…bad.

    I stand with the opposition. I realize the precedent, but the HHS mandate is unprecedented. New developments call for new conceptions of cordiality.
    Moreover, I would agree with the argument that, cordiality and tradition notwithstanding, this *looks* very bad. I worry that people like me–mere laymen in the trenches of a parish with heretical practices and entrenched problems–will have their suspicions that they are fighting the culture war by their lonesomes, confirmed…or at the very least, padded.

  5. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Perhaps the Al Smith dinner is an opportunity to reflect both on how much the relationship between Church and State has changed since 1928, and also how little has changed. I can see His Eminence making deliberate (i.e., carefully considered) comparisons between the New Deal, Nazism and the philosophy of President Obama. I could see some comment about being loyal citizens by being full-throated Catholics.

    Perhaps he could even raise the question of St. Francis’ treatment of a notoriously erring priest who, being treated by the saint, repented.

  6. anna 6 says:

    I have been to the Al Smith Dinner. I will never forget the ovation that Tony Blair received as it was his first public appearance after leaving office and a few months before he became Roman Catholic. The atmosphere was electric and the crowd stood at least 3 times during his speech. They were grateful for his support in Iraq and weren’t shy about showing it. I also remember that Mayor Bloomberg got tepid applause. The contrast was embarrassing.

    Now I cannot predict how the crowd will respond to the president…there will surely be supporters as well as opponents…but it will be very interesting to see how they react. Of course NY is a very liberal, Democrat town, but the people who attend the dinner make up a different demographic (for example, Rupert Murdoch attends every year)… and the Irish Catholic ,Wall St. crowd might rough him up a bit.

    Hopefully, they will keep it “classy”, but between you and me, I wouldn’t mind a bit of a Bronx cheer.

  7. mike cliffson says:

    Never smile at a crocodile
    No, you can’t get friendly with a crocodile
    Don’t be taken in by his welcome grin
    He’s imagining how well you’d fit within his skin
    Never smile at a crocodile
    Never dip your hat and stop to talk awhile
    Never run, walk away, say good-night, not good-day
    Clear the aisle but never smile at Mister Crocodile
    You may very well be well bred
    Lots ot etiquette in your head
    But there’s always some special case, time or place
    To forget etiquette
    For instance:
    Never smile at a crocodile
    No, you can’t get friendly with a crocodile
    Don’t be taken in by his welcome grin
    He’s imagining how well you’d fit within his skin
    Never smile at a crocodile
    Never dip your hat and stop to talk awhile
    Never run, walk away, say good-night, not good-day
    Clear the aisle but never smile at Mister Crocodile

  8. JimGB says:

    Cardinal Dolan is a pretty savvy man and I am sure he has considered all of the options and consulted with the organizers of the dinner and others. The speeches by the candidates combine self deprecating humor with some gentle tweaks of the other guy. Obama is notoriously bad at self deprecation and as I remember from 2008, McCain’s speech was much better received than was Obama’s. I expect that this time Obama will receive a polite but not effusive reception and Romney will be given a much more enthusiastic reception. Catholics cannot trust Obama and I think that no one will be deluded into thinking that his being invited to the dinner will cause him to change any of his policies, nor will it cause the Church to abandon its fight against those that are unconstitutional infringements of religious liberty.

  9. tonesing says:

    I trust His Eminence… Father, you mentioned Metaxas’s Address to the Prayer Breakfast. I pray that the Cardinal would follow the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta at the 1994 Breakfast (although I am fully aware his political skills would not permit him).

    She said, “I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because Jesus said, ‘If you receive a little child, you receive me.’ So every abortion is the denial of receiving Jesus, the neglect of receiving Jesus.”

    Lots of applause; none from the Clintons or the Gores. (See Peggy Noonan’s reflection from Crisis Magazine.

    This maybe naive or wishful thinking, but in reality there are far bigger fish to fry and far bigger offenses. Who cares about a dinner when Pelosi, Biden and the like are still receiving communion?

  10. Johnno says:

    His Eminence, whether he likes it or not, sends a statement that Catholics are able to put their faith in a nice box in the corner when it comes to certain ‘activities,’ like this charitable dinner where helping the poor is of the utmost importance, therefore Catholicism is out, partying with the enemy-now-drinking buddy is in. In that case, why not then put our Catholicism in a box when it comes to handing out condoms or performing abortions in our hospitals and having gay positive spaces in our Catholic Schools? Is our faith something we live? Does Christ who dwells in us take the day off and go out for a walk when we need to do some other ‘activities?’ Like say… when we want to have sex with our spouse, but hopefully God will be out golfing rather than here possibly thinking that now would be a good time to create another human soul?

    The only thing that can make the most of this is if indeed Cardinal Dolan and every other Catholic speaker spends time informing all the guests about Catholic Morality and about Religious Freedom and criticizing Obama to his face in however subtle or unsubtle manner they prefer to get the point across, and also refuse photo ops with the President like Pope Benedict wisely did with regards to meeting Nancy Pelosi. That is something I can get behind. But from what the PR of the archdiocese seems to indicate, there will be none of that. Our faith has been suspended for the evening for a little friendly get together.

    Yes, Christ did eat and meet with sinners, but He did so in order to teach and convert them. When He ate with Matthew, it was because Matthew was willing to repent and change. Obama doesn’t intend to change unless it means changing us. Meeting with him in an official capacity for face to face discussions is one thing. This Charity Dinner is another. It honors Obama by having him be a speaker, as if he’s anyone to talk and inform Catholics about what charity is! This is no different from the LCWR inviting that kooky space age lady to speak to their assembly. Here’s hoping the Cardinal will do the right thing and actually make this an opportunity to call Obama out on his crimes.

  11. TNCath says:

    I support what Cardinal Dolan has done. But, I do not trust President Obama’s acceptance of the invitation.

  12. Lori Pieper says:

    Let’s see, Obama has knifed Cardinal Dolan in the back – lied to him about the mandate, betrayed him, belittled him and all the other bishops, and basically shut them all out. Dolan has every right to be boiling mad – instead he invites his enemy to dinner.

    Lots of Catholics in comboxes throughout the nation are screaming and up in arms, characterizing this as naivete on his part or “business as usual,” “caving in” or “yukking it up with the enemy of the Church.” (I don’t mean anyone here, of course. Fr. Z is keeping it pretty tame).

    I want to ask: are we Christians or not? Is this the eye we really see things with? Isn’t this a Christlike action on Cardinal Dolan’s part? (He’s no Fr. Jenkins who clearly invited Obama out of partiality). Dolan making the first move at reconciliation really makes the President look bad. At least that’s how most people with any sense, and who know the complete story, would look at it. Thing is, most people don’t have any sense, and of course, they don’t know the complete story.

    I think we Catholics would be much better served with we dropped the hysteria and started making this our narrative when talking about this story on the internet, in comboxes, on Facebook, with family, friends and co-workers. It would serve us and our cause much better to let people know that it was Obama who blew off the Church and Dolan who is reaching out. Of course, Obama thinks this will be just another photo-0p. But it doesn’t have to be if we don’t let it. We need to stress who is really in the wrong here and not act as if Cardinal Dolan is the enemy. We’re only helping the other side by certain attitudes.

    I only said this to let off steam. I don’t think too many here would do that. Actually, I’ve written in quite a few comboxes, and Fr. Z’s readers, I think, are the most likely to understand my meaning.

    Oh, and just think of this: This is a charity benefit dinner. People have to pay to participate, something like $2,500.00 apiece (I’m not sure whether the keynote speakers have to pay, but certainly they’d be churlish if they didn’t). Cardinal Dolan on his blog, stresses that this is an evening to benefit, mothers in need and their children, including unborn children. Obama will be ponying up his money to support unborn children without, since it’s Catholic Charities, one dime of it going to contraception and abortion – I’d pay myself to see that! Here’s the entry:


    Above all, let’s pray for Cardinal Dolan that he says the right things to Obama. Let’s pray for our nation and for the one who, however much we may hate to say it, is still our President.

  13. jflare says:

    I think since I heard about this mess, I’ve been mentally back and forth about a dozen times. Always it’s a battle. Had this been a civic dinner of some sort aimed at raising money for something else, had this been an event to which His Eminence, the President, and Gov Romney had all three been invited, perhaps I wouldn’t be bothered.

    But, honestly, this doesn’t seem to be those.
    For this event, His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, will host two Presidential candidates and a fairly large crowd of wealthy persons. I expect His Eminence, the President, and Gov Romney will all three speak. I imagine others will as well. I also suspect that even if the event won’t be carried live on TV, most of the networks will be there and will be only too happy to show fairly short clips of what each said on the news. I suspect the videos and photos from the event will have encircled the globe at least once within 6 to 12 hours after it concludes.

    I find this situation fundamentally objectionable PRECISELY for a few particular reasons:
    1. Though not explicitly a religious or political event, several of the most notable persons involved with faith and politics will attend. Very likely the notables will all have pictures together. Given that we already have some Catholics insistent that Pres Obama and VP Biden have a better pro-life record than Romney/Ryan, I find it ludicrous to insist that this event won’t be spun as some form of quiet Catholic clergy support for the Obama Administration. Sure, Romney will probably be there, but do you REALLY think those who support the President will allow us to notice that very much? I don’t.
    2. His Eminence wishes to declare that this will be an act of dialogue and engagement. I’m totally lost with regard to how THAT will work! His Eminence already MET with President Obama once; the President didn’t see fit to uphold his pledge to protect conscience concerns. I’m willing to lay pretty good odds that Card Dolan would be quite willing to meet with Pres Obama at the President’s convenience at any time to discuss the matter more. I’m reasonably confident that the President knows this already. In spite of this willingness to dialogue and be open, I’m not aware of any efforts that President Obama’s staff have made to speak with His Eminence again.

    I don’t think President Obama truthfully takes His Eminence very seriously.

    3. President Obama selected Kathleen Sebelius for HHS, Joe Biden for VP, and worked with then-Speaker Pelosi to pass PPACA. All three of these have repeatedly exercised disgust for Catholic teaching, but none have been publicly admonished at all for their apparent failings.
    Given that Pres Obama himself comes from Chicago, where I understand the routine political milieu tends toward..roughness..I can’t imagine that he holds Card Dolan in high regard.

    4. Even if His Eminence WOULD pull Pres Obama aside during the dinner for a moment, I can’t imagine what he’s say that’d make any real difference. I think the only thing that might catch the President’s attention might be a warning that civil disobedience will break out immensely if the President won’t change course.

    At this point, I’d be VERY surprised if the President would truthfully pay much attention. Catholics have already demonstrated that we don’t wish to get into more of a fight than we must. Our President, for all that he attempts to appear empathetic and thoughtful, doesn’t appear to have many compunctions against over-ruling all us religious types. He may even believe that he’s doing us a favor.
    ..And many bishops may imply accordingly.


  14. Sue in soCal says:

    Here is what I wrote on Cardinal Dolan’s blog. It has not passed moderation yet just as this post must pass moderation.
    Dear Cardinal Dolan, [Sorry, Fr. Z!] [That’s fine. But let us never says just “Cardinal” or “Bishop”, as in “Bishop, would you care to make some remarks.” Blech.]
    It is just this reason why I put minimal effort into protesting and supporting the Fortnight for Freedom. You and other bishops want the laity to put themselves on the line for the Church and her freedom but you do not have our backs. You are honoring the same President who wants to restrain and control the Church, whose policies you want us to protest. How does that make sense?
    The bishops continue to compromise on basic issues and then wonder why the laity are confused and uninspired. Sorry; I will not come to the masquerade party.

  15. Phil Steinacker says:

    I also support the Cardinal.

    For one thing, I disdain a purist approach to formulating effective strategy, and good strategic thinking requires the ability to recognize when and where the lay of the land is sufficiently advantageous to transform it into a battlefield at any particular time. This includes the ability to see clearly what the stakes are and what is to be won and lost, including one’s ethical, moral, political, and spiritual foundations in fashioning the ramparts in such a setting. The purist mind cannot properly discern what passionate eyes cannot clearly see.

    This annual event is usually one of satire and other forms of mirth, mixed with a lot of self-effacing by the presidential candidates in election years. Whether a narcissist like this president can or will appropriately self-efface without stepping on a land mine, given the current state of relations between the Church and State, remains open to conjecture. I believe he can do so with a teleprompter or cue cards, but if he has to wing it then he’s quite susceptible to letting his true feelings emerge.

    However, the Cardinal is correct in recognizing that the Church should NEVER be the party to surrender a gesture of basic respect nor should its shepherds close the door, even to obvious liars. Cardinal Dolan is not an elected official with a constituency to which he owes allegiance. He is a shepherd of souls with a higher responsibility beyond turning every meeting with Obama into another move on the chessboard. His mandate transcends all chessboards. Martyrs don’t play chess with their persecutors; they are out to win souls, not tokens.

    The topics treated at the Al Smith dinner are nowhere on anyone’s political or spiritual agenda, save perhaps in satire. There is plenty of time and myriad places for Cardinal Dolan and the other princes of the Church to draw lines in the sand, but not this day. Yes, we are all chafing at the bit to see more evidence of ecclesial backbone after all too infrequently seeing only hints of it, and for which we’ve yearned so long.

    However, prudence requires we keep our powder dry and trust in Cardinal Dolan, while remembering that for our side the stakes in this meeting are nil. We have nothing to lose here (except our pride or our spiritual integrity), but for the president the outcome could possibly but still unlikely turn sour if he missteps in regard to his relationship to the Church and religious liberty.

    I don’tmean to suggest he’s in grave danger of that, but he’s got far more to lose here than the Catholic Church does, and so Dolan understands this as an opportunity to be generous in a way he can afford to be. In fact, for Dolan the greater risk is in rescinding or even having denied the invitation at all, but no risk in being generous (except raising the hackles of a few Catholics not so well schooled in how to properly discern the difference between fighting because we’re hot and waiting until later for a better shot at substantive victory).

    All the arguments I’ve read against Dolan’s invitation, like Pat Archbold’s and Johnno’s here in the combox (the nearest examples, and not mentioned for any other purpose) , are well intended but grounded in that passionate purist mindset. There IS a time and place for that passion when there is so much more at stake in the outcome, but this dinner has never decided an election or an issue and is rarely noticed outside NYC in off-election years.

    Obama will not walk away with a perceived “endorsement” by Cardinal Dolan, and if he tries it he’ll end up thoroughly schooled in American Irish Catholic realpolitik. Actually, I think I’d like to see him try – that would be real fun far beyond any to be had at the dinner itself and the rest of us ininvited slobs could laugh longer than any of the attendees ever dreamed.

    Look, I’m not crazy about the invitation, either, but I suspect the Cardinal is a lot more savvy about the strategic realities he’s facing than I am, and I’m dead certain he grasps his responsibilities as a Shepherd more fully than I do, as well.

    God bless Cardinal Dolan and President Obama, and may the Romney/Ryan team crush the president in November.

  16. CatholicMD says:

    Inviting Obama on the grounds that the dinner is not a religous event plays entirely in to his hands. It perpetuates the idea that the Church’s charitable activities are not religious per se thus defeating the religious freedom argument against the HHS mandate. This reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s quote that we more often have to suffer more from the Church than for Her.

  17. Geoffrey says:

    This seems to put it rather well:

    “If Catholics want to change the culture, they need to engage it. Practically speaking, this means that we invite local political figures to Midnight Mass at Christmas, regardless of their religion or politics; it means we break bread with our adversaries at commemorative events; it means we fraternize with those with whom we disagree with at city, state and federal functions. It does not mean that we are selling out.”

    Full article is here.

  18. Trisagion says:

    I watched The Cardinal last night. I just wonder if this isn’t Cardinal Dolan’s Cardinal Innitzer moment.

  19. pfhawkins says:

    Jesus broke bread with the tax collectors and sinners. But He had to be dragged in front of King Herod. This feels a lot like breaking bread with Herod.

  20. cwalshb says:

    Dear Father,
    What I take issue with is the fact that it is unthinkable that the NYT and other media sources that the majority of people read (I’ll admit, I don’t read things on CNS or by the USCCB myself, too much to keep up with) are NOT going to report on Cardinal Dolan chastising Obama if he does something. They’ll write about the nice drinks and merry laughter and dialogue that they had and quote Obama saying how happy he was to find common ground. I did not hear a hoot about Eric Metaxas’s speech at the Prayer Breakfast. We heard nothing about the March for Life, barely anything about the Fortnight for Freedom, but oh so much about the Nuns on the Bus, the crackdown on those poor nuns by the terrible hierarchy, NYT sends out a “News Alert!” whenever there is any new information on a clergy scandal (NOT to tone these down, but there is a clear double standard here). Bottom line: we can’t afford to throw them any more bones.

  21. Blog Goliard says:

    I think that, especially in the wake of the crazy Chick-fil-A kerfuffle, one benefit of this invitation is to reinforce (small-d) democratic manners and habits, which we’re all too eager to cast to the winds these days because whatever’s going on right now is The Most Important/Outrageous/Significant/Vital Thing Ever and justifies abandoning and redefining the rules because our foes are The Worst and Most Dangerous Ever…etc., etc….lather, rinse, repeat…

    Yes, some people are dangerous, vicious, and truly beyond the pale. Some causes are—whether thinly or thickly veiled—actually evil. But in either case, we should only be dragged to that conclusion kicking and screaming. We should realize that shattering the “Break Glass In Case Of Manichean Moral Crusade” panel, to get at the Battle-Axe of Righteousness within, is a dangerous and desperate and destabilizing move. If we find ourselves doing it with any frequency (let’s say, more than once every decade or two), we are being irresponsible loose cannons, and we are feeding the general sickness of our public life, whether or not we are right on the specific issue.

    It is such irresponsibility that leads our society to careen from one unhinged Two Minutes Hate to another, wiping out what civility and understanding we may still have left as it goes. One moment, anyone associated with Chick-fi-A is judged so inherently vile that the rules which generally apply when dealing with decent people must be suspended; the next, Cardinal Dolan is upbraided for not recognizing that the President is too unclean for him to be photographed with.

    Enough of this. Not everything is an existential struggle…and even in the midst of those things that are, there is still room for gestures of friendship, moments of grace, efforts to find common ground. Shunning should be a last resort, not least because it so readily leads to demonizing and even dehumanizing (in the political realm especially).

    Finally, if we’re not too good to take the Federal government’s money to help run our various institutions, we can’t be too good to invite the President of the United States to a dinner to which Presidents of the United States tend to be invited. If it’s really gotten bad enough that we have to rethink the latter part of that equation, then rethinking the first part is overdue as well. But again, realize how hazardous a step this is…and keep in mind that every time you use a certain tactic against a President Obama, the more you legitimize and encourage that same tactic to be used against a President Ryan or Santorum.

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