Al Smith Dinner

by Jack Fowler

Impeccable timing is everything. While the controversy percolates over Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s inviting President Obama to the prestigious New York event in October, our friends at the Human Life Review have coincidentally posted City College Professor George McKenna’s essaySleeping with the Enemy? – from the new Summer 2012 issue. Here’s a sample.

It is fine to come to the table with good will and good manners—bishops never err in that respect—but as equals, not as supplicants. And certain matters should never be on the table, especially those affecting the Church’s freedom.

It follows from this that a certain kind of etiquette ought to prevail when representatives of church and state meet with each other. The generally philo-Catholic attitude of the last century’s Washington politicians may have produced an excessively cordial relationship between the two estates. One thinks of the annual Al Smith dinners, where presidents and would-be presidents roast and backslap each other as they confabulate with clergy, pundits, and celebrity lawmakers. In the current era this may be drawing to a close—on two occasions, in 1996 and 2004, neither presidential candidate got invited, apparently because of flare-ups on the abortion issue. And that is as it should be. Is it possible that Obama thought he could roll the bishops on the mandate because, on the basis of his reception at Georgetown and Notre Dame, his charm would be enough to subdue them? Whatever the case, I would like to see a somewhat cooler atmosphere prevail when prelates meet with politicians. In the language of old-fashioned diplomacy, I would think that a “correct” relationship would be enough. If Jesus was right to draw a distinction between the respective “things” of God and Caesar, it follows that our shepherds need to keep a sharp eye out for people who want to grab things that don’t belong to them. This requires great attentiveness and sobriety, because some of those people have learned to wear the clothing of our flock.

Read the entire piece on the Review website (and while there, consider subscribing).

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