With one move Cardinal Dolan has ensured that the erosion of religious liberty will receive national attention at a time when all eyes are on the candidates. That attention will only be heightened after last week’s vice-presidential debate, in which Vice President Biden wrongly asserted that the mandate doesn’t force religious institutions to refer, pay for, or act as a vehicle for contraception, a claim strongly rejected by the Catholic bishop’s conference, which Cardinal Dolan heads. What’s more, the context for all this will be a fundraiser for those most threatened by the administration’s coercive mandate: local Catholic charitable groups that directly serve the common good. Cardinal Dolan hasn’t given President Obama a platform so much as created one for defenders of religious freedom.
The Al Smith Dinner benefits “the neediest children of the Archdiocese of New York, regardless of race, creed, or color.” Last year’s grant recipients included, among others, the Children’s Center at the Bedford Correctional Facility, the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center, and the Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service. St. Dominic’s Home, another beneficiary, serves hundreds of children and families in neighborhoods where help is most needed, working to help families stay together against challenging odds.
These ground-level examples of our faith in action help civil society flourish in places that it often dies on the vine, and they make Catholics proud. Like countless similar organizations across the country, they witness to our Church’s call to give freely of ourselves to all our neighbors, not just to those who share our faith. Such groups receive generous support not only from those who can afford a ticket to the Al Smith Dinner, but from in-the-pews Catholics in parishes large and small. And they’re precisely the kind of groups that could be hardest hit by the administration’s mandate and the steep fines it imposes on those who do not comply.