New York’s Cardinal Dolan explains his decision to invite the presidential candidates — including the sitting president — to the Al Smith Foundation dinner in October. As I noted last week, it has become a bit of a controversial dinner invitation, as you might expect it would: The president who is redefining religious liberty to the detriment of religious charities and religious people who want to operate as such in the world is invited to dinner by the religious leader who is most identified with opposition to the Department of Health and Human Services abortion-inducing drug, sterilization, contraception-mandate. About the dinner the cardinal blogs:
The evening has always had a special meaning, as it is named after Governor Al Smith, the first Catholic nominated, in 1928, as a candidate for president, who was viciously maligned because of his own Catholic faith. Smith was known as The Happy Warrior, because while he fought fiercely for what he believed was right, he never sought to demonize those who opposed him. And, the dinner named in his honor is truly life-affirming as it raises funds to help support mothers in need and their babies (both born and unborn) of any faith, or none at all.
About the controversy, he says:
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. We bishops, including yours truly, have been unrelenting in our opposition to these issues, and will continue to be.
In defense of the invitation, he goes on to explain the invitation is not an award, but about civility and engagement and adds:
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. 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.
I have more thoughts on the dinner invitation controversy here.