Top Catholic defends Obama invite against conservative criticism
Cardinal Timothy Dolan defended inviting President Obama to the 2012 Al Smith Dinner.
August 15th, 2012
03:22 PM ET

Top Catholic defends Obama invite against conservative criticism

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Cardinal Timothy Dolan, America’s most prominent Catholic official, defended on Wednesday the decision to invite President Barack Obama to a major Catholic dinner in the face of criticism from conservatives, saying the event is an opportunity for “friendship, civility and patriotism” amid a heated political campaign.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney also has accepted an invitation to the Al Smith Dinner, an annual Catholic fundraiser in New York with a rich history. Since Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy spoke at the event in 1960, it has been a regular stop for presidents and presidential candidates of both major parties.

Some conservative Catholic groups had asked Dolan – the archbishop of New York and the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops - to reconsider the Obama invitation in light of what they say are attacks on religious freedom by the administration.

“As faithful Catholics, we cannot set aside our deeply-held differences and put in any place of honor those who continuously attack the tenets of our faith, and even our very ability to practice that faith,” wrote President Father Shenan J. Boquet of Human Life International.

In the past, some presidential candidates have not been invited to the dinner. For example, in 2004, Cardinal Edward M. Egan did not invite then Democratic challenger John Kerry nor Republican President George W. Bush to the event. In 1996, President Clinton was not invited after Cardinal John O'Connor criticized him for vetoing a bill that would have outlawed some late-term abortions.

In a Wednesday blog post on the Archdiocese of New York’s website, Dolan acknowledged the controversy, writing that he is “receiving stacks of mail protesting the invitation to President Obama (and by the way, even some objecting to the invitation to Governor Romney).”

But Dolan wrote that it is “better to invite than to ignore.”

“The teaching of the Church… is that the posture of the Church towards culture, society, and government is that of engagement and dialogue,” Dolan wrote in his blog post, saying it is “more effective to talk together than to yell from a distance, more productive to open a door than to shut one.”

Bill Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which has been vocally opposed to many Obama administration initiatives, is defending Dolan’s decision.

“If Catholics want to change the culture, they need to engage it,” Donohue said in a statement. “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.”

Dolan was clear that his invitation of President Obama did not mean that the religious leader was changing his position on abortion, religious freedom and other issues that the Catholic Church has been at odds with the Obama administration over.

“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,” Dolan wrote.

Dolan has been vocal in his opposing Obama’s stance on abortion, same-sex marriage and the Health and Human Services rule requiring employees to receive free contraception coverage through their health insurance, which he says violates religious freedom.

The Al Smith Dinner is held at the swanky Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, where candidates are asked to give short speeches, which are typically comedic and self-deprecating. In 2008, Obama and then-Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain joked about themselves a few weeks before the November election.

“Maverick I can do,” joked McCain about the admiration surrounding Obama, “but messiah is above my pay grade.” Obama returned the favor and joked about the McCain campaign's attempt to brand Obama as a celebrity.

“[I] punched a paparazzi on my way out of Spago's,” Obama joked. “I even spilled my soy chai latte.”

- CNN’s Simon Hernandez-Arthur contributed to this report.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Bishops • Catholic Church • Mitt Romney • Politics

soundoff (203 Responses)
  1. Idlan

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    October 8, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  2. Belinda

    How can someone not have Respect for Cardinal Timothy Dolan? his words are especially meaningful, during these very Difficult Times.

    August 26, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  3. Tired of Religion Perverting the World

    What's up with all of this God talk? Haven't we as a people learned enough to step away from the dark ages already?

    August 24, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  4. Leslie

    This, the CATHOLIC CARDINAL who is OFFICIATING at the REPUBLICAN CONVENTION. THAT is unbiased, as the church should be!!!

    August 23, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  5. KATHY/Minnesota


    August 23, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Tired of Religion Perverting the World

      Please stop.

      August 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  6. LoveThy Cilice

    Thou doth not want to think about where that ring has been, before kissing it...

    August 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  7. RLA Schaefer

    Dan Morica made the same mistake Gilgoff did. He left out the fact that the HHS regulation includes sterilization and abortion-inducing pills. Both failures are a lapse in journalistic ethics. It parallels somewhat the lapse in journalist ethics of MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell of which CNN's Howard Kurtz accused her in the feud between the Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthhood that was won by PP, thanks in no small part to the bullying by Mitchell and her cohorts. Then, just as Mitchell inaccurately turned the war on religion in the HHS case into what she falsely alleged is a war on women, Morica and Gilgoff soften the regulation by putting lipstick on the HHS regulation pig, or at least cover up some of the government war paint against religion. These CNN reporters make it more of a Disbelief Blog.

    August 23, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  8. Reality


    Joe Smith had his Moroni. (As does M. Romney)

    "Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

    Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As does BO and his family)

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie/horn-blowing thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

    August 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  9. penguins42

    gooby pls

    August 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  10. kelvin

    I am of catholic faith.And I only have one thing to say. He with out sin cast the first stone. I have seen and heard wonderful things in my life time being a catholic and I still thinks of them but one thing I will like to say is that God love us all and he bless us all .And some people thing the things that they do he will for get them that is not true.God bless cardinal Dolan and the catholic faith and God bless is people on this God earth.

    August 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.