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. joe

    message received loud and clear. catholic leaders do not believe in the reality of their own teachings.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  2. jimmer

    "Maybe you dont rewalize how stupid you look You are so close minded you only see things from the the standpoint of todays Fashion. Im sure you have no problem over paying for this pair of sneekers or that aged washed pair of jeans. Pop Fashion is for Fops"

    Are you retarded?

    August 16, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      I think this is a reply to Mark who posted at: August 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      I too was wondering what the f vck this Mark was talking about. I could only imagine someone who lives more in the virtual world than the real one.

      August 16, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  3. Which God?

    How is accepting free contraceptives against 'religious freedom?' Religion doesn't give you freedom, it binds you up in convoluted bs laws and teachings. It is designed to keep you stupid, and breeding stupid kids, who are then brainwashed as well. Freedom my a$$.

    August 16, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Free contraception? Are you that deluded?

      August 16, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Chick-a-dee

      How is accepting free contraceptives against 'religious freedom?'

      It refers to the consti tutional free exercise of religion. No one is offering free contraceptives. The controversy surrounds whether or not a religious employer must pay for medical insurance that provides products and treatments which that religion opposes on moral grounds.

      Please catch up and stay with the rest of the class.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Billy

      Chicky- Time to do some reading! The employers are already paying for the insurance, so they are not being required to pay for the insurance. The insurance company is covering the cost of contraception. So, the only question is can employers ban insurance companies from providing contraception to those who do want it?

      August 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      Maybe there could sort of be a lobby to encourage the insurance companies to set their pricing the way the cable companies do – you know – like the triple play – if your package has to be tailored to not include this one thing, it will end up costing you a bit more..lol. I know – ridiculous idea and not to say I would necessarily be for it, but I couldn't help imagine that things could get that ridiculous.

      August 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Chick-a-dee

      @ Billy:

      Time to do some reading! The employers are already paying for the insurance, so they are not being required to pay for the insurance. The insurance company is covering the cost of contraception. So, the only question is can employers ban insurance companies from providing contraception to those who do want it?

      Ce n'est pas vrai. The majority of religious employers are self insured. That means an insurance company may get the contract to administer the processing of claims but the fiduciary responsibility remains with the employer. In other words, the church is paying for the part of the insurance claim payment that is typically paid by the insurance company. To insist on a mandate contraception, sterilization or abortificants means that the religious organization must either make these products and services available to the employees in violation of their consciences or practice civil disobedience and incurring increasingly higher punitive measures (as the compromise currently stands) each year. The applies not only to Catholics but also other faiths that share the same objections.

      @ save the... :

      Maybe there could sort of be a lobby to encourage the insurance companies to set their pricing the way the cable companies do – you know – like the triple play – if your package has to be tailored to not include this one thing, it will end up costing you a bit more..lol. I know – ridiculous idea and not to say I would necessarily be for it, but I couldn't help imagine that things could get that ridiculous.

      Same answer applies. Whether the employer is self insured and must pay for these line items (direct expense) or pay an insurer premiums that include them (indirect expense), the net result is that the religious inst itution is mandated to provide the very items and actions that it deems and teaches are morally objectionable.

      August 16, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  4. Chris F

    I think there is an attempt by some to make the Catholic religion in America a fundamentalist, evangelical style religion. The prominence of Rick Santorum's campaign signifies this somewhat along with this 'religious freedom' campaign by Fox News priests. I'm Catholic and I grew up in a Catholic school, taught by Catholic clergy, and there was never any controversy about evolution or science, and they taught us that some things in the Bible were metaphorical (like Abrahams's age etc.) I fear we may lose this pragmatic Catholic Church, so I'm happy if the Cardinal meets Obama or Romney.

    August 16, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  5. saggyroy

    Clearly they are lobbying. Tax them.

    August 16, 2012 at 6:02 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Maybe he will offer confession and reconciliation to Obama

      August 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    August 16, 2012 at 5:27 am |
    • kindless

      It don't work on your begonia plant. I'll give you that. But atheism is really the best thing for children and all people.
      It will better server society because you won't be hiding your grave misdeeds inside that place along with your made-up characters.

      And leave all those make-believe characters out of your head. Just meditate and get good sleep, eat well, and when you need to collect your thoughts, just calm down and get a good cup of tea and collect your damn thoughts. my goodness.

      mama kindless

      August 16, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Which God?

      @ atheism is not... No it doesn't, you're stupidity is still showing. Try praying harder. You'd get better results if you dialed up an adult 888#.

      August 16, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example; Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      August 16, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  7. Mickey

    From the very beginning, Christianity has been political.

    It's not new today – it's old news.

    August 16, 2012 at 5:10 am |
    • kindless

      True – even political right there in the bible. Too many of those characters smokin weed and thinking they saw stuff. my goodness. And whoever wrote that revelation? my goodness, they were on something more than weed. my oh my. i always wondered if their camel crashed in some poppies or something. my goodness.

      August 16, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  8. tero

    religion is fake, and Donahue just wants your money. He's mad that he's not in charge; you can see it every time he pitches one of his "the churches are being persecuted because they're not allowed to run the country as an Iran-like theocracy!!" whining fits.

    Donohue is a dangerous, power-hungry demagogue who is quick to start screaming and making threats every time anyone challenges his right to tell you how to live your life, Catholic or not. There's not a lot of good about religion, to be sure, but he represents the worst of a very, very bad crowd.

    August 15, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • daphne

      so says you, the applicant for atheist poster boy.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • saggyroy

      Religion does no better or worse than any other form of government. I don't need ANOTHER government to tell me what I can/can't do.

      August 16, 2012 at 6:09 am |
    • saggyroy

      Although I do like the hat. I think I will go out and get one.

      August 16, 2012 at 6:15 am |
    • Chick-a-dee

      Donohue? In your universe are they having a blog about Phil?

      August 16, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • sam stone

      good comeback, daphne

      August 16, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • Bibletruth

      To Saggyroy...LOL...but seriously, if you knew the source of that "hat" and were a Catholic, you might wretch.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  9. 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 15, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  10. dan colgan

    After being blindsided by the Obama invitation those faithful Catholics who planned to attend the Al Smith dinner should stay home and send their charitable contribution direct to the Foundation. A half empty banquet hall would send a loud and clear message and maybe preempt the photo-op that the honorable invitee would welcome as a tool for his re-election bid

    August 15, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Prayer changed my oil. Alleluia, amen.

      What a bunch of self-righteous idiots. Saying you are the "faithful" Catholics, implies anyone who does not agree with you is not "faithful", including the Cardinal. I see you have a lot of respect for YOUR hierarchy. You cafeteria Catholics drive us crazy. You pick and choose who you judge. Someone once said "judge not, lest ye be judged"... I'm not really sure who that was. You wouldn't happen to remember would you ?

      August 15, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • billdeacons

      Saying I am a faithful Catholic doesn't say anything about anyone else's condition/ Feeling a little defensive maybe?

      August 15, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      no billdeacons.

      Staying away... is the underlings only way to 'censure' one who is 'above' them – as the Cardinal is in Catholic hierarchy.

      Therefore, it is saying something, and judging, the other. And the words used 'faithful Catholics' is criteria noted.

      You need to read critically, or understand that others do so, and that 'No I didn't say that' when you obviously did, is not a response that anyone can consider seriously.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:06 pm |



    August 15, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • Which God?

      @ God particle. You're welcome, nothing.

      August 16, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  12. Peggy Munro

    Help me to understand, President Obama rages war on religion and the Republicans want to play God? Interesting.

    August 15, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • Reggie from LA

      Did President Obama rage a war on religion or are you "just sayin'? You see, Peggy, President has never raged a war on Religion. He did? When? On women's rights to choice? On respecting non-traditional relationship preferences? Those aren't rages on religion. Speaking against his decisions on these things are fundamentalist/GOP talking points. Is that why you're saying these things, because your mind's been made up for you?

      August 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • chris

      Man with gun attacks Christian faith center today. nothing on this CNN web page. Guess we are waiting for a CNN journalist to copy the story from another news organization! But then, this is not news. Man, you guys have fallen a long way from the First Gulf War! Stop leaning left, and I do not want you to lean right! stand up straight and report to all of us! If you need help in the head office, email me! 2 years and we will turn it around.

      August 15, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • jimmer

      Maybe you are blind or just stupid, because the next major headline up the Belief Blog page is the story about the nut bag that shot up that office.


      August 16, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  13. manhandler1

    Maybe the Catholics need to look at what Ryan's idol, Ayn Rand has to say about religion. Talk about war on religion, her ideas were well known to Ryan and he obviously thought they were great .....UH, that is up to the point where he thought he might be the VP pick. Then suddenly not so much.

    August 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  14. us_1776

    Catholic Church has a lot more in common with the Democrats and a much longer history with the Democrats than with the GOP.


    August 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • billdeacons

      Kinda makes you wonder why Obama stepped into the pile he did doesn't it?

      August 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • tero

      I am a conservative, and I have no respect for this statement. Obama hasn't stepped into any "pile," you just think that whatever he does is wrong. This is because you don't have any analytical ability left at all. Between the churches and the repubs, people are just getting into the habit of picking an ideological stance and cheering for it like the local sports team. This is no way to make political decisions, you nincompo-ops.

      Good luck running a country on the failure to understand what actually happened even last week, misunderstandings of how money works, and outright denial of reality. Obama has made sound political right-of center compromises, and you talk about him like he can't tie his shoelaces. Why can't you understand what's ACTUALLY happening in the world? Because Jesus.

      Jesus has made you stupid.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • billdeacons

      I think when you have 32 plus Catholic and other religious organizations suing you over your major policy accomplishment you have stepped into a pile of something. It doesn't smell like re-election to me either.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Francis Thomas

      I love those die hards who think they represent the country when they claim Obama blew his reelection by including contraception coverage. I've got news for you. First, look at the polls. Second, major health insurers have covered contraception for years - and many of those who filed claims for reimbursement for their birth control pills were church going Catholics. If the Church can't influence its own members, it is shameful that they then seek to use the state to impose their faith. The truth is they are just imposing what they can't get their followers to adhere to without coercion. And that is because the reality of life is something the clergy has no ability to understand.

      August 16, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  15. Tim

    The history proved that the Catholic Church always was on the side which has power, even with Hitler.

    August 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • billdeacons

      oversimplify much?

      August 15, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  16. EPAB

    The Catholic Church is into politics up to their necks. Imposing their fundamentalist dogma on all of us is more important to them than fulfilling the teachings of Jesus; for example love your neighbor, tend to the poor and sick among us ( just ask the nuns about that one ), and I could go on and on. It's time to take away their tax exemption. They are more of a political organization than a church.

    August 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • jeffy

      I doubt that you complain when they lobby politicians to stand up for the poor, marginalized and most vulnerable in society.

      August 15, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  17. Meh

    Arent Catholics the most wishy washy of all the religions? They talk a good game, but the Red Hot Chili Peppers had it right.
    "Catholic School Girls Rule!" ... and it wasnt for their piety.
    It is a pretty cool religion though. All the catholics I know sin all they want (and get drunk to the heavens), knowing they can just confess and start all over again.

    August 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • John

      Drinking is not a Catholic sin.

      August 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Prayer changed my oil. Alleluia, amen.

      Catholics only have one sin.
      Don't play with your wee-wee. But you can play with your priest's wee wee.

      August 15, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  18. stevem7

    Why wouldn't these two be perfectly suited for each other? The both do the same thing, extort money from people and lie to them the whole way. Obama should be punished for his remarks to Russia about having more flexibility after the election and Dolan should be in jail for failure to report pedofile priests.

    August 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • billdeacons

      Except Dolan isn't guilty of that. Oh what the heck, put him in jail anyway. Are ya with meh?

      August 15, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  19. Will

    Jesus said, "What so ever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me." I don't think I need to remind anyone what the GOP does to the neediest of his people."

    August 15, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • billdeacons

      You mean like when Lincoln freed the slaves?

      August 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Albert Leo

      The Republicans changed into the racist party in 1968. It worked for Nixon and it's worked for the whole party ever since. I don't think Lincoln would be a member of the modern Republican party.

      August 15, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • billdeacons

      Yeah I remember seeing the memo called "From now on we're Rascists" *If we could only get Robert Bird to join. dang!

      August 15, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • billdeacons

      I'm not even going to start the "I know what Lincoln would do" conversation

      August 15, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      @ billdeacon

      Interesting that you choose Lincoln. Seems you are unaware as to what was written by contemporaries (and in his biographies by two friends) about his personal beliefs. Which were diest or agnostic. Not Christian.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  20. kerberusII@aol.com

    jesus is said in the gospels to have stated that "give to caesar what belongs to caesar; and to god what belongs to god". there is no statement that states which is which. so, give to the one and say it's to the other, noting not which is which. is that now perfectly clear.

    August 15, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Olaf Big

      Sorry, which is which and whose is what?

      August 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Prayer changed my oil. Alleluia, amen.

      Give it to Paul Ryan. He'll see it gets to the right place.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
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About this blog

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.