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. mk045

    I'm glad they are engaging; hopefully it will mend some of the hyper-partisanship. Some civil rights are beyond the control of religion, though, and the contraception issue will finally eventually fall in line. A lot of Western civil and legal practice goes against the Bible, old and new, and this is no different.

    August 17, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Adam

      Here, here! Here's to two thousands years of human progress crumbling the fossilized edifice of dogma and replacing the dead god's of yesterday with the human rights of western civilization today!

      August 17, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  2. sherwin

    An invite to a room filled with pedophiles. Wonderful.

    August 17, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  3. Francis Thomas

    Question: The Church previously expressed grave concerns about Mr. Ryan's budget proposals. What will the Church do now? Answer: side with the power. Of course, that's what Jesus did, right? Abandoned concern for the poor, the widows, the elderly and children to side with Rome or with the religious, corrupt, temple leaders of his day. The truth is the Church cares more about asserting power over women (whom they fear) than they do those who are marginalized in our country. God have mercy on them.

    August 16, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • JohnnyC

      Actually, the Truth is the Church is the only counterweight to the "power" you deride. Your ignorance is total.

      August 17, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • Orem

      The Church is usually well-intentioned. It has tried to be helpful. It's stand on contraception, for example, was not always so hardline They even tried passing out condoms once. People took them for communion wafers. The consequences were unfortunate.

      August 17, 2012 at 2:06 am |
    • tkavulla

      It is not that religion is under attack from the Obama administration, but it is that democracy is under attack from religion. It you look through history the Catholic church has a long and prominent record of opposing democracy and the poor.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  4. Jack

    Hello folks. Everyone is cordially invited to visit... thestarofkaduri.com

    August 16, 2012 at 9:25 pm |

    He should be invited to this event. Just should shut up and listen while they tell him the truth.

    August 16, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • Francis Thomas

      You call yourself a patriot, I suppose? The President of the United States, whomever he or she is & whatever party he or she is from, should not be told to shut up and listen to religious leaders. How dare you? This is a great country - all of it and everyone in it. I am ashamed of people like you who so disrespect our democracy. You shame yourself, our country, and the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend the greatest democracy that has ever existed on this planet. God bless the United States and God bless the President of the United States - whomever he or she is.

      August 16, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Bravo, Francis. However, telling Gerald to respect anyone else is futile. Gerald is a dolt.

      August 16, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Pete

      Gerald,youre an idiot for thinking that way,typical bigotted republican,its respect that gains respect.You man should shut up,it gives away your party affiliation,typical ignorent idiot!!

      August 16, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • TJeff1776

      Yes, I agree that GERALD is completely off-base and a little on the stupid side. Too much disrespect for our Presidents these days.
      Mostly by opposing parties.

      August 17, 2012 at 5:08 am |
    • karen

      My greatest concern is one that has been growing for some time. People talk about religios freedom but they have no concept of what that means. It means that we are each allowed to follow our own religion. It does not mean that we have the right to force eveyone else to abide by our rules. why did people come to this contry in the first place? to be allowed to practice their faith without being arrested, jailed and in some cases burned alive because they did not adhere to the Countries stated religion. By the way I am Catholic and I really wish that a lot of people in this country would just grow up

      August 17, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • God is a man made delusion

      And which truth is that Gerald? The Catholic truth? The Baptist truth? The Pentacostal truth? The Mormon truth? The Jehovah's Witness truth? The Evangelical truth? The Jewish truth? Tell me Gerald, which is the truth and which is the lie?

      August 17, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  6. Clyde

    I don't know what the problem is, they are obviously just imitating their Lord. Matthew 9:
    While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
    The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
    He heard this and said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.

    August 16, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  7. Jeetu

    Why can't the catholics entertain difference of opinion and still be friends? Do theywant to associate with only those that they agree with? That would be a small number in the world. Besides, President Obama only said that oppotunities should be available to women to make their decisions. He never said that a woman should be forced to act certain way. In addiiton, since surveys show that more than 95% of catholic women do use those services, like contrasepctics, I think it may be time for the catholic church to rethink their position. Also, they are a business when they organize to do something other than just worship.

    August 16, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • ajk68

      Freedom of religion extends beyond freedom of worship. It can be part of one's religion to engage in society – for the bulk of Catholics it is an essential part of living their faith (read Gaudium et Spes from Vatican II).

      August 16, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  8. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    August 16, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • 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 6:32 pm |
    • kindless

      oh my goodness this child is ill! some must have put some battery acid in her soda pop or something for her to keep writing all this nonsense. my oh my. well of course she dead wrong. atheism is really fine and dandy for everyone – it will make a person responsible for themselves instead of spending all their time thinking about make-believe stuff and hiding their misdeeds in those kooky religions. and prayer is well, you know, if you need rest, get some sleep or meditate or something. and if you need to collect your thoughts, then get a good cup of tea and collect you damn thoughts. my goodness.

      August 16, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Geoff

      Tell that to the starving christian kid in Africa... he'll die with prayers unanswered...

      August 17, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  9. christ jones

    " the posture of the Church towards culture, society, and government is that of engagement and dialogue". tell it to the Nuns.

    August 16, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • KEVIN

      christ, Tell it to the nuns? I'd advise against that. They would beat the he** out of you, throw you in detention and call your parents.

      August 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • ajk68

      The LCWR nuns don't want dialogue. They want what they want under the pretense of dialogue.

      August 16, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  10. KEVIN

    Cardinal Dolan should also invite Isreal and Iran. Watching Netanyahu and Amadidigad trying to be self-deprecating and making fun of themselves. Now that would be a party I would pay big bucks to attend.

    August 16, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  11. tkogrady

    I know Mitt Romney believes that corporations are people too, but apparently Timothy Dolan does too. People choose to use contraception, not companies. And if those companies want to take public (ie. tax) dollars, well then put up or shut up. Nice dress by the way Tim. I'm sure Jesus would be proud.

    August 16, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  12. MashaSobaka

    It's a pretty amusing day when Catholics kick and scream about their perceived enemy being treated decently. What fine Christians those folks are.

    August 16, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  13. KEVIN

    Smart move by Cardinal Dolan. I wish Israel and Iran were invited too.

    August 16, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  14. TheThinker

    A religious person invites two political opponenents to a civil discourse over dinner. Doesn't he realize the benefit of Left/Right partisan screaming? It has done so many wonderful things for our country! Back in the unelnlightened days a conservative would speak, then the liberal would speak, then they would vote. Nowadays the conservative and liberal scream at the same time, that saves half the time right off the bat. Furthermore, their screaming is better for the hearing impared.

    August 16, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  15. Everett Wallace

    so we know you worship satan but what is the catholic faith?

    August 16, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  16. Cyp

    Responding to Counterpoint. The premise that if President Obama is re-elected he will force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions is not founded. He has been president for a term now and you cannot point to one instance where his administration has forced Catholic hospitals to commit abortions. I guess pedophilia is one of the freedoms that Catholics enjoy and hiding priest who clearly prey on children in the name of Catholicism is better in your mind. Stop the fear mongering. If you do not have facts to support an argument, then do not make the argument. I can back my asertion about the alarming number of Catholic priest who are pedophiles. It is public knowledge all ove the USA

    August 16, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  17. Melody

    In what possible way is President Obama preventing Catholics from PRACTICING their faith? That's nonsense

    August 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • counterpoint


      Catholic teaching does not support contraception. President Obama is insisting that Catholic schools and hospitals provide contraception for their employees.

      If Obama wins the election, I fully expect him to insist that Catholic hospitals provide abortions or perform other services that we are morally opposed to.

      Freedom of religion does not just mean that I am permitted to go to church on Sunday. It means that I must be allowed to practice what I believe in my daily life. I must be able to choose a school setting that allows me to teach my children my Catholic faith....not the values the government thinks that I ought to teach my children.

      August 16, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      I'm not sure about the schools thing, that might only be for universities. However, the hospital thing is a business open to the public for the public. Since when do you have an emergency, call the ambulance, and tell them "oh but I want to go to this hospital because it's catholic not mormon".

      Wouldn't you expect to get the same treatment whatever hospital you have to go to? This is the point of the whole thing, would you support the right of a hospital run by Jehova Witnesses to not provide any blood transfusions, even if it kills a person? Does religious freedom mean that you get to impose your religious views and morality on people who sometimes don't have a choice but to go to you for a service?

      August 16, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      @counterpoint Obama's mandates require that contraception be made available to employees. Nowhere does it require Catholics to use contraception. It does not call for you to violate your faith. It simply does not allow you do demand that other people follow your faith. It's not a violation of religious freedom. It's a protection of it.

      August 16, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • monocle88

      As a practicing Catholic, I don't understand how my freedom to continue to do so is in jeopardy.

      August 16, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • ajk68

      To assist in sterilization and contraception would be material cooperation in evil.
      In this case, it is forbidden for Catholics. For someone to assist would be to violate a moral tenet of the Faith.

      August 16, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Steve

      How weak is faith that it requires legislation for support? Why do people feel the need to limit Free Will that is given by God to man? God created temptations to test and strengthen faith, yet these individuals supposedly representing God and the Church are fighting against the instruments that God has created to strengthen faith.

      August 17, 2012 at 3:05 am |
  18. ladybugranch

    1. I just had a GREAT IDEA!!! If Cardinal Dolan wants to show Mr. Obama about the REAL CATHOLIC FAITH…..I have a GREAT IDEA! Cardinal Dolan and Mr. Obama can be the ones SERVING the guests at this GALA Dinner!!! That’s RIGHT! Show Mr. Obama the lesson of Jesus to be the GREATEST in the Kingdom of Heaven you must be THE SERVANT OF ALL!!! Just break the news to Mr. Obama that he is still invited but that the Catholic Church is going to give him an opportunity to get to be REALLY GREAT like the Catholics do it! NO Speeches, No Dinning on sumptuous food or drinking gin toddies…..just GET THE APRON ON and hey! If you want to be REALLY FAIR…invite Mr. ROMNEY to ALSO do this!!!
    Then you invite NOT THE RICH….but you be sure to make a certain number of seats available for the POOR on the Streets of NY! Be sure to invite those that you find on the streets that are there who were once home owners and productive citizens but due to the mishandling of the country’s wealth have lost their jobs and their homes!
    I think it’s BRILLIANT….I think it will WORK…….AND….THE PRESS WILL BE ALL OVER IT!!!

    August 16, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  19. Truefax

    Everyone can keep their sharia laws to themselves tyvm, tax religions, revoke the papal immunity (fk u GWB for giving it to him) and charge the s o b with obstruction of justice.

    August 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • ajk68

      The pope has committed no crime. He cannot be forced to testify in the US courts since he is the head of a foreign state (it has nothing to do with GWB). You do realize the pope does not live in the USA, right?

      August 16, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  20. rich MD

    Funny the good Cardinal didn't apply the same (enlightened) logic when the President was invited to give the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame 3 years ago.

    August 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • ajk68

      Notre Dame gave an honorary degree to Obama. Cardinal Dolan is not honoring Obama.

      August 16, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
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