The Thinking 

The Al Smith Dinner and the Decline of the Church

August 21, 2012


Cardinal Timothy Dolan

VINCENT C. writes:

On October 18, 2012, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, head of the Archdiocese of New York, will host the annual Alfred E. Smith Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. Begun in 1945 by the then Archbishop, later Cardinal, Francis Spellman, the dinner was intended to honor the life of Alfred E. Smith, who served as Governor of New York, and in 1928 was nominated to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for President, the first Roman Catholic to be chosen for that position. He lost to Herbert Hoover.

Smith was a very devout Catholic, whose practice of his faith permeated his entire life. The dinner, which was initially established to raise funds for the Foundling Home for orphans and abandoned children, has raised tens of millions of dollars, currently used for financing at least 13 separate Catholic charities, as well as becoming a “must attend” for aspiring politicians who seek national office, although President Truman chose not to attend, and John Cardinal O’Connor refused to invite Clinton after his signing of the bill permitting late abortions. In 1980, President Carter was booed during the ceremony. This year, the major speakers are Mitt Romney and, believe it or not, Barack Hussein Obama; yes, the same man who has unleashed the furies of government against the Roman Church and other serious religious organizations in a way unprecedented in U.S. history.

The invitation precipitated an avalanche of protest from Catholic groups, as well as individuals. Judie Brown, the President of the American Life League, has responded to the flawed rationale of inviting a sitting president (President Clinton was not invited; neither was candidate Kerry in 2004) no matter what: “Can any banquet – tradition or no tradition – be worth the loss of even one soul?”

Obviously, Cardinal Dolan takes another tack: even though he has the power as President of the Al Smith Foundation to cancel the invitation to Obama, he insists that withdrawing the invitation would appear unseemly and uncivil. Notre Dame, anyone?

But what is more disturbing is the nature of Cardinal Dolan’s response to the kerfuffle. The Cardinal, who as the Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has publicly criticized the president on Obamacare, knows full well that President Obama will use the occasion to show his “connection” to Catholics – after all, his Secretary for HHS, Kathleen Sebelius, is one! – an idiocy that should not convince many of the white-tied in the audience. Yet, in justifying the issuance of the invitation, His Eminence wrote in response to “stacks of mail” against the invitation to Obama:

…the purpose of the Al Smith Dinner is to show both our country and our Church at their best: people of faith gathered in an evening of friendship, civility, and patriotism, to help those in need, not to endorse either candidate. Those who started the dinner sixty-seven years ago believed that you can accomplish a lot more by inviting folks of different political loyalties to an uplifting evening, rather than in closing the door to them.

And this…

the teaching of the Church, so radiant in the Second Vatican Council, is that the posture of the Church towards culture, society, and government is that of engagement and dialogue. In other words, it’s better to invite than to ignore, more effective to talk together than to yell from a distance, more productive to open a door than to shut one. Our recent popes have been examples of this principle, receiving dozens of leaders with whom on some points they have serious disagreements. Thus did our present Holy Father graciously receive our current President of the United States.

What is beyond cavil is that His Eminence no longer speaks as a shepherd of his flock; he sounds like a politician telling his constituents to “cool it.” No one should take offense when “civility” and “reasoned discourse” are stated objectives of any discussion, but the Cardinal knows that in speaking – civilly, of course – to our president about dogmatic issues that bind His Eminence and his Church, it is a one-way conversation. This president, as no other, has succeeded in undermining the religious liberties we Americans take for granted, and by inviting this “Chicago style politician,” Cardinal Dolan aids and abets the decline of the Church, with the craven assistance of those who supposedly serve as our spiritual guides.

I must also wonder when His Eminence speaks of “the teaching of the Church, so radiant in the Second Vatican Council.” Does Cardinal Dolan really believe that Pope Pius XII would have received BHO? Or that Cardinal Spellman would have invited him to the Smith soiree? I suspect that he – and I – know the answer, which does give pause to the hollow notion of the “radiant” Second Vatican Council’s teachings.

The cardinal’s plea for tolerance of contending ideas brings to my mind the incomparable Gilbert Keith Chesterton.  Along with his good friend, Hillaire Belloc, Chesterton, a fascinating speaker and prolific writer (Father Brown detective series), took on all doubters and with a faith so formed that he appears “quaint” to those of this century. But I strongly suspect that he would not have accepted the cardinal’s plea for “tolerance,” for as he once wrote: “Tolerance is the virtue of those who believe in nothing.”

—– Comments —–

Daniel S. writes:

If only our Lord had been familiar with the “radiant” teachings of Vatican II in regards to civility and giving a platform to the enemies of the Church he would not have fashioned a whip to drive the usurious money changers from the Temple or denounced the hypocritical Jewish religious establishment as broods of vipers and children of the Devil. Tell us Cardinal Dolan, what does it profit a man if he were to gain the whole of the world (or at least the temporary, contrived approval of Barack Obama), but lose his soul? What can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Well, at least we know what the Catholic establishment will exchange their souls for.)

Shame on Cardinal Dolan, he owes our Lord and his flock better than to legitimize the open enemies of the Church, these sons of perdition.

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