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Cardinal Dolan's Response to the Al Smith Dinner Reaction Calls for Change
By Deacon Keith Fournier
August 19th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
The approach in the words and tenor of some of the articles, blog posts and commentaries on the Al Smith Dinner reflected a phenomenon I have referred to in the past as the "Catholic circular firing squad". It is too often present in this age of blogs, apps, social media and instant access to media. Some Catholics seem intent on figuratively shooting at other Catholics with hurtful words while the new Rome of a decaying Western culture burns around us. Such an approach not only violates our obligations in solidarity and charity toward one another, it can deflect us from our real mission.
NEW YORK, NY (Catholic Online) - When Timothy Cardinal Dolan was elected to the Presidency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops I called it an historic turn of events and a sign of the Lord's continued guidance of the Church in the United States. I wrote in an article "Truly, God has not forgotten His people in the Church in the United States. This is a day for rejoicing!" I also said then - and repeat it now - the United States of America has become mission territory. The Catholic Church in the United States is in need of the "New Evangelization" and Cardinal Dolan is one of its greatest apostles and instructors.
This happy Cardinal of the Catholic Church is a wonderful instrument of the New Evangelization, a trumpet in the hands of the Lord. He is a dynamic and inspiring communicator and solid teacher of the truths as taught by the Magisterium of the Church. He is a true leader, both naturally and supernaturally. People are drawn to him because they are drawn to the One who is alive within Him, and ministers through him, Jesus the Risen Lord.
Some within the Catholic blogosphere and on social networks responded to the news that both the Republican candidate and the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Presidency were invited to speak at the annual Al Smith Dinner on October 18th. The blogosphere heated up with some rather uncharitable words over the invitation even being extended to Barack Obama. The spokesman for the Archdiocese, Joseph Zwilling explained, "It is the tradition of the Smith dinner to invite the presidential candidates in the presidential election years in the spirit of nonpartisanship, good humor and good fellowship." However, the controversy would not go away and took on a life of its own.
I understood the concern over this President's attendance at the banquet. After all, he has shown hostility toward the Catholic Church, has not respected religious liberty, is an ardent opponent of the fundamental human right to life and refuses to defend marriage against horrendous assaults. However, what was truly disheartening to me were some disparaging and denigrating comments directed toward the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, by some Catholics.
This man is a champion of the Church and a light in an otherwise dark moment in our Nation's history. He loves the Lord and the Catholic Church he serves with an infectious enthusiasm borne of a sincere, living Christian faith. He is comfortable in his own skin, at ease with the use of the media, filled with the Holy Spirit, and eager to share the Gospel which is found in its fullness within the heart of the Catholic Church.
No matter where an attack or a challenge comes from against the Church, this gutsy but gregarious Bishop goes out to greet them and does not back down. He is fearless. He is precisely who we need at the helm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in this critical hour. He does more than defend the Church, he proclaims with confidence that she bears the saving message the whole world needs to hear. He extends an invitation to everyone to find their home in the Church which is meant to become the home of the whole human race.
I present below the response of the Cardinal from his wonderful blog entitled "the Gospel in the Digital Age". I hope it will bring an end to this entire matter. It should also lead to some serious reflection within the Catholic community which uses the great treasure of the new media in our joint task of the New Evangelization.
Al Smith Dinner
Last week I was out in Anaheim for the annual Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus. It was, as usual, a most uplifting and inspirational event. In his rousing address to the thousands of delegates, representing 1.8 million knights, Dr. Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight, exhorted us to a renewed sense of faithful citizenship, encouraging us not to be shy about bringing the values of faith to the public square. This duty, he reminded us, came not just from the fact that we are Catholic, but also from the fact that we are loyal Americans.
He then went on to announce a promising initiative of the Knights of Columbus to foster civility in politics. Quoting a very recent study, he noted that over 80% of Americans are fed up with the negativity, judgmentalism, name-calling, and mudslinging of our election-year process, and eagerly want a campaign of respect, substance, amity - civility!
For seven decades, the Al Smith Dinner here in New York has been an acclaimed example of such civility in political life. As you may know, every four years, during the presidential election campaign, the Al Smith Dinner is the venue of history, as it is the only time outside of the presidential debates that the two presidential candidates come together, at the invitation of the Al Smith Foundation, through the archbishop of New York, for an evening of positive, upbeat, patriotic, enjoyable civil discourse. This year, both President Obama and Governor Romney have accepted our invitation. I am grateful to them.
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.
The Al Smith Dinner has never been without controversy, since, as Carl Anderson reminded us, politics can inspire disdain and negativity as well as patriotism and civility.
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.
So, my correspondents ask, how can you justify inviting the President? Let me try to explain.
Two, 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.
Three, 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.
Finally, 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.
Some have told me the invitation is a scandal. That charge weighs on me, as it would on any person of faith, but especially a pastor, who longs to give good example, never bad. So, I apologize if I have given such scandal. I suppose it's a case of prudential judgment: would I give more scandal by inviting the two candidates, or by not inviting them?
No matter what you might think of this particular decision, might I ask your prayers for me and my brother bishops and priests who are faced with making these decisions, so that we will be wise and faithful shepherds as God calls us to be?
In the end, I'm encouraged by the example of Jesus, who was blistered by his critics for dining with those some considered sinners; and by the recognition that, if I only sat down with people who agreed with me, and I with them, or with those who were saints, I'd be taking all my meals alone.
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