Updated 08/08/12 to correct the attribution of quotes at the end of the article.

NEW YORK, August 7, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Archdiocese of New York spokesman Joseph Zwilling has confirmed to LifeSiteNews that Cardinal Timothy Dolan did in fact extend the invitation to President Obama to speak at the Al Smith Dinner fundraiser in October. This had been previously also confirmed to LifeSiteNews by Meghan Myers, the Executive Director of the annual event. Obama will join Mitt Romney in keynoting the annual fundraiser for Catholic charities.

When LifeSiteNews broke the story on Obama’s acceptance of the invite last week, Zwilling said at the time that he had not heard of the invitation. Today, Zwilling confirmed that Cardinal Dolan “made the invitation as the Chairman of the Board of the Smith Foundation.”  Asked if Cardinal Dolan was aware of the invitation prior to its being sent, Zwilling said, “the Cardinal was aware, I said I was not aware.”

Pro-life leaders have expressed surprise at the invitation, coming as it does at the same time as the U.S. bishops are locked in a fierce battle with the Obama administration over its birth control mandate. Many are asking Cardinal Dolan, who has a reputation as a strongly pro-life bishop, and who has taken a visible leadership role in the fight against the HHS mandate, to rescind the invitation.

Obama is viewed by many pro-life advocates as the most extreme pro-abortion president in history. He also recently came out in support of same-sex “marriage,” and has opposed the Defense of Marriage Act.

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Priests for Life President Father Frank Pavone commented on the invite, saying he did not think it was appropriate at this time.

“I’m all in favor of protocol and understand the difference between respecting the President’s policies vs. respecting his office. But there comes a time when the polite putting aside of differences for a while amounts to scandal,” said Pavone in a statement emailed to LifeSiteNews.com Monday morning.

Similarly, American Life League President Judie Brown wrote a column in which she extolled Cardinal Dolan’s leadership on the fight against the HHS mandate, and yet asked him to rescind the invitation to Obama. She invited pro-lifers to join in “respectfully and prayerfully” communicating their concerns to the Cardinal.

Critics of the Obama invite have pointed out that there is precedent for cancelling the traditional appearance of the presidential candidates, with strongly pro-abortion Bill Clinton and John Kerry, as well as their rivals, failing to receive invitations in 1996 and 2004.

“In 1996 and 2004 the Smith Foundation for whatever reason decided not to invite those particular candidates and to invite others to the dinner,” Zwilling said when the prior cancellations were pointed out to him.  “That was not the decision of the board this year.”

LifeSiteNews reported yesterday that Archdiocesan official Ed Mechmann has defended the invitation of Obama in a blog post featured on the front page of the archdiocese website. Mechmann argues that the Al Smith dinner is a non-partisan dinner, and that Obama’s appearance alongside Romney does not amount to an endorsement of his views.

Zwilling gave much the same rationale for the Obama invite. “The invitation is extended by the Smith foundation as part of the tradition of the dinner to have the two Presidential nominees invited every four years,” Zwilling told LifeSiteNews. “Cardinal Dolan and the Smith Foundation extended the invitation this year to the two of them. It is non-partisan, it puts aside differences for a good cause to support women and their babies. It brings together people from both sides of the isle for an evening of good humor and good fellowship and civil discourse – something we need more of.”