NEW YORK, August 13, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan has for the first time personally responded to what he refers to as “stacks of mail protesting the invitation to President Obama.”  The strongly pro-life Archbishop and head of the USCCB says he takes seriously the charge of scandal, and apologizes “if I have given such scandal.” He wonders however, “would I give more scandal by inviting the two candidates, or by not inviting them?”

In his defense, the Cardinal notes that Pope Benedict XVI received President Obama. Cardinal Dolan says he and his fellow bishops are similarly “open to dialogue” with the administration.

When Pope Benedict received Obama in July 2009, however, the circumstances were very different.  The Pope did not ask Obama to come to speak at a Catholic fundraiser. Moreover the Holy Father took the opportunity to speak to Obama about abortion and conscience rights and made his talking points known publicly - a scenario unlikely to unfold at the jovial Al Smith dinner.

The papal meeting was also not just 19 days before a U.S. presidential election. The Vatican Secretary of State is acutely aware of the need to avoid such politically sensitive situations.

Cardinal Dolan commences his letter speaking of the need for ‘civility’ in political life, praising the Al Smith dinner for fostering such civility. “What message would I send if I refused to meet with the President?,” asks the Cardinal.

The question is a sensitive one since it could be seen by some as a criticism of former New York Cardinal John O’Connor, founder of the Sisters of Life,  who did exactly that - he refused then-President Clinton an invite to the Al Smith dinner, reportedly over Clinton’s veto of the partial birth abortion ban.  Dolan fails to mention Cardinal O’Connor’s action

Obama has proven to be even more extremist on abortion and a far greater threat to Christianity and the Catholic Church than Clinton ever was.

LifeSiteNews has followed a policy in all our reports on this controversy of being respectful, civil and acknowledging of the many positive actions by Cardinal Dolan. We have avoided any criticisms of the person of the cardinal or questioning of his motives. The emphasis has been on questions about the wisdom, at this time in U.S. history, and only a few weeks before perhaps the most critical of U.S. elections ever, of having the current president speak at this very prominent Catholic fundraising event.

LifeSiteNews also strongly encourages others engaged in this discussion to avoid what the cardinal refers to as “negativity, judgmentalism, name-calling, and mudslinging”. But respectfully expressing opinions that suggest there could be serious negative ramifications with the Obama invite are none of these, although some are unfortunately characterizing them as such.

The New York Archbishop concludes his letter saying: “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.”

Addressing that point in a column last week, Catholic World News editor Phil Lawler wrote: “When Jesus sat with tax collectors, the dinners were private. They were not ‘photo ops’ for political candidates. The Lord could speak directly to the hearts of his dining companions, and convert them. Remember, St. Matthew left the tax-collecting business to follow Christ. Does anyone believe that after the Al Smith dinner, Obama will decide to rescind the contraceptive mandate?”

Regardless of the many reports and expressed concerns about the invitation to the president, we must emphasize that LifeSiteNews has a high regard for Cardinal Dolan. He has recently played a major role, along with some of his notable brother bishops, in leading and motivating the U.S. Catholic population to publicly challenge the anti-life, anti-family culture. He has been boldly fighting the attacks on religious freedom that have been exponentially growing in recent years. And for all that everyone should be grateful.

As for the current controversy, it concerns prudential judgment on an issue that has potentially significant ramifications for the entire American public. It could send seriously confusing signals to a public that has been convinced by the bishops and others about the great dangers to faith, morals and freedom of a second Obama term. Politically, Obama has much to gain and nothing to lose from speaking and telling jokes at this function.

Considering what is at stake in this election, respectful, even emphatic dialogue is appropriate. It is about much more than a dinner.

See the LifeSiteNews document, Composing Effective Communications in Response to LifeSiteNews Reports

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