NEW YORK, August 7, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Since LifeSiteNews.com broke the news that President Barack Obama had accepted the invitation to speak at the major fundraiser for New York Catholic charities in October (the website for the event now also lists Mitt Romney as a speaker), there has been much discussion over the president’s upcoming appearance.  While calls for comment into the Archdiocese of New York have not been returned, a blog featured on the main page of the archdiocesan website defends the invite of Obama to the October 18 Al Smith Dinner as “important in this time of pathologically toxic politics.”

Ed Mechmann, who works with the Archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office on public policy issues, and is the Director of the Safe Environment Program of the Archdiocese, acknowledges that “there is no question that the President’s political agenda and policy record are deplorable from a Catholic perspective,” particularly on the life issues. However, he adds that the message of the dinner is “that we can set aside our deeply-held differences and leave the partisan politics at the door for an evening, speak nicely and politely to each other, and work together for a common cause in the service of the poor.”

Mechmann has advised LifeSiteNews that his blog post “is not an official statement of the Archdiocese or the Cardinal, but is entirely my opinion alone.”

In his post the Archdiocesan department director makes several arguments covering much ground, but avoids what is perhaps the most salient point – namely that there is already a precedent for refusing to invite pro-abortion presidential candidates. 

In 1996 New York Cardinal John O’Connor did not invite President Bill Clinton to the Al Smith Dinner, which according to archdiocesan sources who spoke to the New York Times anonymously, was due to the cardinal’s ‘annoyance’ at Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban. Bob Dole was also not invited, it was said, so as to avoid partisan appearances.

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Also in 2004, New York Cardinal Edward Egan refused to invite presidential candidates John Kerry and George Bush.  Archdiocesan spokesman Zwilling explained then that “the issues in this year’s campaign could provoke division and disagreement.”

At the time, The New York times opined: “The real reason is an open secret. Mr. Kerry, a Roman Catholic, supports abortion rights, in a departure from church teachings. But rather than exclude just Mr. Kerry from the Oct. 21 dinner, the Archdiocese and Cardinal Edward M. Egan also did not invite the president - a Methodist who opposes abortion rights - and designated two stand-ins for the candidates, in keeping with the dinner’s overtly political, but ostensibly bipartisan, identity.”

In his blog post Mechmann argues that:

  • The Al Smith Dinner is organized and hosted by the Alfred E. Smith Foundation, which is closely affiliated with but independent of the Archdiocese of New York.
  • The dinner is not a religious event in any way — it’s a civic/political event that raises money for Catholic charitable institutions. 
  • It’s not held at a religious building — it’s at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
  • It has no religious component aside from a benediction and closing prayer — much like sessions of Congress
  • The dinner has a long tradition of inviting New York elected officials of all parties, and candidates of both major parties for the Presidency.
  • It is strictly non-partisan, and an invitation to the dinner is in no way an endorsement of any office holder, or any candidate for office
  • The politicians who speak at the dinner are not being given any honor or award by the Church

Mechmann also says: “Given the consistency and strength with which our bishops — particularly Cardinal Dolan — have been proclaiming the Catholic view of public policy, it is hard to see how this one Dinner could possibly lead anyone to believe that the Church is softening her defense of life, the family, and religious liberty.  When everyone wakes up the morning after, the struggle will resume.”

Pro-life leaders acknowledge the leadership of the bishops, particularly of Dolan, and yet come to the opposite conclusion about the likely effect of Obama’s appearance at the dinner. As American Life League President Judie Brown writes:

This is exceedingly troubling as it sends a mixed message to America. On the one hand, it is well known that Cardinal Dolan has led the fight to oppose the Obama contraceptive mandate. Furthermore, he led the effort to sue the Obama administration over the mandate, saying, “Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.” On the other hand, we now learn that he has invited the most pro-abortion president in the nation’s history to join him at an annual Catholic Charities fundraising event.

Meanwhile two separate petitions have been launched asking New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan to rescind the invitation to President Obama. One has been launched by ChurchMilitant.TV’s Michael Voris (see second video below) and another by Catholic evangelist David Grey who set up the website AlSmithScandal.com.

* Note to LifeSiteNews readers: PLEASE keep all comments below this story or in communications to the archdiocese respectful.