Co-authored with John Jalsevac

September 19, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A new nationwide poll commissioned by the American Life League has found that over half of U.S. Catholics believe Cardinal Dolan’s invitation of President Obama to the Al Smith fundraising dinner sends the wrong message to Catholics.

The annual Catholic fundraiser has traditionally featured the presidential candidates from each party during an election year. Mitt Romney is also set to attend this year.

But in a year that has seen the Obama administration announce the HHS birth control mandate, officially come out in support of gay “marriage,” and throw its weight behind numerous pro-abortion efforts, many conservative activists have argued that enough is enough, and that it would be better to skip the candidate appearances altogether – as has happened in the past – than risk giving a platform to Obama.

But Dolan, viewed by many in the pro-life and pro-family movements as a close ally, has so far stood firm against the criticism, defending his decision in a blog post in which he argued that “the posture of the Church towards culture, society, and government is that of engagement and dialogue.”

He posited 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.”

But according to ALL’s survey, the majority of American Catholics disagree. The survey found that 55% of Catholics believe the invitation sends the wrong signal to Catholics, and 53% believe the invitation gives the impression that Obama is approved by the Church.

One half of respondents described the invitation as “scandalous.”

The problem, according to Michael Hichborn of ALL Report, is that while Catholics are told (in the words of Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori) that they “can’t vote for a candidate who stands for an intrinsic evil,” they are given the impression that “high ranking prelates in the Church like and accept [Obama].”

The ALL survey also showed that nearly 60% of those surveyed believe the invitation will influence fellow Catholics to vote for Obama.

Dolan explained that the Al Smith Dinner has always been “the only time outside of the presidential debates that the two presidential candidates come together…for an evening of positive, upbeat, patriotic, enjoyable civil discourse.”

But critics of the invite have pointed out that in 1996, Cardinal O’Connor refused to invite the pro-abortion Bill Clinton, and in 2004 John Kerry was not invited for the same reason. “With this kind of precedent,” said Hichborn, “it ought to be clear that it isn’t really about Obama; it’s about putting Obama’s scandal on a pedestal and parading it around.”

“Let’s face it. By inviting Barack Obama, the Al Smith Foundation has literally invited scandal to dinner.”

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The American Life League telephone survey of 900 self-identified Catholic registered voters was conducted between August 15-19, 2012, and focused on Catholic perspectives on the Church and nation. It was conducted by ccAdvertising, Centreville, Virginia, which gives the margin of error as +/- 3 percent.