Commentary by Deal W. Hudson

(Note: This article was originally published Oct. 17 on

October 20, 2008 ( – Last night, the Archdiocese of New York held its famous Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, with both Senators John McCain and Barack Obama as guests. I watched the coverage today—the story is all over the news, along with images of Obama and Edward Cardinal Egan sharing a laugh.
  Something about that bothered me.
  No, it’s not what you think. I’m not upset that a Democrat and the cardinal were enjoying a conversation. This is not a partisan issue, and I would have had the same negative reaction if it were Rudy Giuliani or Susan Collins instead of Obama.
  The truth is, the first thought that came to my mind was a simple one: What are we doing here? If abortion really is what we say it is—the gruesome murder of unborn children—do our actions reflect that belief? And if those who support abortion are guilty of facilitating such a horror, how should we respond to them?
  If this were 1855, would we be inviting pro-slavery politicians to take a break from a hard fought race, and share a laugh and a meal? As one who finds courage and inspiration in the example of the Radical Republican abolitionists, I just can’t imagine it.
  But isn’t that what we’re doing today? I know that wasn’t Cardinal Egan’s intention—of course not. (I also recognize that I’m raising these concerns after the fact.) However, in today’s media driven society, images matter. The sight of Obama and the cardinal palling around sends the message—whether intentional or not—that the pro-choice senator is fine in Egan’s eyes.
  Remember the cardinal’s excellent statement from late August:
“We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.”
  Perfectly said. But how do we then square this with giving Obama—or any pro-choice politician—a platform at a Catholic event? The photos that have been circulating all day show Cardinal Egan enjoying a convivial evening with a presidential candidate, who, if judged by his own words, would be deemed unworthy to ?provide political leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.?
  Furthermore, remember what the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has said in ?Catholics in Political Life:
“The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
  Maybe it’s time we step back and re-evaluate some of our own traditions and habits to make sure they square with what our Faith demands. Should we be honoring or featuring pro-choice politicians (from any political party) at Catholic events? The bishops have spoken out against this as regards the universities, but what about Catholic functions in general? Should we have a common policy? In 2004, neither John Kerry nor George W. Bush were invited to the Alfred Smith dinner, owing to Kerry’s support for abortion. That sounds like a fair approach to me.
  Obviously, Jesus dined with sinners and publicans—true. But he didn’t give them a platform to preach to the faithful. That’s the difference here.
  Deal W. Hudson is the director of and the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon and Schuster).

  See the speeches:

McCain at the Al Smith Dinner

  Obama Roasts McCain at Al Smith Dinner