In 2008, during the last U.S. presidential campaign, the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation invited then Democratic nominee Barack Obama to attend its annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner (a charity fundraiser) in New York City. Senator Obama accepted the invitation, as did his Republican counterpart, Sen. John McCain. In this, both men were acknowledging and taking part in a long tradition, in which, every four years, the two major-party candidates for president appear at the dinner to lend their support for the fundraiser.
Barack Obama's appearance in 2008, however, was not without controversy, for the same reasons why, in early 2009, 83 bishops opposed Notre Dame's decision to extend an honorary degree to President Obama and allow him to speak at the university's commencement ceremony. (See President Barack Obama at Notre Dame: A Defining Moment for the Catholic Church in America for more on the controversy.) In both 1996 and 2004, the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation had declined to invite the presidential candidates to attend the charity dinner, because of the pro-abortion positions of President Bill Clinton (in 1996) and Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry (in 2004). Critics argued that the same prudential call should have been made in 2008.
Fast-forward four years, and now-President Obama, having put most of his campaign promises concerning abortion and embryonic stem-cell research into effect, and having come out in support of the redefinition of marriage, has once again been invited to take part in the Al Smith Dinner. The invitation was extended by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who, as cardinal-archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, is honorary chairman of the Smith Foundation.
Beyond President Obama's departures from Catholic moral teaching, the Obama administration's contraception mandate threatens the free exercise of religion in the United States—not just for Catholic hospitals and other institutions, but for individual Catholic business owners who accept the Church's teaching regarding artificial birth control. That, in itself, might seem reason to suspend the quadrennial tradition once again.
On the other hand, as Cardinal Dolan has pointed out in defending his decision to invite President Obama, there is a difference between the Al Smith Dinner and, say, the Notre Dame graduation. President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney will be guests of honor at the dinner on October 18, but their presence (at least in theory) will benefit the charity. At Notre Dame, the only person who stood to benefit from President Obama's speech was President Obama. The guests of honor traditionally do speak at the Al Smith Dinner, but their remarks are humorous, rather than policy-oriented, so there's little danger of President Obama using it as a stage to advance his pro-abortion views.
On the other hand, most outside observers will see little difference between the Al Smith Dinner and the Notre Dame graduation. What they will see is the most pro-abortion president in the history of the United States shaking hands with Cardinal Dolan and posing for pictures with other bishops and priests. And because the President has made his support for abortion, embryonic-stem cell research, and gay "marriage" so central to his presidency and his current campaign, and because he continues to push forward with his attack on religious liberty in the contraception mandate, the faithful who see those pictures can be forgiven for being confused about where Cardinal Dolan and those bishops and priests stand concerning these central moral issues.
What do you think? Should Cardinal Dolan have invited President Obama to the Al Smith Dinner? And now that he has, should he rescind his invitation? Take our poll, then leave your thoughts in the comments!