Archbishop Lori: Obama Invite to Catholic Dinner Is Not Show of Support

Baltimore archbishop and others weigh in on invitation of the president to upcoming Alfred E. Smith Foundation dinner in New York.

(photo: Alfred E. Smith Foundation Facebook page)

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori says an invitation to President Obama to speak at a New York fundraiser alongside Mitt Romney should not be misunderstood as a show of support for the president.

Obama's expected presence and remarks at the upcoming Alfred E. Smith Foundation dinner “do not constitute an endorsement,” the U.S. bishops' religious liberty chairman and Baltimore archbishop told Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online in an interview published Aug. 9.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the U.S. bishops' conference president, has been criticized by some pro-life groups for continuing an election-year custom of inviting both the Democratic and Republican candidates to the comedy-oriented fundraiser for Catholic charitable causes in New York.

While Obama appeared in 2008 alongside Sen. John McCain, the 2012 invitation has disturbed some observers, who cited the president's recent efforts to force Catholic institutions to offer contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs through their health-insurance plans.

In his remarks to Lopez during the Knights of Columbus' Aug. 7-9 Supreme Convention in California, Archbishop Lori said he believed there was no “clearer voice in the United States about the sanctity of life and religious liberty than Cardinal Dolan.”

Baltimore's archbishop urged Catholics and other observers not to “get distracted” by the New York cardinal's gesture of courtesy toward President Obama, which did not detract from his standing as a “clarion voice” for the Church's non-negotiable principles.

Cardinal Dolan has frequently gone on record against the contraception mandate in recent months, most notably through the bishops' June 21-July 4 “Fortnight for Freedom” event.

Although it is customary for the Al Smith foundation fundraiser to host both presidential hopefuls during an election year, Archbishop Dolan's predecessors made exceptions in 1996 and 2004, declining to invite either of the candidates.

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, Father Shenan Boquet of Human Life International and Judie Brown of American Life League are among those calling on Cardinal Dolan to take the same step this year.

But Edward Mechmann, who does public-policy work for the New York archdiocese's Respect Life office, said in an Aug. 7 blog entry that he did not see the invitation as undermining or contradicting the Church's witness in public life.

“There is no question that the president’s political agenda and policy record are deplorable from a Catholic perspective,” Mechmann wrote Aug. 7 in his Stepping Out of the Boat blog on the Archdiocese of New York website.

But “given the consistency and strength with which our bishops, particularly Cardinal Dolan, have been proclaiming the Catholic view of public policy,” he does not think the event is likely to “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,” wrote Mechmann.

But the invitation to the president, he said, also sends a message “that is important in this time of pathologically toxic politics.”

“It says to us that we can vehemently disagree with a public official’s positions, but we can still show respect for his office, and for him as a person, and treat him with civility,” Mechmann reflected.

“It gives us an opportunity to act as Christians and show some love to our adversaries, and even those whose policies we consider to be immoral and oppressive.”