Although controversy dogged his first appearance at the charity’s annual fundraiser in 2008 alongside Sen. John McCain, Catholic Charities has again extended an invitation to President Obama to speak at this year’s event.
Meghan Myers, the Executive Director of the annual fundraiser, told LifeSiteNews today that U.S. President Barack Obama has accepted the invitation to speak at the charity’s Al Smith Dinner in October.
Obama and Sen. John McCain at the 2008 Al Smith Dinner, with Cardinal Egan, then archbishop of New York.The annual fundraiser has traditionally featured the presidential candidates from each party during an election year. No word yet on whether Mitt Romney will attend.
While the event typically takes a lighter tone, with the presidential candidates roasting each other in humorous speeches, this year’s event comes at an especially awkward time, with the U.S. bishops having recently concluded their “Fortnight for Freedom” - a response to the Obama administration’s HHS mandate that will force employers, including many religious employers, to include contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs in their health plans. That mandate, as well as other attacks on religious freedom coming from the Obama administration, have been condemned in the strongest terms by many of the country’s bishops and religious leaders.
Another major conflict with Catholics and other Christians developed when the president began to actively oppose the Defense of Marriage Act last year; he has also just recently announced his support for same-sex “marriage.”
The Al Smith dinner also comes a little over three years after 83 U.S. bishops publicly opposed the invitation and award given to President Obama by Notre Dame because of the president’s pro-abortion record.
When asked if consideration was given to the Obama administration’s recent attacks on religious freedom, particularly Catholicism, in inviting the president, Myers replied that she could not comment on the invitation since she did not extend it. Obama was invited, she said, by New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
The White House did not return calls for comment by press time.
Joe Zwilling, Director of the Office of Communications at the archdiocese of New York, told LifeSiteNews that he had not heard that the invitation had gone out, nor that it had been accepted.
The appearance of Obama at the Al Smith Dinner in 2008 caused considerable controversy. At the time some pro-life leaders questioned the appearance in light of a 2004 policy of the U.S. bishops regarding politicians who “act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”
In ‘Catholics in Political Life’, the U.S. bishops said: “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.”
The idea of cancelling the traditional appearance of the presidential candidates is not without precedent. On two occasions since 1960 the presidential candidates were not invited by the Archdiocese of New York to the dinner - in 1996 (Cardinal John O’Connor), when strongly pro-abortion Bill Clinton was a candidate, and in 2004 (Cardinal Egan), during the candidacy of also strongly pro-abortion Democrat John Kerry.
Obama is often referred to as “the abortion president” because of his record that is viewed by pro-life leaders to be the most extreme in U.S. history.
Deal Hudson, a well-known Catholic political activist and author of “Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals” in the United States opined after Obama’s 2008 appearance:
"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."
Obama’s appearance at this year’s fundraiser would be no less contentious. Michael Hichborn of American Life League told LifeSiteNews, “Regardless of what they’ve done in the past, it is unthinkable for a Catholic charity to invite the man seeking the destruction of religious freedom in America to a fund raising event.“Hichborn added: “This sends the wrong message to pew-sitting Catholics, who are anxiously looking to our bishops to stand up and fight against this clear enemy of the Church who will be joining them for dinner. The Apostle Paul said it best in his second letter to the Corinthians: ‘Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?’”
Contact info for respectful communications to the archdiocese:
Office of the Cardinal
Diocese of New York
1011 First Ave
NY, NY 10022