Tradition dictates that Presidential nominees are invited every four years to the Al Smith Dinner in New York City, which benefits Catholic Charities in the New York archdiocese. In 2008, the usual suspects, including Deal Hudson, objected to then Presidential candidate Obama’s invitation to the dinner. A true neocon first, and Catholic second, Hudson defended the Iraq War and the use of torture by the Bush administration.
Once again, objections have been raised by President Obama’s invitation to this year’s event, which was extended personally by Cardinal Dolan himself. In light of the administration’s recent very public battles with the USCCB, I believe that it’s a good sign that the Cardinal extended the invitation to the President. It shows that both men are keeping the lines of communication open, despite disagreements. They will not only continue to look for ways to compromise, but also can put politics aside for one night in order to support a good cause.
No politician, perhaps not even any Catholic politician, will ever be in full agreement with the Church on every single issue. But that doesn’t mean that just because the Church disagrees with a politician that they shouldn’t dialogue and work with that person to try to find common ground. This includes the objections to the President’s speech at Notre Dame a few years ago—a University is a safe haven for the free exchange of ideas, and just because a person may disagree with the President about abortion, or with Paul Ryan about his tax plan, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be allowed to speak at Notre Dame or Georgetown respectively. On the contrary, these speeches provide opportunities for increased dialogue and an opportunity to try to find mutual understanding.
These days, it seems like in the political arena, it’s harder and harder for politicians (and that includes the Bishops) to find common ground, but that doesn’t mean that they should stop trying either. Instead of waging large (and expensive) media campaigns against perceived threats of religious liberty, the USCCB should continue to try to offer olive branches to the administration. They might be surprised in the end, how much common ground and compromise can be achieved.
Jason Miller is the organizer at Catholics United.