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Hudson & Fournier: Catholic Countdown to Election 2012, Day 17. The Ironies of the Al Smith Dinner 2012

By Deal W Hudson and Keith A Fournier
October 20th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The media attention to this event did nothing but paint in bold colors the contrast of Obama's pro-abortion position with the teaching of the Catholic Church and, particularly, with Cardinal Dolan. It was Cardinal Dolan himself who made sure that President Obama's unconscionable lack of concern for innocent human life was fixed in the minds of all the dinner attendees as they left the venerable Waldorf Astoria.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - The Al Smith dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City has been an annual event since 1945, the year after Governor Al Smith's death. The dinner is not an event sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York, but rather a fundraiser for the Al Smith Foundation, whose mission is to give "hope to the neediest children of the Archdiocese of New York, regardless of race, creed, or color."

Before addressing the most obvious irony, the presence of Barack Obama at the dinner, another irony has already peaked through from the mission statement of the Foundation itself.  That the Al Smith Foundation raises money to help poor children "regardless of race, creed, or color," means that the Foundation's work does not conform to the Obama administration's definition of what constitutes a "religious organization" and is therefore NOT worthy of a "religious exemption" from its onerous HHS mandate.

For an institution to receive an exemption from the Obama administration it must serve only members of its own denomination. In other words, a Catholic institution can only serve Catholics, Methodist Methodists, Presbyterian Presbyterians, and so forth.  Although the violation of religious liberty by the HHS mandate has been much debated, the more egregious violation of charity has gone relatively unnoticed. 

Perhaps it could be considered an act of charity that the President decided to give the Catholic bishops a year to consider whether or not they would conform to the demands of the mandate. But then, of course, an act of charity must always be ordered to the good, and the willingness to give the bishops more time to consider whether or not to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization can hardly fit that criterion.

As we said, there is a more obvious and looming irony casting its shadow over Obama's presence at a dinner held in the memory of the first Catholic to be nominated by a major party to run for the presidency of the United States -- Gov. Al Smith of New York in 1928. Smith was a four-term governor, a Catholic, and opposed to prohibition, then the law of the land. 

The anti-Catholicism unleashed by the Democratic Party's nomination of Smith is one of the ugliest stories in the history of our nation. A widely distributed magazine called the Fellowship Forum opined, "The real issue in this campaign is PROTESTANT AMERICANISM VERSUS RUM AND ROMANISM."

In addition to the accepted anti-Catholicism that still reigned in mainstream Protestant denominations, the late 1920s were the heyday of the Klu Klux Klan whose influence went well beyond the Southern states and its bigotry towards African Americans. The KKK put all its considerable populist muscle behind the demonizing of candidate Al Smith because he was Catholic and opposed to prohibition.

Now, nearly one hundred years later, the nation's first African American president has distinguished himself as the most anti-Catholic president in the history of the United States. It's understandable that many Catholics across the nation were upset at the news that Obama was to be a guest at the dinner. But what they perhaps overlooked is how putting Obama into the framework of a dinner named after Al Smith would only underscore his mistreatment of Catholics, Catholic institutions, and the bishops themselves. 

In fact, when Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York ended the dinner acknowledging "the unemployed, the uninsured, the unwanted, the unwed mother, the innocent, fragile unborn baby in her womb, the undocumented, the unhoused, the unhealthy, the unfed, the undereducated," the audience erupted with loud applaud and cheering. Their response clearly signals the audience was eagerly anticipating a pro-life message to be delivered in Obama's presence.

President Obama's appearance at the Al Smith dinner will have either zero impact on the election, or, if it has any, it will be to his detriment. The media attention to this event did nothing but paint in bold colors the contrast of Obama's pro-abortion position with the teaching of the Catholic Church and, particularly, with Cardinal Dolan. It was Cardinal Dolan himself who made sure that President Obama's unconscionable lack of concern for innocent human life was fixed in the minds of all the dinner attendees as they left the venerable Waldorf Astoria.

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