Obama presence at fundraiser not an endorsement, Archbishop Lori says

Obama And McCain Attend Alfred E Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner Credit Andrew Theodorakis Pool Getty Images News Getty Images CNA500x315 US Catholic News 8 9 12 Cardinal Edward Egan flanked by Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama at the Alfred E. Smith Dinner, October 16, 2008 in New York City. | Andrew Theodorakis-Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Baltimore Archbishop William E. 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 M. 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 Senator 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 U.S. 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 and Judie Brown of American Life League are among calling on Cardinal Dolan to take the same step this year. Meanwhile, Father Shenan Boquet of Human Life International issued a statement questioning the invitation and saying that the Church "cannot pretend for one moment that such an honor at any function promoting the work of the Church doesn't give legitimacy to their position while harming the Catholic Church's image ... ."

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."

Updated on August 10, 2012 at 12:46 MST. Corrects assertion that HLI called on Cardinal Dolan to cancel the invitation to President Obama.

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