Cardinal Timothy Dolan's geniality makes him ill-suited to head up an embattled church in America -- a problem that the unfolding fiasco of the Al Smith dinner illustrates.
The New York prelate's invitation to the Church's most powerful foe, President Barack Obama, has outraged Catholics across the country, who want to know from Dolan: Why would you invite our enemy to a night of merriment? Why would you honor him at an event for a charity that his contraceptive mandate will break? And why would you let him use such an occasion to dupe Catholics into voting for his reelection?
They interpret the invitation as a symbol of episcopal waffling and a worldly church's penchant for prizing prestige over principle, as if guarding the marquee status of the Al Smith dinner were more important than avoiding scandal.
Cardinal Dolan took to his blog this week to answer these critics, relying on the very shaky and threadbare Vatican II-style clichés about "civility" that exposed the Church to a liberal takeover in the first place. "[T]he teaching of the Church, so radiant in the Second Vatican Council, is that the posture of the Church towards culture, society, and government is that of engagement and dialogue," Dolan wrote. "In other words, it's better to invite than to ignore, more effective to talk together than to yell from a distance, more productive to open a door than to shut one."
Catholics have heard this prattle for decades and find it very tiresome in light of its pathetic results. When has "engagement" and "dialogue" ever strengthened the Church? All it has produced is a steady stream of pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage Catholic pols who slamdunk secularism over timid bishops. The need to "engage the world" has in short made the Church worldly, leading to endless compromises within Catholic institutions, all of which signaled to secularists like Obama that the American Church was ripe for a statist hijacking.
Obama's gamble -- that he could simultaneously win the single female vote and the Catholic vote in spite of his brazen mandate -- could very well pay off. The most recent polling shows Obama leading Romney among Catholic voters 51 to 42. He can have his cake and eat it too -- and at the Al Smith dinner to boot.
Cardinal Dolan is kidding himself if he thinks the evening will involve "dialogue" that changes Obama's mind about the mandate. The Church will not be roasting Obama; Obama will be roasting the Church. That's why he scooped up the invitation so happily. Photos of Obama chuckling with churchmen will appear everywhere after it, signaling to confused Catholics in swing states that Obama poses no threat to their freedom.
Notre Dame fell back on the same "dialogue" rationale when it granted Obama an honorary degree. No dialogue, of course, took place. Obama did all the talking, even lecturing Notre Dame graduates on the superiority of secularism to faith in public life. Prize "doubt," he told them.
Cardinal Dolan rejects any comparison to the Notre Dame debacle, but he finds himself in a similar box of contradiction, asserting at once that the invitation lacks any significance while defending it as an important moment of "engagement" and a fulfillment of the Church's mission as determined by the spirit of Vatican II. The irony is that if he sincerely intends to straighten Obama out at it the dinner will cease to be the harmless, jovial, civil evening for which he says it exists. He can't have it both ways. Is it roast? Or is it a moment of evangelization?
Cardinal Dolan frets that he might have caused more scandal by not inviting Obama. He can't be serious. Does anyone blame the late Cardinal John O'Connor for scandalizing Catholics by not inviting Bill Clinton to the Al Smith dinner? Or Cardinal Egan for denying an invite to John Kerry? Cardinal Dolan's notion of "scandal" is very confused if he thinks so.
Cardinal Dolan concludes his defense by suggesting that Jesus Christ would approve of his decision: "In the end, I'm encouraged by the example of Jesus, who was blistered by his critics for dining with those some considered sinners; and by the recognition that, if I only sat down with people who agreed with me, and I with them, or with those who were saints, I'd be taking all my meals alone."
But this ignores the reason Christ ate wth sinners: not to pose for a photo op with them but to convert them to his teachings. The moment they rejected him he ceased the dinners, telling his disciples not to "cast pearls before swine" and "shake the dust" from their heels and leave.