The Catholic Voices Blog
Cardinal Dolan, Happy Warrior
The Al Smith Dinner benefits “the neediest children of the Archdiocese of New York, regardless of race, creed, or color.” Last year’s grant recipients included, among others, the Children’s Center at the Bedford Correctional Facility, the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center, and the Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service. St. Dominic’s Home, another beneficiary, serves hundreds of children and families in neighborhoods where help is most needed, working to help families stay together against challenging odds.
These ground-level examples of our faith in action help civil society flourish in places that it often dies on the vine, and they make Catholics proud. Like countless similar organizations across the country, they witness to our Church’s call to give freely of ourselves to all our neighbors, not just to those who share our faith. Such groups receive generous support not only from those who can afford a ticket to the Al Smith Dinner, but from in-the-pews Catholics in parishes large and small. And they’re precisely the kind of groups that could be hardest hit by the administration’s mandate and the steep fines it imposes on those who do not comply.
No one should be fooled by recent efforts to portray the HHS mandate controversy as old news solved by the administration’s “compromise.” There is no compromise. The mandate has been officially adopted without change. The exemption for religious institutions remains so narrow that even the Missionaries of Charity’s Queen of Peace residence in Harlem doesn’t qualify. The one-year “safe harbor” for some conscientious objectors just delays a real solution until after the election. And the administration’s unworkable, barely-sketched compromise proposal – shifting the cost of objectionable coverage to insurance companies instead of imposing it on religious institutions themselves – doesn’t even satisfy staunch administration allies like the Catholic Health Association, much less the grammar schools, social service organizations, lay Catholic employers, and hospitals that have been forced to ask the courts to protect their basic religious freedom.
The administration’s compromise proposal doesn’t solve the core problem: the government still forces religious employers to facilitate access to goods and services to which they have serious religious objections. It doesn’t help the large number of self-insured religious organizations and lay Catholic employers who have religious objections to facilitating such coverage. And by leaving the narrow exemption in place, it solidifies a legal definition of religious activity as something that happens in a house of worship, but not in a soup kitchen or an AIDS clinic or a children’s home.
Nonetheless, the President insists that he’s resolved the issue with this widely-rejected compromise, and his story has gained traction. Vice President Biden’s false assertions at the debate only added to this misimpression. These are attempts to deflect attention from the serious religious liberty issues at stake, and at the moment they appear to be succeeding.
And that’s why inviting the President to speak at the Al Smith Dinner moves the ball forward. Just weeks before the election, the President, Governor Romney, and Cardinal Dolan will appear on stage together at an event that’s historically given above-the-fold treatment. Regardless of what’s said – whether it’s the traditional night of banter for a good cause or something more serious – the HHS mandate controversy will unavoidably be front and center, as will the charitable groups that will suffer the most if the mandate’s fines are enforced.
Think about it: Cardinal Dolan now has the President helping raise the money necessary to pay the fines his administration seeks to impose on the Catholic charitable groups that benefit from the dinner. Al Smith – often called the “Happy Warrior” – would be proud.