NEW YORK (TheBlaze/AP) -- New York Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan is suing the Obama administration, but he's inviting President Barack Obama to dinner anyway. In the midst of the ongoing drama between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration, the invitation is certainly raising some eyebrows.
Dolan has asked both Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to attend the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation charity dinner on Oct. 18, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York said Tuesday.
On the surface, the invite may seem odd, but in offering it, Dolan is keeping with tradition. The Smith dinner, in its 67th year, is a white-tie event at the Waldorf-Astoria that is customarily attended by presidents and candidates in an election year. Among the speakers have been John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. In 2008, Obama and Republican presidential nominee John McCain attended. The speeches are mostly self-deprecating and lighthearted, and the donations go to needy children.
The foundation's web site further explains:
Over the years, the dinner has attracted the cream of modern American politics: the list of speakers and attendees reads like a who's who of the political landscape.
In the early years of the dinner's existence, this event might have been the only time some of these candidates would share a dais during the entire campaign. By 1960 the Al Smith dinner had truly reached its zenith as "a ritual of American politics," in the words of Theodore H. White. Many of past dinners have generated front-page news items as a result of the program, i.e. joint appearances of opposing presidential nominees.
Romney has accepted the invite, but the Obama campaign hasn't said publicly whether the president will attend. Dolan's spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, though, said Obama has accepted, too. So, what's the big deal, you ask?
The Archdiocese of New York is among more than 40 Catholic organizations, charities and schools that are suing over Obama's mandate that employers provide health insurance that covers birth control. Evangelical, Jewish and other religious leaders have joined U.S. bishops in pressing for a broader religious exemption, including for faith-affiliated hospitals, colleges and social service groups.
As the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dolan has said the White House policy is "strangling" the church. Obama has offered an accommodation, but Catholic leaders and others have said the changes don't go far enough.
Despite his differences with Obama, Dolan held to the tradition of inviting the president because "this is not a partisan event," Zwilling said. "It is an evening to put politics aside and come together in a spirit of civility."