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Beyond Praise Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 22 October 2012

This past Thursday was a big night on the Island of Manhattan. A black-tie affair was held, attended by leading political and religious figures, and featuring prayers and speeches.

Robert Royal and I were there, at a table hosted by George J. Marlin. We all saw many old friends and made some new ones.

Meanwhile, across town, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were working the crowd at the annual Al Smith Dinner.

We three (and several hundred others) were at the venerable Union League Club to celebrate the Human Life Review’s tenth annual Great Defender of Life Dinner.

This year’s honoree was James Lane Buckley, the former United States senator from New York (1971-76), perhaps the most distinguished jurist ever to serve on U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (1985-96), and, of course, the brother of William F. Buckley Jr.

Judge Buckley is about the most soft-spoken, self-effacing man it would ever be your pleasure and honor to meet. Everybody who stood up to make remarks before it was his turn to respond was effusive in praise of him. And he is a man who, rather like his brother, is actually beyond praise.


           Judge James L. Buckley

Jack Fowler, publisher of National Review, acted as master of ceremonies. He introduced Maria McFadden Maffucci, editor of The Human Life Review, a role she took over after the death of her esteemed father, James McFadden, and she explained expertly and succinctly the role The Human Life Review has played, is playing, and will continue to play in what is the greatest civil-rights issue of the age: protection of the unborn.

I remember Maria from her very first days working at HLR. Jack Fowler was, if memory serves, associate publisher of National Review, I was literary editor, and we would often ascend in a very rickety and unreliable elevator to the offices of HLR to say the Angelus at noon.

On the days, every other week, when we had our NR editorial meeting, Joe Sobran would be in town, and he’d pray with us too, and some of Joe’s best stuff appeared in HLR. Whatever foibles Joe had, he was clear-eyed and eloquent in defense of life – a pro-life tiger, in fact.

Thursday’s dinner was one of those occasions on which people introduce people who introduce people, and George Marlin introduced Prof. Michael Uhlmann (of the Claremont Graduate University), a contributor to The Catholic Thing (present at the founding, in fact), who worked for then Senator Buckley during his one-and-only term, and who was a principal author on the senator’s behalf of the Human Life Amendment.

Mike spoke with great humor and affection of the wit and wisdom of Jim Buckley in his introduction, and when the Honorable Mr. Buckley rose to speak – and never has the honorific honorable been used more appositely – with characteristic humility he gave Mike most of the credit for his accomplishments in the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.

Somehow it had never occurred to me before just how much James L. Buckley resembles his late sister, Priscilla L. Buckley, a dear friend of mine who died at 90 earlier this year: especially in profile and in cadence and diction; not entirely unlike their more famous younger brother, but, I suppose, more singularly Connecticut than that crazy amalgam of languages that forged Bill’s peculiar accent: Spanish and French, his first languages, learning English in earnest only in England after age seven, and with some Connecticut thrown in too.

I’m sure The Human Life Review will give us Jim Buckley’s remarks in a future issue, so I won’t recapitulate here, but I will say that the passion of his remarks was stirring, and a reminder that one may speak about the ongoing slaughter of abortion in such a way as to influence those few still on the fence, and, perhaps, to pull back over some who have fallen on the wrong side. (Mr. Buckley’s latest book, Freedom at Risk: Reflections on Politics, Liberty, and the State is available at an incredible price at The Catholic Thing store.)

At the cocktail hour before the dinner, I had a chance to chat briefly with Hadley Arkes before he decamped to that other dinner going on across town, and I look forward to hearing his impressions of that spectacle.

But few who came to The Great Defender of Life dinner were not heard at some point in the evening to remark on the peculiarity of the Al Smith guest list, given that it’s the Archbishop of New York’s party.

Now I know from speaking recently to Cardinal Edward Egan (George Marlin and I spent time interviewing him for a book we’re writing) that his rule in presidential election years was: both the Democrat and the Republican, as long as a Catholic candidate wasn’t also pro-abortion  (John Kerry was not invited in 2004). Neither was President Bush, although that was a matter of equity: the Church will not endorse (or seem to endorse) any candidate.

But the sense on Thursday at the dinner we attended was that one of the candidates cracking wise at that other gala ought not to have been given a platform at such a prestigious Catholic gathering.

We’ve commented here about Cardinal Timothy P. Dolan’s inclusion of President Obama at the Al Smith Dinner – in a year when our bishops have warned about the administration’s threats to religious liberty and made them the subject of prayer vigils and special Masses.  Most of our readers seem to be on the same page as most attendees at the Human Life Review affair: we are confused.

Well, maybe George and I can ask Cardinal Dolan about it, if and when we interview him. There must be some good explanation.

 
Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (21)Add Comment
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written by Louise, October 22, 2012
Brad, I watched the "other" dinner on cspan and the thought that crossed my mind was that Romney must think Catholics are not very committed to their faith. But what really disappointed me was the speech that the Cardinal gave...the way all the issues were thrown in there. It kind of reminded me of last election when some Catholics tried to make all the issues seem of equal weight. I don't think he holds that position but for some reason that's the impression his speech left with me.
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written by ib, October 22, 2012
Thanks for a superb post! I will make sure to get Judge Buckley's latest book.

Just one comment: I am not confused about His Eminence's invitation to President Obama. I think it was well intentioned, but mistaken. It is all well and good to hold up a rule that tries to treat both political parties equally, that's a good Aristotelean approach. But applying such a rule should not simply be a mechanical operation; it should be applied with prudence, the virtue completing the other cardinal virtues. Prudence is cautious, because in human affairs, it is often difficult to ascertain what the correct course of action is. Aquinas (ST 2a2ae.49.a8) notes that "Prudence deals with contingent action, in which bad may be mixed with good, as true with false. That is because human deeds are multiform; good is often entangled with bad and the bad wears the air of good. And so caution is a necessary trait of prudence, in order that good may be followed and bad avoided."

I feel it was a mistake to invite such an enemy of the Roman Catholic Church to a celebratory dinner. Caution should have been used in this case so as St Paul wrote "See that you walk cautiously" (Ephesians 5:15). But that is simply my prudential judgment. His Eminence Cardinal Dolan has a differing view.
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written by Manfred, October 22, 2012
"There must be some good explanation."of why Obama was invited to the Smith Dinner. Messrs. Wright, Kiernan, Zucchotti and Al Smith IV (!) are all extremely wealthy members of the Al Smith Foundation Board who support PRO-ABORTION DEMOCRATS. In 2004,the USCCB issued "Catholics in Political Life" which said in part: "Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental principles. They should not be given awards,honors or platforms which would suggest support of their actions." (When Notre Dame invited Obama in 2009 they defended their action by stating that Obama was not Catholic.)Mere sophistry. In his speech, Cdl. Dolan stated that both Obama and Romney were "honorable men". (hat-tip to Michael Gaynor, Esq.) Obama is not honorable. He is a devil who is pro-abortion, pro-infanticide, pro-aberrosexual marriage and he is persecuting all the institutions of the American Church through Federal law. Cdl Dolan violated the injunction of his own USCCB (he serves as the PRESIDENT)and he should step down. Even the dullest lay Catholic should be able to discern that the American Church is a business which thrives on contributions from governments and wealthy donors, of whatever persuasion. When I saw a photo of Obama and Dolan alone (Romney was at the podium), I couldn't help but think: Herod and the High Priest.
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written by Jack,CT, October 22, 2012
Bravo.....thanks for a great piece...Jack
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written by Grump, October 22, 2012
It was off-putting to see Dolan yukking it up with Obama and Romney. The cardinal's quoting of Al Smith went like this: Smith “was a man of deep Catholic faith and ringing patriotism, who had a tear in his Irish eyes for what we would call, the ‘uns’: the un-employed, the un-insured, the un-wanted, the un-wed mother, and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb, the un-documented, the un-housed, the un-healthy, the un-fed the under-educated.”

Dolan missed the "unabashed," ceding the high moral ground to Obama, who grinned and mugged his way through a lame and sometimes narcissistic and inappropriate monologue that include a reference to killing Osama bin Laden.

Although the Al Smith Dinner is supposed to be a lighthearted event, it also provide a golden opportunity for Dolan to put Obama on notice that the real fight over the HHS mandate has yet to begin. After all, the Catholic Church is suing the administration over it. Yet all we heard from Dolan, during the benediction, was a vague reference to "religious liberty."

What thoroughly ruined the televised evening, however, was the fact that Obama idolater and the regime's chief media propagandist Chris Matthews was constantly visible behind the podium and had one of the best seats in the house. That alone was enough to make me reach for the clicker to watch the Thursday night football game where the refs made the right calls.
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written by jsmitty, October 22, 2012
Hey Brad. Interesting piece. Regrading Sobran...I don't know that its best to call Holocaust denial and otherwise virulent anti-Semitism "foibles" but whatever. I never knew the guy.

Regarding the Al Smith dinner, why wouldn't Obama have been invited? Presidential candidates of both parties have been invited for years, including many who don't agree with the Church's teachings.

Frankly I'm tired of the desire of extremes on both sides to politicize everything. America is on the few places in the world where candidates of both parties can step off the campaign trail and enjoy a little light hearted bantering in the support of a good cause. Let's give it a rest and go back to fighting against the HHS mandate and legalized abortion the next day! I suspect this is how Dolan sees it!
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written by kristnajohannes, October 22, 2012
Manfred, I agree that President Obama's positions are simply evil but I would draw the line at calling him a devil. We really can never judge the soul of another person to know whether they are subjectively responsible for the evil they do. We should, however, certainly condemn the evil they do as an objective sin.

The Cardinal was obviously trying to enflesh the dictum that you can disagree with people and still love them; this is a beautiful thing. But when the issues are matters of grave evil there is no room for disagreement. In this situation the ruling dictum is: hate the sin; love the sinner. This too is a beautiful thing but it is fundamentally different than the first one and has different demands.

The traditional Al Smith dinner approach serves the purpose of the first dictum but it does not seem to fit well with the second.

Because on the one hand, good manners dictate that you not embarrass your guests--guests you have honored with speaking roles despite their public positions. But on the other hand you have to show hatred for the public sin they are committing, lest viewers assume it is not big deal. So if you violate good manners, the point you are trying to make about loving them would be lost on viewers, but if you don’t, the point you are trying to make about hating the sin would be lost.

I hope the Cardinal will have a meeting with representative voices of those who disagree with his approach to plot out a more effective approach. Because events such as this have an impact on how well we are able to carry out our role as laity in the world of politics.



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written by Brad Miner, October 22, 2012
@jsmitty: You are correct in writing that Holocaust denial and "virulent" anti-Semitism are hardly foibles, and I ought to have chosen a better word. For those of us who knew Joe, it's hard to accept the word "virulent" when applied to him. To be sure, I last saw him (and stopped reading him) in 1993 and missed his descent into the darkness of denial. My own theory has always been that it was liberalism that infuriated him, and he associated Jews with liberalism. Wrong no matter how a former friend tries to explain it, of course, and perhaps this will be the last time I mention his name in print.
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written by Ernest, October 22, 2012
Well done Manfred. Your analysis regarding wealthy board members is the best explanation by far for the Cardinal's actions. The Al Smith invitation frustrated many of us lay-folks who daily toil away against the sins perpetrated by this evil administration, sins just as you cite.

Unfortunately, the excitement many of us had for the Cardinal's leadership has turned to disappointment, as many here point out. For us, tying the invitation to Jesus Christ's with tax collectors and other sinners fails. Perhaps if Jesus had met with Herod (as you mention) or other Roman leaders, the Cardinal would have cover. But there is too much difference between a head of state and the common sinner to equate the two and Jesus teaches otherwise.

Still, we found a bright spot, certainly an unintended consequence. More viewers tuned-in because of the two attendees thus giving Romney a bigger platform wherein he could continue to scrap-off the mud the campaign has slung at him. Plus, Romney was much more comfortable, funny, and clever. So, thanks Cardinal but you need to strike quickly and separate yourself from this sinner, follow the real Jesus example, or lose many, deserving Catholic souls.
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written by Manfred, October 22, 2012
Post script: There exists precedent for not inviting a Presidential candidate to the Al Smith Dinner-Cdl O'Connor did not invite Bill Clinton in 1996, and Cdl Egan did not invite Kerry (or Bush) in 2004. Both Kerry and Clinton were not invited because of their being pro-abortion. Love the sinner-hate the sin. Excuse me, but is this dogma? I was taught to avoid occasions of sin and evil companions who could scandalize (lead me into sin) me. When saints have spoken of visions of Hell did they confirm they saw souls in recognizable human form or did they see Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Envy etc. floating upward in the flames? A devil? What did Christ say to Peter when Peter tried to dissuade Him from going to Jerusalem where He was to suffer and die? "Get behind Me Satan!" People can either be formally possessed or they can serve as instruments of Satan. The fact that the Church has not taught catechesis for over fifty years should give writers and commentators pause before they put finger to key. As Christ said: If the blind lead the blind, don't both fall into the pit? The pit He was referring to was not a hole in the earth but to Hell. Thank you for your comments.
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written by Achilles, October 22, 2012
"The tongue is a small member that can start a great fire."
The Spiritual Combat is very clearly laid out for us, for it we need, in this order: 1. Distrust of self, 2. Confidence in God, 3. proper use ouf our faculties, and 4. a strong prayer life.
"Render unto Caesar what is Caesar"
Do I suggest no action? Of course not, but first slay the enemy closest to you, to do otherwise is folly and fruitless.
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written by kristinajohannes, October 22, 2012
Manfred, here are a few references as requested.
Catechism #1825: Christ died out of love for us, while we were still “enemies.” The Lord asks us to love as he does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ himself.
and #1861: … However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.
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written by Achilles, October 22, 2012
Thomas Aquinas tells us in his commentary on Ephesians, specifically addressing the battle plan, that The Enemy has managed to deceive many men and those men fight on the wrong side so in one sense we fight against them, but he says they are like the horses and the demons are the riders, if we can kill the riders, we can reclaim the horses. All men are called just like us to “put on the mind of Christ.” Does anyone really have the audacity to say otherwise?
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written by Howard Kainz, October 22, 2012
The invitation of Obama to the Al Smith dinner was in sharp contrast with the position of the DFLA (pro-life Democrats), an organization that refused to endorse the Democratic presidential candidate this year. I believe the only other time they did this was in the 2004 election against John Kerry.
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written by Suzanne, October 23, 2012
Great piece Mr Miner, I really enjoyed it. But your later comment on Joe Sobran and "the darkness of denial" ruined it for me... Freedom of speech should apply in that area as well. As Joe himself said: "Why on earth is it 'anti-Jewish' to conclude from the evidence that the standard numbers of Jews murdered are inaccurate, or that the Hitler regime, bad as it was in many ways, was not, in fact, intent on racial extermination? Surely these are controversial conclusions; but if so, let the controversy rage." The truth will set you free...
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written by G.K. Thursday, October 23, 2012
I thought Cardinal Egan was weak compared to Cardinal O'Connor, but alas, it looks like Cardinal Dolan will be weaker still.
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written by Graham Combs, October 23, 2012
According to the Michigan Catholic and the CNS, at the media-blacked-out event at Fordham with a host from Comedy Central, the Archbishop joked at kissing the host's ring.

Does anyone remember Neil Postman's AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH? I simply don't understand. Why would a prince of the Church be so tone death to the times? I can't believe that at some point he will not have a change of heart. As this column on Senator Buckley notes, the stakes could not be higher.



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written by Jack,CT, October 23, 2012
@Kristina
Dear,Kristina,
thanks for your remarks,
they are profound and wise.
I feel i learned alot and I
thankyou,
Jack
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written by rewinn, October 26, 2012
Mitt Romney paid for the IVF that provided him with grandchildren. Our Church opposed IVF because it destroys unused embryos (although a few quibble that they may be held, frozen,in perpetuity. I suppose you can numb your conscience with the thought that you just don't know when they will be killed.)
It amazes me that Catholics think this doesn't matter.
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written by Brad Miner, October 26, 2012
@rewinn: This sort of comment, worded pretty much as yours is, has been posted at this site a lot. We see that sort of thing every time liberal Catholics are offended that columnists or commenters here express the conviction that the current occupant of the White House has the worst imaginable record on life issues, which is beyond dispute. It matters that Romney's sons used IVF; it does not matter more than Obama's advocacy of the murder of children born alive.
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written by James, October 27, 2012
As long as VP Jos. Biden, RC was not invited, that was certainly a non-starter; but, perhaps, Candidate Paul Ryan should have been (i.e. why should he be punished?).....Furthermore, some, with attention to nuance, sensed a more comfortable Candidate Romney within such a crowd (where he indeed did shine) vs. POTUS who, although he seemed to hold his own, did not appear to be near as comfortable & fluid as did his counterpart within such a Catholic forum [i.e. this was not at all the comfort zone of a late night TV show or MTV interview (amazingly enough!)]......At least, lamentingly enough, we were spared for one evening, at least, hearing the sitting President referring to those terrorists abroad who harm, kill or otherwise maim Americans & other innocents as 'folks' (which they are emphatically NOT!).....Beyond the pale such speak is......."Peace in the womb = world peace" Blessed Mother Theresa..............jmch.

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