Also, it was important to know that the Charlotte drama unfolded in the wake of Dolan's decision -- infuriating many Catholic conservatives -- to invite President Barack Obama to the white-tie Al Smith Dinner, a nonpartisan event celebrating lighthearted civility that will take place just before the election.
"I apologize if I have given such scandal," wrote Dolan on his "The Gospel in the Digital Age" blog. "I suppose it's a case of prudential judgment: would I give more scandal by inviting the two candidates, or by not inviting them? ...
"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."
One thing is certain: court cases and political debates about religious liberty and health-care reform will continue for some time to come. The cardinal knows that the U.S. bishops will eventually need to talk to people on both sides of the negotiating table.
"Cardinal Dolan has pretty good political instincts," said Shaw. "In this case, he knows that it's important to try to keep some channels of communication open. ... It helps to be able to pray with people and to break bread with them, too."
(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.)
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