At last night’s 75th annual Alfred E. Smith celebration both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joseph Biden made strong appeals to the Catholic vote in next month’s US presidential election.
Speaking first, Biden recalled growing up in the Irish Catholic culture of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and how his faith had sustained him through the tragic losses of his first wife and their young daughter in a car crash, and, then, of his son Beau from cancer.
President Trump thanked Catholics for their many contributions in the building of America in war and peace, lauded the strength of Catholic education and pledged to defend “the sacred right to life.” In the evening’s one partisan jibe, he also referred to “anti-Catholic prejudice coming from the Democrats,” no doubt anticipating the hostile Senate hearings that will face Supreme Court nominees Amy Coney Barrett later this month (a choice Cardinal Dolan called “the best possible” in his September 28th Sirius radio program).
As opposed to past dinners attended by 1500 white and black-tied revelers in the vast ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, this year’s event was virtual due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Al Smith Foundation head Mary Callahan Erdoes spoke on a live feed from the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture in Greenwich. The candidates made their remarks from remote locations.
The traditional back and forth badinage of the evening was absent, replaced by a sober and serious tone, in contrast to the Worldwide Wrestling-like atmosphere of the first televised presidential debate earlier in the week. Civility reigned in the abbreviated, thirty minute proceedings, and the closest thing to humor was Mary Erdoe’s introduction of the President, “who has made more liberals than ever before pray to God.”
In closing, Cardinal Dolan prayed for a peaceful transition regardless of the election results.
The occasion raised over $5 million for needy children and came on the evening of a day when the large suburban diocese of Rockville Centre, Long Island, became the latest to declare bankruptcy, facing hundreds of claims of priestly sex abuse, and only hours before President Trump tweeted that he and the First Lady had tested positive for COVID-19 and would immediately begin fourteen days of quarantine.
James MacGuire is the Catholic Herald’s Managing Editor US
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