The Alfred E. Smith Dinner is one of the biggest Catholic fundraising events held around the world and probably also one of the most controversial. Hosted by the Archbishop of New York and held since 1945, the dinner honours the governor of New York in the early 20th century who would go on to become the first Catholic presidential candidate. The memorial dinner brings together luminaries from the Church, politics, business and all walks of life and this year raised $3 million to help Catholic causes.
It’s been controversial in the past because of some of the invited speakers. Given the Church’s view on abortion, the presence of a pro-choice politician is usually greeted with much criticism — and I’m not arguing with that response. Last year, leading up to the presidential election, and in previous election years, the Republican and Democratic candidates have attended the dinner and been given the chance to poke a bit of fun at their opponent, but also themselves. Taking place in mid-October, it’s two to three weeks before the election, and offers some light relief in what would have been a torrid campaign.
This year, though, the dinner featured an actual comedian as the keynote speaker, rather than someone from another walk of life pretending to be a comedian. That speaker was the man who is the self-proclaimed most famous Catholic in America: Stephen Colbert. And it’s quite possible that he’s right in that assessment. He joked in his remarks that pride (in his fame) is a sin; speaking to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, likely his main competition for that distinction, Colbert said envy was also a sin.
Some are more Catholic than others, and being a Catholic blog, I’ll naturally share those:
- Since [Al Smith] first shattered the stained glass ceiling, America has seen a flood of Catholic presidents, from John F. Kennedy, to JFK to good old Jack Kennedy.”
- “We got close-ish in 2004 with John Kerry, who was a deeply Catholic candidate. In that listening to him talk was like attending a Latin mass.”
- “Your Eminence. That’s a fantastic title. He’s not just sitting there, he’s emanating. He’s like a fog of cardinal-ness. On the other hand, The Eminence sounds like the most boring Spider-Man villain of all time.”
- “I have great respect for Cardinal Dolan. Although I have to say, sir, it’s not easy while you’re wearing that outfit. In that cape and red sash, you look like a matador who’s really let himself go. Did you not see the invite? It said white tie, not Flamboyant Zorro.”
It’s been fairly common for Colbert to make Catholic jokes on his show, The Colbert Report. Religion News Service has helpfully compiled some of the better ones on this page. Again, I share a few of my favourites.
On the benefits of clerical celibacy:
“It’s actually a great pickup line: ‘I’m seriously considering the priesthood. You can change my mind.’”
On fancy words in the new translation of the Nicene Creed:
“Consubstantial! It’s the creed! It’s not the SAT prep.”
More on doing too many devotionals:
“I got totally pious-faced. I did every station of the cross. I can’t remember how many sacraments I did. For all I know I’m celibate now. … At one point I genuflected all over the back of a cab.”
Sometimes we can be a bit too serious about our faith, so it’s nice to have a laugh every once in a while. As Cardinal Dolan said after Stephen Colbert spoke, it’s important to be able to “Leave laughing” — a lesson his father taught him. People were certainly doing that after the Al Smith Dinner.