Regardless of what one thinks or believes about Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s invitation to President Obama for the Al Smith Foundation Dinner, Catholics may feel its ramifications for years to come.

Many fear that the invitation and the photos from the event will be used by the Obama campaign in order to sway the “Catholic vote” to his campaign. That very well might happen. But another less discussed consequence Catholics may be seen in the future selection of commencement speakers.

To identify scandals, most look to the 2004 statement from the bishops’ “Catholics in Political Life” as a guide, which reads: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Inevitably, a small number of Catholic colleges invite public advocates of abortion and same-sex “marriage” to speak at their commencement ceremonies. These invitations clearly confuse students and the faithful about the Church’s teaching on these issues. It may very well be that in years to come many Catholic colleges will support their own invitations to problematic speakers by invoking Obama’s invitation to the Al Smith dinner.

Cardinal Dolan defended his invitation recently by saying, “For one, an invitation to the Al Smith Dinner is not an award, or the provision of a platform to expound views at odds with the Church. It is an occasion of conversation; it is personal, not partisan.”

But didn’t Georgetown say similar things about their invitation to Kathleen Sebelius?

The Secretary’s presence on our campus should not be viewed as an endorsement of her views. As a Catholic and Jesuit University, Georgetown disassociates itself from any positions that are in conflict with traditional church teachings.

We are a university, committed to the free exchange of ideas.

Didn’t Notre Dame invoke the goal of “dialogue” about their invitation to Obama in 2009? How does the oft-repeated goal of “dialogue” differ from “occasion of conversation?”

Cardinal Dolan’s invitation is, I’m sure, made with consideration and with the best of intentions. And while most Catholic colleges will avoid “honoring” controversial speakers, some will inevitably use the invitation as another support for their invitation to a scandalous speaker that will end up only confusing students about the nature of Catholic teaching on all important issues.