NEW YORK – Neither President Bush nor Democratic challenger John Kerry (search) has been invited to this year's Alfred E. Smith Memorial (search) political dinner because campaign issues could detract from the "spirit" of the event, an official said Thursday.
The annual charity event, sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York, will feature the president's father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former Democratic New York Gov. Hugh Carey as speakers, archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said.
"The tradition of the Smith dinner is to bring people together," Zwilling said in a statement. "Given that issues in this year's campaign could provoke divisiveness and disagreement and could detract from that spirit, it was felt best to proceed in a different direction while maintaining all of the ideals and values of the dinner."
Zwilling would not say what campaign issues the statement was referring to.
Four years ago, Al Gore and George W. Bush spoke at the dinner, which has become a highly anticipated political tradition a few weeks before election day.
The last time neither presidential candidate spoke at the dinner was 1996, when Gore and Jack Kemp attended instead of President Clinton and his Republican challenger, Sen. Robert Dole.
The relationship between the Catholic Church and the presidential candidates was put into focus in April after a top Vatican official, Cardinal Francis Arinze, said Holy Communion should be denied to Catholic politicians who support abortion and do not follow other church teachings.
The bishops of St. Louis and Boston later said they would not offer Holy Communion to Kerry, who is Catholic and pro-choice.
Representatives of the Bush and Kerry campaigns declined to comment on the snubs to the 59th annual dinner.
Smith, a Democratic New York governor who died in 1944, is probably best remembered for being the first Roman Catholic to be a major party's candidate for president. The 1928 race went to Republican Herbert Hoover.