NEW YORK — This time last year, Cardinal Timothy Dolan was taking fire from his right flank for inviting President Obama to the annual Al Smith Dinner, the white-tie charity gala where celebrities and churchmen and rival pols lay down their arms and instead wage a war of wit.
It didn’t matter that Dolan also invited Obama’s Republican rival, Mitt Romney.
This year, Dolan should have an easier time of it – he will have Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert, the self-described “pope of basic cable,” on hand to headline the boldface fundraiser on Oct. 17.
The match was a no-brainer for many reasons: The cardinal and the comic are both pretty darn funny, and they appeared together at a Fordham University panel on faith and humor last year. Then last month, Colbert invited Dolan on his show to talk about the conclave that elected Francis.
It’s a safe bet that the man who calls himself “America’s most influential Catholic” – which may not be much of an exaggeration – will be riffing on church and faith, and on Pope Francis, or “Big Daddy Franks,” as he likes to call him, “the lean mean Argentine machine” and “the vicar so nice he speaks for Christ.”
For a sneak peek at what Colbert may say, we dug up some of the best Catholic quips from his past appearances:
Welcoming Cardinal Timothy Dolan to his show: “You’re the second most famous Catholic in America – after myself.”
On the conclave that elects the pope: “It’s like the Christian Super Bowl, only with less thanking Jesus.”
On Pope Francis: “He’s too soft on sin, for me, this pope. You heard what he said about atheists? He said even atheists are redeemed by Christ. … If even atheists are redeemed by Christ, why have I been going to Mass every Sunday? I could have gotten another nine holes in!”
More on that score: “If the Lord redeems atheists all bets are off. What’s next? The Lord redeems Lutherans? It’s madness! I feel like a chump. … I’m just so glad Jesus didn’t live to see this.”
On Francis’ desire to have “a poor church”: “That’s not the Catholic Church I signed up for! When I toss a sawbuck in the basket on Sunday I want production values, OK? … I think religion should be like going to ‘The Avengers.’ Who cares what it’s about as long as it looks cool.”
On the church’s commitment to the poor: “But if we’re just concentrating on the poor, helping the poor, that leaves the rich out – guys like me! … We need more help. The poor shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. A camel can get through the eye of a needle more than a rich man can get into heaven. I need help more than a poor person does.”
On wealth and the gospel: “Jesus himself said: ‘I got mine, Jack.’”
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.”
On Jesus: “Jesus isn’t only my co-pilot. Sometimes I let him drive.”
On going on a “Catholic bender” for Lent: “Every year Catholics are supposed to give up something they love for 40 days. So this year I gave up Catholicism. Instead I tried some other brand-name religions. I tried Judaism. It was nice but I hated myself.”
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.”
A final note: Colbert’s Catholic faith isn’t just for laughs. He teaches first Communion classes at his New Jersey parish and can also speak eloquently and profoundly about the role Catholicism has played in coping with sorrows as well as joys in his own life. He did so in a 2012 interview in The New York Times Magazine and in a recent tribute to his mother at her death.